Callers lash out at mobile operators in South Africa over quality of service

Telecoms

A flood of concerned mobile phone users has led the South African regulator ICASA to check up on the quality of service provided by the mobile networks. Following an interview with ICASA chairman Paris Mashile on Radio 702 this week, hundreds of users forwarded information to the station about troubles they had experienced with their network service providers.

The complaints spanned al three mobile operators - MTN, Vodacom and Cell C - dealing with dropped calls, lost SMSes and network access troubles. Consumers are also up in arms about paying for services they believe they are not receiving.

Of the three, MTN is the only provider who says it has found a problem on its network. According to a company statement, MTN had a surge in call, data and SMS traffic after it launched its 20% free airtime promotion last week.

“As a result of this promotion, the MTN network handled a huge increase in voice calls and data traffic from Friday and into the weekend, similar to the levels experienced during the high-season Christmas period,” explains the company.

MTN says the surge in Gauteng traffic also caused a loop in its national network which could well be the cause of MTN subscribers' troubles. It says, along with its technology provider, Ericsson, MTN is conducting an audit to determine how it can fix the problem.

“The company would like to reassure its customers that it is working around the clock to maintain a quality and reliable service on its network. MTN apologises to its customers for the inconvenience caused during the weekend.”

Vodacom says it has not found anything out of the ordinary with its network. “Vodacom can confirm there are no extraordinary technical issues affecting our network,” says chief communications officer Dot Field. However, it has invited customers who have experienced trouble to contact its customer care centre on 111, from a Vodacom cellphone, or 082 111 from any other. Customers can also send an e-mail to customercare@vodacom.co.za.

Cell C did not respond to ITWeb's questions by the time of publication.

The issue has not escaped the authorities. ICASA spokesman Sekgoela Sekgoela yesterday confirmed it is keeping tabs on the operators. “We are consistently in contact with them, to make sure they are adhering to regulations.”

While he says the monitoring is not a formal investigation into the service providers, the authority has given them guidelines for minimum service levels. These are prescribed by the End-User and Subscriber Service Charter, which is in the process of being finalised.

The regulations require that operators' networks show an uptime of over 95%. Operators are also expected to have a 48-hour turnaround on consumer problems.

The mobile operators are required to submit a report to the authority every three months that indicates problems and resolutions. According to ICASA, the next reports are expected soon and the authority will check what resolutions the operators have come up with.

The authority suspects the trouble may also stem from network upgrades that the operators are all implementing. Complaints of a similar nature in the past have been attributed to network changes and upgrades.

All the mobile operators have ploughed significant amounts of money into network upgrades and improvements over the last year. MTN alone put aside R7 billion for network upgrades and new backhaul infrastructure.

The company will begin the construction of a national fibre-backbone this year, which it expects to be completed by 2010. Late last year, Vodacom announced it was in the process of rolling out its own fibre infrastructure and had completed 11 metro rings by the beginning of December. It also plans to roll out a national network.

Cell C has been steadily building up its own network coverage through the implementation of new base stations across SA.

ITWeb