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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

ATU regulators strive for better QoS

Africa’s telecommunications regulators may have decided to stop mobile phone companies from increasing their subscriber base except if they improve on their quality of service (QoS) according to the Africa Telecommunications Union (ATU), reports ComputerWorld.

Many African countries have operators that increase subscribers and do not upgrade their networks, leading to a high percentage of dropped calls, low call completion rates and poor quality of service, said Akossi Akossi, secretary general of the Africa Telecommunications Union.

“If regulators enforced the provisions in the operator licenses and Service Level Agreements the situation in Africa would be different,” said Akossi. “Operators just continue selling services and attracting more numbers without investing in network upgrades.”

Akossi pointed to the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK), which has published a directive threatening to withdraw licenses issued to the country’s four mobile phone operators unless call completion rates and the call set up success rate are improved to 90 percent, the number of dropped calls reduced to 2 percent and the blocked-call rate reduced to 10 percent.

The directive gave Zain, Safaricom, Orange and Econet Wireless up to three years to improve their service quality or have their operating licences withdrawn.

In the notice issued to operators and published in the Kenya Gazette, CCK is seeking to crack the whip on errant operators that offer services punctuated by network congestion, low ratios on completed calls, low call success rates, poor speech quality, persistent call blocks, poor signal strength and quality even in urban areas.

“Other countries should follow the example of Nigeria and Ghana, who directed the operators not to sell any SIM cards unless they demonstrated network upgrades to support the new subscriber base; that is the only way to guarantee quality,” Akossi said.

James Rege, chairman of Kenya’s Parliamentary Committee on Energy and Communication, said “The CCK is just lazy; this directive should have been given a long time age.”
“Operators should not be allowed to compromise network quality over profits; making cheaper calls should not mean poor quality services,” added Rege, who is the legislator for Karachuonyo.

Last year, the government of Rwanda imposed fines on continental operator MTN for poor-quality services. In Uganda, MTN was forced to reimburse clients for unsatisfactory services.

To meet new challenges and growing subscriber numbers, MTN has committed 8 billion South African rand (US$800 million) in capital expenditure to upgrade and expand its networks in the South and East Africa region, said Yvonne Manzi Makolo, senior manager, sales and marketing department at MTN.

In Rwanda, where the regulator has been more strict, MTN Rwanda invested $70 million in the network and rolled out 311 base stations. MTN Uganda has implemented capacity upgrades of $300 million over the last three years to ensure that issues such as network quality and capacity are kept at acceptable levels.

“These investments notwithstanding, problems such as downtime caused by power failures and theft and damages to our fiber network, which occur during construction have continued to create problems,” said Makolo. “The company has invested in backup routes to protect the fiber network and re--routing calls in case of network failure.”

To ensure that confrontations with consumers and regulators do not re-occur, Makolo said MTN budgets for continuous frequency plans to improve voice quality and remove interference to the network.

“Given the growth of mobile phones in Africa, the operators are investing heavily but the investment is lesser compared to the number of subscribers,” concluded Akossi.

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