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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Are mobile networks going bananas?


The rate of unsuccessful calls being experienced by telecom consumers in the country has been on the rise in recent months and inability to meet the Key Performance Indicators (KPI) set by NCC. REMMY NWEKE asks in this report if poor quality of service has become irredeemable?

Nowadays, making calls in the country across all the networks seem a hills task. This has become unbecoming since the provable commemoration of the 10 years of Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM), which commenced on August 2011.

At first, it was like the normal hiccups, thereby lasting for days, weeks and now months without appreciable improvement, thus necessitating the telecommunication industry regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to issue a direction to the major operators, namely MTN, Glo and Airtel.

Investigations revealed that it now takes an average of five to 10 minutes to initiate a successful call rather than less than a second of pressing a button, while those at the rural areas are no go areas, when it comes to trying to make a successful call, which require multiple redialing with frivolous voice responses that tell whoever cares that the ‘Number you  are trying to reach is out of the network coverage areas.’ Even when the call destination ‘receiver’ may have flashed a call in the first instance.

ITRealms Online recalls that NCC had warned the trio of MTN, Glo and Airtel to improve the quality of services on their respective networks or face sanction, saying it may stop the three major mobile operators, from further sell of SIM Cards by end of November 2011, if they fail to meet with the Key Performance Indicators (KPI) set by NCC.

Head, Media and Public Relations at NCC, Mr. Reuben Muoka, affirmed this, saying that the three operators have been issued a 30-day deadline, effective from November 1, 2011, to reverse the trend or face sanctions by the regulator.

This deadline follows a dismal performance by the three operators on quality of service from the result of an independent monitoring exercise carried out by the Commission across the country which showed that all the three operators failed to meet with four key performance indicators that are crucial for quality of service improvements as set by the Commission.

“Consequently, the Commission has notified the three operators of its intention to issue a direction that with effect from November 30, 2011, any of the operators that fail to meet the targets will be barred from further sale of its SIM Cards or addition of any new subscriber to its network,” he said.

Muoka also disclosed that any new SIM card sold or additional subscriber added to the network in contravention of the direction, will attract a penalty of N1,000,000 (One Million Naira) per subscriber added.

The Commission, he said, had in a notice of intention to issue the direction to the operators, made available to the same indicated that after the expiration of the 30-day deadline, it will strictly enforce the impending direction whose contravention will attract a penalty of N5,000,000 (Five Million Naira), and additional N500,000( Five Hundred Thousand Naira) per day that such contravention persists.

In addition to the above, failure of any of the operators to meet the quality of service targets from November 30, 2011 will attract a fine of N500,000 (Five Hundred Thousand Naira) for every month of failure.

Part of the direction read: “It is not in doubt that the customer experience on your network has been far from satisfactory, especially as the Commission has been inundated with complaints from various subscribers on this matter,” it said in the correspondence to the three respective operators in which it expressed concerns that the operators are not doing enough to reverse the trend of unacceptable quality of service which has persisted for too long.

Muoka underscored the fact that the Key Performance indicators measured by the Commission included Call Set Up Success Rate, Call Completion Rate, Stand Alone Dedicated Control Channel and Handover Success Rate.

Despite the fact that Etisalat Nigeria was not listed in the direction by NCC for operators to improve services, there is no doubt that the poor quality of service has engulfed all the operators, especially the mobile service providers.

Unfortunately, the affected networks did not find it worthy to apologised to their teeming Nigerian subscribers, except for MTN, which conversely targeted data customers on the network, attributing the situation to one cable cut or another.

Though MTN promised it has adduced measures to remedy the situation, the instability of services may have not been restored fully.

ITRealms Online recalls that some data customers on MTN recently experienced slow internet speed and difficulty with accessing the internet due to an outage from third party provider.

Corporate Services Executive, MTN Nigeria, Mr. Akinwale Goodluck, attributed the intermittent internet experience to a technical challenge from one of the company’s third party service providers, which he said the disruption was as a result of sub marine cable failure which caused challenges with internet access and slow speed.

“Unfortunately, some of our customers have been affected. We have, however, successfully migrated to another provider, and we expect gradual improvements across board in the internet experience over the next few days,” he explained.

Goodluck further said that as a customer-focused organization, MTN is not unaware of the inconveniences that some of its customers must have suffered during the outage.

“We are truly sorry, and we can only assure Nigerians that MTN remains committed to ensuring the provision of outstanding service quality everywhere you go,” he reassured.

While some non-governmental organizations are already tinkering on the title of award to bestow on 
MTN for its customer friendly attitudes, the question in the minds of many telecom consumers in the country is ‘Where’re other network operators, including the supposed one’s own by Nigerians and should be for Nigerians?’

While waiting to get a response from the mobile network operators, the Association of Licensed 
Telecom Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), recently pointed out that with a little challenge being faced by a network has a triple effect as consumers calling the same network would of course be affected as they may not reach their destination.

Speaking recently at the NCC-led celebration of telecom revolution at 10 during a Telecom Parliament in Lagos, ALTON chairman, Mr. Gbenga Adebayo urged consumers to exercise patience with the operators as they are also facing some challenges, just like explained by MTN above.

May be as a joke thrown recently by a concerned Nigerian telecom consumer on one of the social networks that it’s high time those who have the four mobile networks keep them in the cooler for Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) networks or better still, exchange same for a CDMA line.

This, however, brings the issue of number portability to the front burner. Though NCC had last month, October proclaimed the licensing of some three companies; Interconnect, Saab Grintek, Telecordia, as the consortium for the implementation of its proposed Number Portability (NP), describing these firms as preferred vendor for the service after the technical, financial and demo presentations by the bidding vendors were evaluated.

NCC also said that Number Portability would allow phone users to move from one network to another without losing their numbers.

As said by Muoka, the consortium would be responsible for the setting up and implementation of Number Portability Clearing House in the country, and provide mobile number portability solution administration in the country within six months of receiving the license with a testing period of two months.

He explained that members of the consortium are to execute a tripartite agreement that would indicate their specific responsibilities in the process with the regulator approving such agreement to tally with the conditions of the provision of the service in the country.

He also said, NCC had mandated the consortium to ensure that local content participation and adequate skills transfer are entrenched in the process during the implementation of the five-year license.

Just as the consortium would be expected to configure the technical solution for number portability in line with the consultation documents as earlier published by the Commission, and the solution is to be customized to meet the specific process needed, as well as other requirements of the Nigerian network operators.

Muoka recalled that NCC had earlier indicated that the Number Portability programme would be the next logical step following the SIM Card registration exercise as it is necessary to know the identity of subscribers who are porting their numbers at different times from one network to another.

“Number portability will allow subscribers to move to alternate networks when they are no longer enjoying the quality of services being obtained from their current operators, or when they are no longer happy with the tariffs offered by their current subscribers as they will still retain their original numbers irrespective of the new network from which they may be obtaining their services,” he said.

Industry watchers are saying that the solution may not be Number Portability with the rate of poor quality of service being experienced in the country today, mainly because, all of them have similar challenges, which require the regulator’s attention to help nip this in the bud, such as the network lock-out by some state government agencies, harassment by another agencies with multiple taxation and kidnapping of network staff among others.

Until then, Nigerian telecom consumers seem hapless at this time, when the networks should be thinking of improved quality service delivery and moving investment from voice to data.

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