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15 base stations to increase coverage

by Staff reporter
10 Mar 2021 at 05:46hrs | Views
The Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ), is spearheading the construction of 15 base stations in rural areas to enhance connectivity and access to e-learning facilities by students in these communities during Covid-19 induced lockdowns and going forward.

The initiative, which is being undertaken in conjunction with mobile network operators  will bridge the digital divide between rural communities and urban centres.

The Covid-19 induced lockdowns implemented at various levels since March 30 last year  exposed the gap between urban and rural communities with students in poor rural communities failing to access e-learning facilities due to cost or lack of infrastructure in their areas.

This is despite Government initiatives and strategies to support out of school learning during the lockdown. Under this project, POTRAZ will provide the financing of the passive infrastructure and shared transmission equipment through the Universal Services Fund (USF), while mobile network operators will be responsible for the installation of Radio Access Network (RAN) equipment at each site.

Passive infrastructure accounts for over 75 percent of the cost of a base station and indications are that taking this responsibility from mobile network operators will result in affordable access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) by rural communities.

Presenting on interventions made by POTRAZ to facilitate e-learning in the wake of  Covid-19 pandemic before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committees on Education as well as ICT, Postal and Courier Services on Monday, POTRAZ director general Dr Gift Machengete, acknowledged the role of ICT in e-learning and innovation. He said e-services such as e-learning require good ICT infrastructure and hence the need to deploy shared base stations in rural areas.

"As one of its mandate of extending the Postal and Telecommunications services in underserved areas and bridging the digital divide between the rich and the poor communities, POTRAZ is working with Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) to construct shared telecommunications base stations in rural areas across Zimbabwe.

"The scope of the project is to construct 15 base stations passive infrastructure that includes towers, equipment shelters, guard rooms, perimeter fence, commercial power, solar power, diesel engine generators, power back-up batteries and access roads at the selected fifteen (15) USF sites.

"The MNOs will also provide shared transmission links with a minimum capacity of 300Mbps for each site.

"The main objective of the project is to provide telecommunication services to underserved rural areas in Zimbabwe. Information and communications technology (ICT) is one of the main pillars of a knowledge-based economy and is a prerequisite for economic growth," he said.

However, foreign currency shortages to import towers and ancillary equipment has slowed down the project.

Presenting during the same Committees, Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education Secretary Mrs Thabela indicated her Ministry, its sister Ministry and development partners had come up with measures to ensure all learners in both rural and urban areas access online classes during the pandemic. Part of the measures included but not limited to increasing network connectivity to facilitate online classes.

"In March 2020, Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education crafted alternative learning pathways strategies for the Covid-19 lockdown to support the out of school learning programmes," she said.

She indicated part of the short term strategies included "use of online platforms such as open distance learning, digital learning platforms and use of open education resources." Some of the long term measures executed include radio and television lessons, self study guides, use of social media platforms such as WhatsApp. However, students in rural communities still lag behind due to cost although POTRAZ has rolled out various e-learning projects to schools over the past years as a way of making ICT services universally accessible to unserved and underserved areas in the country.

Source - the herald

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