QoS: Telecoms subscribers count losses

More than a decade after liberalising the nation’s telecoms industry, telephone subscribers continue to groan under heavy losses occasioned by poor quality of service even as regulator sanctions appear ineffective in stemming the trend, KUNLE AZEEZ writes.

From west to south; north to east; urban centres and rural communities, the story on the quality of service service quality provided by telecoms’ operators in the country remains the same for Nigerians.

Subscribers’ daily experiences are characterised by tales of frustrations and disappointments and ultimately, economic losses occasioned by the pervasive and poor quality of service by the service providers in the industry.

“Already, subscribers’ monetary losses to frequent call drops, service outages are staggering causing the economy an estimated N730 billion annually,” says a telecoms expert, Mr. Monday Ogbe, whose company Back-up Networks specialises in QoS measurement in the country.

According to Monday, “Nigerian telecom subscribers put together are unknowingly losing about N1 billion on daily basis to call drops due to poor telecommunications services in the country.”

Monday, an authority in QoS back-end operation, also explains that providers’ inability to service 100 million subscribers with potential 20 minutes calls due to consistent 10 minutes downtime equals N2 billion. “But with less than N1 billion earned as a result of poor quality repeat calls, the net loss to service provider equals N1 billion,” he says.

As a result, Monday concludes that Nigerian economy losses N2 billion per day as a result of net losses from the consumers and the operators income, bringing the total losses in a year to the economy within 365 days to an estimated N730 billion as a result of poor QoS and dwindling Quality of Experience, QoE, on the part of the subscribers.

Since the liberalisation of the Nigerian telecoms sector in 2001, telecoms subscribers in Nigeria have continued to be victims of poor services, where, in most cases, they hardly get maximum value for their money.

Despite all the investments supposedly made by all the telecoms network operators to expand this year, poor quality of service has continued to persist, an anomaly fast becoming a norm in the Nigerian telecoms space.

By the mid 2012, the volume of local and foreign direct investments into the nation’s telecoms sector had reached a whopping $25 billion up from N500 million in 2001.

This year alone, telcos have proposed a $6.95bn investment on their networks, as by June this year, different financing deals have been struck in that regard. For instance, Airtel Nigeria is investing $1.5 billion in network upgrade; Globacom, $1.25 billion; MTN Nigeria, $3 billion; and Etisalat, $1.2 billion.

As cheering as all these interventionist moves, aimed at boosting the network coverage of the operators, poor QoS continues to rear its ugly head with telecoms subscribers being the primary victims of the development. “One would expect the telecoms services to be very perfect in university community.

I can tell you that telecoms services experience is become more and more of excruciating headache by the day,” says a postgraduate student of the University of Lagos, Abdullah Mutallib. Mutallib, 32, wonders what would be the faith of other locations across the country, if the telecoms firms, all of which have the starting point of their operations in Lagos, the nation’s commercial nerve-centre, could not achieve desirable QoS.

“Nigerian in other parts of the country must be experiencing a worse experience in terms of telecom services,” he grimaces as he complains to National Mirror.

“The operators’ service leaves much to be desired. Especially, their service becomes worse during festive season such as Yuletide when we make heavy calls to relatives and business associates,” a trader at the popular Idumota market in Lagos, Mrs. Catherin Thomas, complains.

Indeed, Mutallib and Thomas’ experiences with regards to the erratic quality of service being provided by the operators are striking examples of what most Nigerians pass through a daily basis.

In an apparent move to tackle the poor QoS in the industry, the Nigerian Communications Commission in 2001, riding on the Nigerian Communication Act 2001, came up with Key Performance Indicators, KPIs, on QoS.

The KPIs set standards and certain threshold to which operators must meet for them to be seen as providing desired service quality level to the over 121 million active telephone lines in the country.

Since then, the NCC had found telecoms operators wanting for contravening the KPIs on QoS and, in response, has fined the operators for various contraventions which, it claimed, have impacted negatively on their service quality.

A dairy of the series of sanctions revealed that the GSM operators had been sanctioned a total of N1.93 billion that would have accrued to them as revenues for contravening industry regulations. The GSM operators; MTN, Globacom, Airtel and Etisalat incurred the financial sanctions between May 2012 and May, 2013.

Operators’ offences bothered on violations of the KPIs on quality of service; breach of promotional and lottery directive as well as the contravention of the regulation forbidding sales of pre-registered Subscriber Identity Modules, SIM, cards in the country.

For more than 18 months now, the NCC had lowered the KPI thresholds to give operators ‘period of grace’ to improve their service but has, last week, threatened to revert to original KPI standards.

According to the Executive Chairman, NCC, Dr, Eugene Juwah, “The current poor service is not acceptable as complaints we receive daily from subscribers as well as our personal experiences in using your service have indicated.”

Juwah said the commission had to agree with telecoms operators to lower the initial KPI standard in 2012, following complaints by the operators that the standards were too high for them to meet, as a result of the harsh telecoms operating environment in the country.

“We have not sanctioned operators of late, because we reduced the KPI and all of them have been meeting the lowered standards, but it is time we raise the bar again in order to address the issue of service quality that is still lingering in the industry.

By the end of December, 2013, we would take necessary regulatory intervention on any operator that is found wanting,” he said. In similar move to keep the operators on their toes and make them more competitive in the area of quality of service deliver, the regulator, on April 22, 2013, launched the Mobile Number Portability scheme, MNP.

With the MNP, telecom consumers would no longer need to acquire new numbers to move from one network to another, as subscribers will simply take their existing numbers along with them to any network of their choice.

The scheme is meant to create freedom of choice and to further reinforce the ‘Consumer is the Kind’ mantra while, at the same time, spurring competition among the operators, to provide the best quality of service to win the minds of subscribers to such network with better service.

Since its launch, MNP has remained unattractive to telecom subscribers, as only few subscribers have had a need to switch from on network to another.

“I don’t see a need to switch from one operator to another because, none of them offers superior service that can attract subscriber to switch,” says a banker, Mr. Bankole Uthman. Other challenges discouraging telephone users from embracing MNP, as gathered, include the 90 days lock-up period on recipient network during which a ported subscriber is not allow to port back.

“For me, I also find porting process very cumbersome. Why do I need to go and queue again at an operator’s customer centre and give my biometrics and other bio-data again, all because I want to port,” a telecoms subscriber based in Ibadan, Adewumi Abiodun comments.

Investigations also revealed that GSM firms are engaging in anti-MNP regulations practices, where some operators have been alleged to be preventing their subscribers wishing to move to a new network from doing so, as each operator fears losing its subscribers to others, a development that has also contributed to the low adoption of MNP by telephone users.

However, while the NCC continues to use sanction as a measure for keeping subscribers on their toes to improve service delivery, telecoms subscribers and the operators believe this may not be the way to go.

Telecoms subscribers reckon that for the past two years since NCC has been sanctioning subscribers, the problem of poor service continues to lingered, even as the lingering poor service delivery has also been confirmed by the operators.

Speaking with National Mirror, the President, National Association of Telecoms Subscribers, Chief Deolu Ogunbanjo, in a gloomy face, says NCC has continue to bloat government’s coffer through various nations imposed on the operators, while subscribers, who are the main victims continued to suffer.

Ogunbanjo, few months ago, petitioned the NCC and the operators on the need for the networks to compensate subscribers for the pains and losses they are made to pass through as a result of poor services.

“But our pleas have fallen on deaf ears of the NCC and the operators. While the NCC makes money for government all in the names of sanctions, the subscriber, who are the main sufferers continue to be great losers,” says Ogunbanjo. According to him, “Over the past months, we, as an association, have demanded compensation, in form of free airtime worth N5, 000 for each of the 121 million active telephone lines on the networks.”

Though, telecoms operators are reluctant to pay such compensation estimated at N605 billion, sources at NCC also told National Mirror that, “NCC approving the payment of such compensation may result in further congestion of the network.”

However, Ogunbanjo, who noted that compensations, in form of airtime, had been paid this year by telephone operator sin Ghana to their subscribers for poor service delivery, wondered why Nigeria’s regulator has failed to prevail over Nigerian operators to do same for their subscribers as demanded by NATCOMS.

Ogunbanjo said he was worried that fines imposed by the regulatory authority on telecoms operators for failing key performance indicators, KPIs, test on network quality, do not get to reach the telecoms subscribers that suffer the loss of everything.

“In 2009, the then NCC boss, Engr. Ernest Ndukwe, acceded to our demand by asking the operators to pay compensations in airtime to their subscribers. There was a process adopted for the payment of the compensation such that it didn’t affect the network quality.

Why can’t we do the same now?” he queries. Meanwhile, subscribers have also accused respective communications committees in House of Representatives and

The Senate, National Assembly for folding their arms on the woes of subscribers. According an Airtel and MTN subscriber, Mr. Soji Badmos, “When we talk of poor telecoms service, one wonders, with dismay, what exactly are our lawmakers doing to truly champion the cause of Nigerians they claim to represent.”

He accused the lawmakers of compromising the interest of Nigerian telephone users, saying, “How can we blame the lawmakers, since the so-called communications Committee members of both the upper and lowers houses get freebies from the operators and I have a friend in the National Assembly, who confirmed this to me.”

To the operators, the sanctions were not a solution to improving quality of service but a conscious effort on the part of the government to addressing operating challenges facing the operators would.

Expressing this view, President, Association of Licensed Telephone Operators of Nigeria, Mr. Gbenga Adebayo says “Quailty of service issues would be meaningfully addressed if operating challenges facing operators such as high Right of Way charges, vandalism, multiple regulation and taxations, among others are frontally tackled.”

In the same vein, Chief Executive Officer of MTN, Mr. Michael Ikpoki, also blamed the situation on the challenges militating against rapid rollout of telecoms networks by telecoms operators in the country.

Aknowledging the poor service syndrome at a telecoms event in Lagos, Minister of Communications Technology, Mrs. Omobola Johnson, said, Nigerians telecoms subscribers are daily faced with poor network service deliver that makes it impossible for consumers to seamlessly make or receive calls due to cases of drop calls, lack of sustainability of calls.

According to her, “They (the subscribers) are also confronted with annoying cases of unsolicited text messages at odd hours, unsolicited telemarketing calls, deceptive broadband speed adverts by some service providers and failure of service delivery, without compensations to consumers.”

She disclosed that the ministry was more than ever prepared to fight for telecoms consumers, stressing that it had started working with the Consumer Protection Council to ensure that subscriber abuse in the area of service delivery is addressed head-long.

Challenged it has not been doing much protect telecom consumers, especially in the area of poor services by the operators, the Director -General, CPC, Mrs. Dupe Atoki denies such ‘insinuation’, saying CPC has recently strengthened collaboration with the ministry and the NCC to protect telecoms consumers from prevalent abuse by the operators.

With specific reference to telecoms sector, Atoki said, “Under the CPC’s Act, the Council has the power to sanction, prosecute and compel any product or service providers, to answer a lawful inquiry, disobedience of which are all criminalised.

In addition, CPC can take orders in the interest and protection of consumers and disobedience is also criminalised by law.

While NCC can impose fines or even revoke the licence of an offending operators, CPC can, in addition, commit such recalcitrant offenders to jail terms for contravening any consumer protection enactment and we are, more than ever, committed to this., going forward.”

Meanwhile, 2014 will reveal if the ministry, the NCC, and the CPC are serious on truly fighting for telecoms subscribers, who have continued to suffer the terrible consequences of poor telecoms services without any compensations.

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