The Zambian Mobile Phone Market

The Zambian mobile phone market has registered significant growth of late. Of the three mobile service providers , Aitel has the largest share of subscribers, seconded by MTN and last is CellZ.

Cell phones have taken a bigger role in rural Zambia where landlines do not exist. The Zambian mobile phone market is expanding with three market players:


This is the largest service operator with about 4 million subscribers. It used to be known as Zain, until Bharti Airtel of India acquired it.


It’s the second largest with about 3.5 million subscribers. It came into Zambia in July 2005, when the South African based MTN took over Telecel. It operates in Africa and the Middle East.


A state enterprise, CellZ falls under Zamtel and has the least share of the mobile market.

Mobile phones have changed the communication culture of the country, with letter writing now a thing of the past. Zambia has a highly competitive mobile phone market.

MTN, CellZ and Airtel, the three players on the market, have got almost similar tariffs but the big difference is in coverage. Calling numbers starting with 0966/0967 are MTN; those with 0976/0977/0979 are Airtel and 0955 CellZ.

The Zambia mobile service providers have however clustered their presence in urban areas and provincial centers, where there’s a ready market and the physical infrastructure is in place.

Initially, the costs of having a mobile phone were prohibitive, but as new players came onto the market, there’s been a gradual decline in the costs. Before 2004, when the state started liberalizing the communications sector, the then state owned Zamtel was the only telecommunications provider in the country.

Phone Manufacturing

The Zambian mobile phone market sector has seen encouraging developmental signs in form of a mobile phone manufacturing company, which is based in Lusaka. The US$10 million worth of investment intends to employ about 200 Zambians.

The mobile phone company, known as M-Mobile Telecommunications, is projecting an initial output of 1000 phones daily, which the company has put at K200 kwacha as the price of one phone. This will contribute to a further reduction in the costs of owning a phone.

The biggest drawback however remains in the quality of coverage. It happens to be good within urban areas, but as you stray into rural areas, the mobile cell sites are spaced and you got to be near one in order to communicate.

With the mushrooming of competition in the urban areas and surrounding areas, mobile phone service providers are now being forced to put up infrastructure and try and capture the rural market, which has lagged behind the urban market.

Phone Use

The mobile service providers have put across various incentives to their customers but most of which are underutilized or not utilized. Most companies have noticed that some of their customers are browsing the web using the mobile phone.

This has prompted mobile service providers to enable their mobile customers to pay certain utility bills like electricity, water and also money transfer services using Mobile phones.

Mobile phones are more popular with Zambians than fixed lines, considering the fact that they were introduced on the market just recently after the liberalization of the telecommunications sector. Besides, in certain parts of Zambia, the wired telephone system is simply nonexistent, and people are relying on mobile phones.


The communications sector has mean while made a lot of progress in the past few years since the entry of the private sector on the market. A lot of areas are now covered by at least one mobile phone network or all the three.

The downward trend in the costs of phones and tariff charges are likely to continue. The recent opening of a phone manufacturing company is a welcome relief to the lower income group.

Zambia needs a lot of infrastructural development to lessen the communication gap between the rural and urban areas. The market is still a developing one and the service providers need to expand their coverage to all parts of the country.

Recently, the govervenment, through ZICTA (Zambia Information And Communications Technology Authority), put a requirement for mobile phone owners to have their SIM cards registered.

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