At the GSMA’s Mobile 360 Africa conference, which was held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in July, discussions focused on quality of service (QoS) – a recurrent topic in Africa, where network operators are often blamed for rendering poor service quality. In turn, operators blame regulators for frustrating their network-improvement plans.
African operators and regulators trade blame over poor QoS
In terms of regulatory sanctions in Africa, recent headlines have been dominated by the huge fine that was imposed on MTN Nigeria for missing its deadline for blocking unregistered SIMs. A fine of $5.4bn was levied on MTN Nigeria in late 2015, though in June MTN said it had agreed with the Nigerian authorities that it would pay $1.7bn to settle the matter. However, most of the regulatory sanctions imposed on in Africa over 2015 and 1H16 relate to poor QoS. Faults include lack of coverage, dropped calls, and slow download data speeds. As an example, in 3Q15, Congolese regulator ARPCE reduced the duration of MTN’s and Airtel’s 2G and 3G licenses by one year for failing to meet minimum QoS requirements. MTN and Airtel had already been sanctioned in 2014 and made to pay 1% of their turnover as a fine.
But mobile network operators say they need improved regulation frameworks in order to roll out and run networks efficiently. For Airtel Africa’s Chief Regulatory Officer, Daddy Mukadi, improving QoS is a lost battle as long as the regulatory framework does not evolve. Operators want more flexible and adapted licensing frameworks as well as quicker spectrum auction processes. Many African markets have over the past 10 years migrated to technology- and service-neutral licenses, though many others still segment telecoms licenses by type of technology and service. As a result, operators have to wait and go through lengthy processes to roll out the latest technologies or optimize spectrum usage.
High license fees and fines also hamper operator investment in network improvement. 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.
In the meantime, the consumer should be at the center of initiatives to improve quality of service. In parallel to addressing networks’ challenges, improving consumer education is essential. This goes beyond basic marketing campaigns and should involve more roadshows and direct communications using SMS, IM, and social media.
Matching the consumer’s experience to their expectation should be a prime objective. Operators too often exaggerate their networks’ real capacity when marketing services and promise performance that is hard to deliver for various reasons. More transparency on service availability, network capacity, and pricing options combined with regular consumer education should help maintain loyalty and brand perception while gathering the resources needed to optimize networks.
“Regulatory stance holds up LTE rollout in francophone West Africa”,TE0015-000394(July 2016)
“Differentiating network obligations by location can speed FTTH development”, TE0007-001002 (March 2016)
Thecla Mbongue, Senior Research Analyst, MEA