- Dealing with Perennial Poor Quality of Service
The issue of poor service quality reared up its ugly head for the first time in 2006, after the expiration of the five-year exclusivity period granted the first set of licensed telecoms operators that rolled out in 2001, and since then it has been a recurrent issue, writes Emma Okonji.
When Econet Wireless Nigeria (now Airtel Nigeria) first rolled out its telecommunication commercial services on August 8, 2001, followed by MTN Nigeria, a week after, the quality of service was awesome and without hitches.
The quality was maintained even after Globacom rolled out in 2003, and Nigerians were pleased with the service, which was mainly dominated by voice calls. At that time a caller will generate a call at one dial and will connect easily to the call recipient and discussions done in several minutes without each party experiencing drop calls. There was no network congestion then that would warrant drop calls and subscribers were happy with network operators. Within this period, subscriber number was not much, compared to what it is today. Total subscribers’ number was less than 5 million at that time, but today there are over 150 million connected lines.
But shortly after the expiration of the five-year exclusivity period, precisely in 2006, telecoms subscribers started experiencing poor service quality, ranging from drop calls, inability to recharge, call diversion, poor voice clarity, to inability to make successful calls.
The situation continued and degenerated as more subscribers were registered, and subscribers complained.
When Etisalat was eventually registered in 2008, and it rolled out its services in 2008, its network appeared better than that of existing operators, but Etisalat started suffering the same poor quality, few years after, when its subscribers’ number increased rapidly.
Telecoms experts have blamed network congestion on the inability of operators to expand their networks, commensurate with the number of subscribers they register on their networks, while others have blamed the situation on obsolete telecoms facilities that do not have the capacity to accommodate the expanded subscribers’ number.
Disturbed by the situation, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) came up with all manners of measures to address the issue, including sanctions, but the issue of poor service quality persisted across networks.
NCC’s Recent Measures
Worried by the degenerating quality of service (QoS) provided by Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and other service providers, the NCC, recently came up with new measures to address the ugly trend, which appears endless.
As part of new measures to cushion the situation and ameliorate the recurrent inaccessibility to foreign exchange (forex) by operators, the Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) of NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, told the operators that the commission had written to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, and he was favourably disposed to addressing the forex needs of the operators.
Specifically, as a follow-up to the letter, the Executive Commissioner, Stakeholders Management at NCC, Mr. Sunday Dare, had a meeting with CBN Governor and extracted a commitment from him on how he hoped to address the forex needs of the operators.
Danbatta, who spoke with the operators in Abuja during an interactive session on service quality delivery which NCC management had with operators, said since the NCC had declared 2017 as the year of the consumer, all hands should be on deck for telecom consumers to have a fresh lease to high quality of service. “The consumer has to be treated with dignity,” Danbatta added, saying the “8-point agenda drives this point home.”
The NCC, he explained, has put measures in place to check and monitor QoS on various networks “and we have sent this report to our task force on QoS and have been interacting with governments at different levels as part of the measures to deal with the poor QoS”.
Danbatta admonished the operators and co-location service operators to provide suggestions on how to address the situation.
Earlier, NCC’s Executive Commissioner, Technical Services, Mr. Ubale Maska said, QoS has been a great concern as consumers inundate the commission with complaints.
“It requires everybody’s input if the situation has to be redressed, hence 2017 has been declared the year of the Consumer,” Maska said.
NCC Director, Technical Standards and Network Integrity (DTSNI), Dr. Fidelis Ona, explained that the commission was aware of some of the challenges which include Right of Way (RoW), difficulty in acquiring new cell sites, multiple taxation and regulation, vandalism, power supply among others.
“We are engaging stakeholders, including Industry Working Group on Quality of Service, special committee on Counter Harmonization to address this,” Ona said.
NCC’s Head, Quality of Service Unit, Edoyemi Ogoh, in his presentation traced poor quality of service to fibre cuts, community issues, among others.
He said in October 2016, operators experienced 175 cuts across the nation while they recorded 180 cuts in November and 103 in December, 2016. There were 113 community issues in October 2016, 74 in November and 133 in December, adding that fibre cuts and community issues remain major drawbacks for QoS.
Chief Technical Officer (CTO) at MTN Nigeria, Mr. Hassan Jamil, expressed happiness with the interactive session, and said it would help the regulator to know the situation on a one-on-one basis.
The issue of poor service quality has caused a great deal of pains to subscribers. At every consumer parliament organised by NCC, consumer complaints on poor service quality always take the centre stage. Most subscribers at some point in time will remain incommunicado, especially at festive periods like Yuletide, because they could not make calls as a result of network congestion. Some text messages were delivered days after the messages were sent, and at the time the message would be received, the essence of sending the message which had been billed, would have been defeated.
In order to address the challenges, the Chief Executive Officer of Teledom Group, Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem, called for increased access to ubiquitous broadband across the country. In a similar vein, the President of National Association of Telecoms Subscribers (NATCOM), Chief Deolu Ogunbanjo, also called for increase in the number of Base Transceiver Stations (BTS), otherwise known as base stations. Ogunbanjo said Britain with a population of less than Nigeria’s 180 million people, has over 65,000 base stations, while Nigeria is still struggling to maintain about 20, 000 base stations across the country.
Chairman of the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, however called for growth in local content development in the telecoms sector, which he said would boost telecoms growth among small indigenous players. He said Nigeria should be able to address its collective challenges, to enable telecoms subscribers enjoy the achievements of the sector, since the rollout of GSM services in the country in 2001.
Both the operators and subscribers suffer economic loss, once there is network congestion that affects successful calls. According to the operators, they are never happy when there is network congestion because what that means is loss of revenue for the operators since people will not be able to make calls and browse the internet.
In the same manner, subscribers who have business calls to make that could fetch them good money, will end up losing funds in the process.
Telecoms operators who attended the recent meeting with the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, listed some of their challenges as it relates to poor service quality, and made some suggestions on how to address the issue. They were of the view that scarcity of dollar has worsened the situation, and has resulted to their inability to import equipment to boost network expansion. According to them, we can’t transmit forex to vendors, we have issues with incessant fibre cuts, community related challenges, scarcity of diesel to power base stations, Right of Way issues with different layers of government in the regions, as well as sabotage at different levels. “We planned to install 100 sites for Abuja this year, but after a very long time, we were only able to build six because of the bottlenecks of getting approvals and until we resolve these, quality of service will be a mirage,” the operators told Danbatta at the recent meeting.
The issue of poor service quality, no doubt, is affecting both the operators and the subscribers, and the onus lies on NCC to find a lasting solution to it, in order to bring hope alive.