In the high-stakes scramble for customers, only saturation advertising Ð and coverage - is the limit as Mascom and Orange stalk each other every step of the way. But as WANETSHA MOSINYI asks, will the latest entrant, beMobile, keep up with the Jonses?
The fight for the small but lucrative mobile phone business pie has begun in earnest and it seems the battleground will be won and lost on sporting grounds.
Competition has intensified over the past few months after beMobile joined the fray, ending the two-way scrimmage between old adversaries, Mascom and Orange.
On 'Super Saturday' last weekend Ð so called because it was action-packed countrywide Ð gave a glimpse of how the mobile phone service providers intend to target customers for at least the near future: by splashing millions of pula on sporting sponsorships, accompanied by saturation adverting in the popular media.
Orange dominated media space and the billboards advertising the high-stakes Zebras vs. Ivory Coast soccer clash and the Vultures vs. Uganda rugby encounter (Rugby). Orange has adopted both the Zebras and the Vultures in sponsorship.
New kid on the block beMobile was not about to be left out. Perhaps taking advatage of its parent company BTC's parastatal nature, it forged links with Btv's premier sports programme Tshamekang and broadcast both games live.
It remains to be seen if Orange was happy that Btv allowed beMobile to sponsor the broadcast of both games while it picked up the tab kitting out the players of both national teams and paying them.
But as all this was literally unfolding during the day, the indefatigable Mascom must have cocked a snook at its competitors in the knowledge that it would have the advantage of the glitz and the glamour of the evening presenting the 2007/2008 Premier League awards.
Mascom, which was the first mobile phone service provider in Botswana, has been sponsoring the Premier League to an accumulated total of P4.5 million over last three years Ð an unprecedented amount in the country's soccer annals. The sponsorship ends this year and jostling to take over for the coming season is reportedly going on behind closed doors. If the Premier League officials play their cards right, it is not inconceivable that the 2008/2009 sponsorship could double.
Orange will soon unfurl its banner at another soccer extravaganza, the annual Kabelano Charity Cup that sees four teams battle it out at the National Stadium in Gaborone.
Orange, which has been in constant combat with Mascom since changing its name from Vista a few years ago, has an aggressive advertising and sponsorship strategy that includes Letlhafula and the Botswana Music Awards, two prime cultural and entertainment events not to be missed.
The two rivals also fight it out on Btv. Orange sponsors the Mokaragana music show on Saturdays while Mascom, in partnership with Windhoek Lager, sponsors the presentation of the Barclays English Premier League highlights on Mondays. And then there is the Mascom Dumela Botswana breakfast show and the Botswana Pop Star on Fridays in addition to several radio programmes 'brought to you by Mascom' or 'brought
Having spread the breadth of Botswana targeting pre-paid customers, both Mascom and Orange have are now focusing on the post-paid segment. Orange started the year with guns blazing by introducing the highly sought-after BlackBerry smartphones that give the user the luxury to e-mail, to phone, to organise and to surf the net. Mascom recently introduced Mascom MyMail, which also offers the user unlimited e-mail access in real time.
In a tart 'rejoinder' that can only be aimed at Orange's BlackBerry smartphones Mascom says in one of its ads: 'With Mascom MyMail, there is no need to buy a new phone for a complete mobile e-mail solution...' Botswana young executives and high-flyers are known for their love of fancy gadgets and lifestyles, hence the scramble by mobile operators for that piece of cake.
The e-mail facility is only available on top-end phones like the BlackBerry smartphone, Palms Treo, iMates, iPAQ, HTC and certain Nokias, Sony Ericssons and Motorolas. In this high-stakes affair, cab beMobile keep up with the Joneses? Being a subsidiary of the BTC, the new entrant certainly has the financial muscle and the network advantage over the older players.
Since its launch in April, beMobile has yet to show Botswana what it has to offer.
Information reaching Mmegi is that its launch was pushed forward because BTC's former CEO Vincent Seretse was about to leave his post.
Still without a CEO, the thrill over the launch of beMobile has, fizzled out.
The only information available is that its sim cards cost P10, that it offers 'one rate always' and that the brand is similar to that of another company in Russia!
Another strategy of broadening their customer bases has been through cash competitions. Currently, Mascom customers can win themselves P100 000 every month while Orange customers can win a Kia Picanto car. Previous competitions involved a house or a Range Rover.
Analysts believe that the mobile phone business is vibrant now but should reach its zenith by 2010. A concern is whether BTC has the network capacity to accommodate three mobile operators in addition to its fixed line.
Already Mascom and Orange networks are a nightmare for users, especially on weekends, month-ends and holidays.
For Batswana, the hope is that the scramble for customers and good service will translate into cheaper access to mobile phone services.