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A growing number of African countries stress better mobile quality of service

October 7, 2013  »  MobileNo Comment

Updated February 2017.

There are three types of mobile service: the absent, the spotty and the steady. Not so long ago, simply having access to a mobile signal was considered innovative. But, for most populated areas, the standard for “good” mobile access has improved. Just check African mobile subscribers’ interactions with telecom providers on social media to see how heated complaints.

As mobile coverage becomes more commonplace quality of the available services also become more important. And understandably so – who cares if access is technically available but calls cannot be consistently completed? Regulators and operators alike are beginning to place on emphasis on quality of service instead of geographic coverage. Quality of service is a goal of everyone and every technology: mobile company and consumer, 2G and LTE.

A multitude of factors influence quality of service: dropped calls, blocked calls, call set-up, call congestion, unstable reception, slow internet speeds, difficulty sending/receiving SMS, false advertising, faulty account crediting. Power outages, cable cuts, and fuel thefts all are known to contribute to these disruptions in service. Though usually beyond the control of telecom operators (due to existing legal framework or lack thereof), government-mandated disruptions in service also disrupt the quality of service.

As Ovum points out, mobile network operators often lack the regulatory framework to operator efficient networks. Spectrum and licensing is hard to come by. Fees and fines limit operators’ abilities to improve their networks.

Operators, for their part, should stop over-selling the quality of their networks and should educate consumers better on the actual services. The QoS game becomes difficult when telecom operators make exaggerated marketing claims to the consumer yet real world performance benchmarks bring those statements into doubt.

A great example is Ethio Telecom, who has a bold mission to offer the best QoS possible, despite constant consumer complaints and high barriers to access:

ethio telecom is born from this ambition of supporting the steady growth of our country. We wish to implement state-of-the-art processes, to develop reliable network infrastructures and to provide the best quality of services to our Customers. This is our mission; this is what drives all our actions.” – Ethio Telecom company mission and values

In fact, almost half of respondents to a survey on Moroccan internet habits cite insufficient quality of service as a barrier to Internet use. There’s simply no incentive to use overpriced services that are ineffective at providing a tool for efficient communication.

The importance of telecoms regulators cannot be stressed more if QoS is to improve. When an astute independent regulatory body is present in a country, checks and balances with mobile operators’ QoS work out in a nice circle. The regulator looks out for consumers and pushes mobile operators to meet high standards of service. The operators, in turn, fear fines and/or license termination from the regulator plus a loss of subscribers to other networks who offer better QoS. Consumers report on the quality of service to the regulator (who is on their side) and reap the benefits of mobile operators who financially compete to keep subscribers.

Telecoms regulators often notice that mobile operators often deny and dismiss findings of poor quality of service. They don’t aim to victimize individual companies but, in theory, want the operators to improve. In many African nations, fines are commonplace (but they aren’t always steep enough to persuade a non-compliance operator to fix what’s wrong). The threat of mobile license suspension for poor quality of service is also very real in places like Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Sierra Leone, and Uganda. So be it if mobile operators are incentivized only by financial gain and not by looking out for the well-being of subscribers.

The key for a successful regulator is one that isn’t another arm of the government. As Thecla Mbongue, Senior Research Analyst, MEA at Ovum aptly mentions, “no matter how independent they claim to be, regulators remain government agencies, which often prioritize state policies and aim to raise funds. There is probably a need for a regional body to monitor and assess the work of regulation authorities.”

That said, not every nation is ready to devote the resources to QoS regulation. Many less-developed regions are glad to have mobile Internet coverage, period. Some nations lack a telecoms regulator and also lack full telecoms privatization. And, even if every African telecoms regulator initiates QoS campaign, results would no doubt be mixed. After all, experience shows that it takes a strong regulator to ensure operators make necessary changes to boost the quality of service.

We find 31 nations that have considered, monitored, or addressed mobile quality of service in the past few years. Usually, concern for QoS comes from the telecommunications regulator, but mobile operators often mention the issue as well.

Algeria: Algerie Telecom expressed a commitment to better QoS in August 2013.

Benin: A report on GSM QoS was issued in April 2013 by the telecoms regulator. MTN and Glo were found to be in violation of QoS standards in 2016 and were penalized by the regulatory authority.

Burkina Faso: ARCEP, the telecoms regulator, fined the nation’s three mobile operators USD12 million for poor quality of service in April 2014. Onatel was fined in 2016 due to poor services allegedly caused by striking employees.

Central African Republic: The regulatory agency required mobile operators to improve their service quality in December 2015. The telcos blamed sabotage and armed groups preventing them from repairing damaged infrastructure.

Chad: The regulator issued steep fines upon Airtel, Tigo, and Salam in August 2012 for poor QoS. Little had changed a month later and licenses were threatened to be revoked. In early 2015, Tigo customers reported poor SMS service but the regulator and consumer rights association remained silent on the matter.

Congo-Brazzaville: In April 2014, ARCPE, the national telecoms regulator, fined Airtel and MTN 1% of their respective annual revenues for failing to meet legal obligations. In 2015, MTN and Airtel were investing tens of millions of dollars to improve their QoS. Still, the regulator reduced the length of their licenses by one year.

Cote D’Ivoire: In March 2012, ATCI, the regulator, expressed plans to penalize mobile operators for poor QoS. In February 2013 the Minister of Posts and ICT told the nation he will crackdown on poor mobile QoS. In June 2014, ATCI fined the country’s six mobile operators XOF 2.92 billion (approximately USD 6 million) in total, for not meeting service quality obligations with their 2G and 3G networks.

Dem. Rep. of Congo: In September 2012, the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications sent a formal notice to the four mobile operators in the country about poor QoS over the prior six weeks. Vodacom said steps were being taken to improve QoS.

Egypt: NTRA, the regulator, releases a QoS report every quarter, describing service at a city level. All networks saw an improvement in internet quality in December 2015.

Ethiopia: In early 2013, Ethio Telecom blamed high-rise buildings in Addis for poor mobile service in 200 locations. A bill may benefit building owners who allow ETC to install antennas on top.

Gabon: ARCEP, the regulator, released a QoS report (noting improvements in network quality) of four mobile operators in mid-2013. The regulator has conducted regulator monitoring campaigns since 2010.

Gambia: The regulator PURA began monitoring telcom QoS in December 2012. Network equipment is connected to all GSM operators.

Ghana: NCA, the telecoms regulator, started to work with mobile operators to boost QoS in March 2010. A QoS report was first published by regulator NCA in September 2011. In November 2011, NCA imposed fines on MTN, Vodafone, Airtel, Expresso and Tigo for poor QoS. The fines totalled around US $750,000. MTN was denied the authority to issue SIM cards to new users in 2012 as QoS degraded. Also in 2012, MTN, Vodafone, and Tigo were given small fines for poor QoS in various regions. In 2013, NCA gave fines of GH¢300,000 each to MTN and Glo. Expresso, Airtel, and Tigo each received fines of GH¢100,000. As of September 2013, Vodafone Ghana was the only telco in Ghana to not receive a breach in QoS over the prior 15 months. In February 2014, NCA imposed sanctions on most mobile operators, banning Expresso from sales and marketing promotions in May. In October 2015, NCA sanctioned Airtel Ghana to improve 3G coverage in certain areas. As of late 2015, Vodafone was investing US$1.7 billion in better QoS.

Guinea: MTN expressed a commitment to better QoS in early 2013.

Kenya: A 2011 QoS report by the regulator CCK found all mobile operators to be sub-par. Only Safaricom and Airtel failed to meet QoS standards in 2012. A monitoring report for 2013-2014 found all four operators at the time (Safaricom, Airtel, Telkom, Essar) failed to meet service standards. Operators in Kenya are fined Sh500,000 for lacking in QoS but in 2015, Communications Authority of Kenya introduced a measure that will require operators to pay a fine equal to 0.2% of their annual gross revenue if they fail to meet QoS standards. No mobile operator met QoS standards in the 2014/2015 financial year.

Libya: Public sentiment for the telecoms industry is low. LTT is working to improve service through privatization of the sector.

Malawi: The Consumers Association of Malawi (CAMA) has criticized the poor service quality of the nationls two mobile operators (Airtel and TNM). In August 2013, the group called on the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority to ensure that telecoms companies comply with the terms and conditions of their licences. In 2011, MACRA was apparently monitoring telecom QoS.

Mali: Orange 3G issues plagued Mali in July and August 2013.

Mauritania: Poor QoS was reported by the economic regulator as early as 2008. Mauritel and Mattel were reportedly fined at that time. In 2009, all three operators (Mauritel, Mattel, and Chinguitel) had extremely high rates of lost calls (32%, 22%, and 7%, respectively). In 2015, the regulator again warned the country’s three mobile operators after studying QoS for two months. The same happened in 2017 when a study found limitations with both voice and 3G across all operators.

Morocco: The national regulator published a QoS report for Feb-Mar 2013 finding overall good QoS. Maroc Telecom planned on continuing to improve service levels in 2015.

Nigeria: QoS has been on operators’ radars (and the regulator’s) since 2008. NCC threatened to fine Airtel, MTN, and Globacom in October 2011. $7.4 million in fines were given out to four operators for poor QoS in 2012. MTN was to spend USD 1 billion on network improvements after the regulator complained about QoS in early 2012. Consumer groups were suing four GSM operators over poor QoS as of April 2013. The regulator asked all operators to explain drops in QoS in May 2013. Some feel the NCC’s ban on promo is to blame for network congestion. In March 2014, MTN, Globacom, and Airtel met the payment deadline of N647.5 million fine for poor service quality on their networks. In October 2015, MTN was fined $5.2 billion (later reduced by 25%) for failure to disconnect all non-registered SIM cards. NCC established a taskforce in 2016 to understand why quality of service was lacking.

Rwanda: MTN Rwanda was told to have better QoS in February 2012 and was fined 3 million Rwandan francs for each day not in compliance (up to a month). Tigo expressed a commitment to complying with QoS standards in September 2012. ISPs are now required to provide redundancy and diversity of bandwidth to guarantee service.

Senegal: ARTP, the telecoms regulator, ran a national QoS awareness call-in campaign in July 2012. In 2013, ARTP made it a priority to improve QoS. The regulator is acquiring equipment to better monitor mobile and internet operators. In November 2015, ARTP commented on how roughly only half of Dakar’s population had 3G coverage and outside of the city, 3G and 2G coverage was poor.

Sierra Leone: The government spoke with executives from the country’s four mobile operators in August 2012 regarding poor network quality. NATCOM, the regulator, fined the networks a combined USD45,000 earlier in 2012. In May 2013, Airtel was given 21 days by the regulator to improve QoS or lose its license. The telecoms regulator launched a tender for QoS monitoring equipment in August 2013.

South Africa: A 2013 independent study looked at broadband performance in the country with the aim to help Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) better regulate the industry. The regulator published a QoS report in July 2011 denouncing multiple mobile operators for poor QoS. A quarterly update in early 2014 finds the networks of MTN, Vodacom and Cell C to all fall short in the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

Tanzania: Independent QoS tests conducted in March 2012 for the regulator showed varying differences between operators. The Minister of ICT has told mobile operators to first perfect existing services before launching new ones.

Tunisia: In 2012, the telecoms regulator began focusing on 2G and 3G quality of service in select cities. Overall, 3G service from the two operators who offer it was found to be good in 2013. Users can download a program that helps contribute to efforts to improve QoS.

Uganda: Uganda Communications Commission (the regulator) conducted a quality of service report across five major telecom service providers (2G GSM) in December 2010. All were found to have lacking QoS. UCC warned of license terminations due to poor QoS in late 2011 and again in early 2012. Also in 2012 the regulator worked with the government to pass legislation that would fine non-compliant operators. A QoS report in mid-2013 found a variety of issues wish usually only Orange hitting UCC target levels.

Zambia: In late-2012 the Zambian telecoms regulator expressed intent to monitor QoS more actively. Zambia Information and Technology Authority brought criminal charges upon Airtel, MTN, and Zamtel in July 2013 for failing to meet QoS standards. A 2009 law specifies QoS standards.

Zimbabwe: As of September 2012, the telecoms regulator did not have proper equipment to monitor networks’ QoS. In 2016, the Ministry of ICT published QoS draft regulations which will be enforced by the regulator.

Complete list of sources (.doc).

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