A response to a stakeholders concerns

The following is in response to concerns from an assertive communications consumer @Daila Mila Mulamulan and thanks to consumers like her who are raising pertinent and objective concerns that regulators can reflect upon and determine how best to intervene, promote and safeguard the interests of consumers. At the Uganda Communications Commission, we are eager to learn from consumer experiences and provide consumer education, and empowerment that may help to bridge the information gap. However, let’s explore some useful comments on some of Daila’s concerns.

Dropped calls

It is theoretically correct that if you are using a per minute voice plan and a call is dropped, the operator will charge you for the entire minute even when less has been used. This issues was prominent during the first Communications Consumer Parliament in 2014, and drop calls then were very rampant. However, since then, the majority of the voice market in Uganda is on a per second plan (Prepaid customers) meaning that even when a call drops, one only gets charged for the seconds used.

Dropped Calls

Quality of Service

It is also crucial to note that due to advancements in technology from 2G, 3G and now 4G and an increased amount of investment in capacity by telecommunications companies, there has been remarkable improvement in the quality of service and a reduction in the rate of dropped calls across the board. This link http://bit.ly/2ViHrrK highlights the latest quality of service report that compares the result of 2017 and 2018. Make note that in this report, all the telecommunication providers measured performed well on average when measured on dropped calls. Measurements were taken in Kampala, Masaka, Mbale, Iganga, Jinja, Gulu, Soroti, Mbarara, Kabale, Kasese and Fortportal. These areas are urban and all providers measured have a presence making it suitable for a comparison among service providers. It is important to point out at this moment that Quality of Service is a moving target. This means it is not a constant, there are many variations that affect Quality of Service as will be explained later here.

Note that the Dropped call rate target is less than or equal to 2% as a standard, meaning that for every 100 calls initiated by a user, an operator can only be allowed to drop two calls. This is important because, in 2014, the failure rate for dropped calls for some operator then would go as high as 38%. There has been remarkable improvement in this area that is worthy noting.

Quality of Service (QoS)

How do we know the quality of service? In accordance with Section 5(1) of the Uganda Communications Act of 2013, the Uganda Communications Commission does set the Quality of Service standards in Uganda.  The key performance indicators are based on the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and other industry standards.

So, UCC uses the drive test method to measure the quality of service of operators.  This approach takes measurements by driving around in different places or locations and relies on test calls that simulate average user behaviour posing as a real subscriber on the network (using an ordinary SIM card).  The drive test method takes into consideration call attempts impacted by coverage outages due to network failure. UCC also conducts consumer surveys to get the QoS perspective of subscribers and audits operators’ systems to verify the data received from the operators. As the regulators, we prefer the drive test method because it enables our technicians to take measurements independently from the operator and takes into consideration different user locations.

What are some of the known causes of poor quality of service?

The measurements done by UCC in 2017 and 2018 on UTL, MTN, Airtel and Africell identified the following causes of unsuccessful or failed call attempts:-

  • Insufficient network resources (capacity) in a location at the instant of testing leading to failure to set up a call and to handover a call from one network cell to another
  • Poor signal quality and signal level due to network coverage;
  • Failure of the network to recognise the requesting subscriber details, at the time of initiating a connection resulting in a denial of service
  • Network outage in a location.
  • Network configuration impacting smooth switching of multi-band phones between technology

Therefore, UCC continuously engages operators to address observed causes of failure including

  • Improving their network and frequency plans
  • Enhancing network capacity
  • Review of network configuration

Unused data bundles

The first aspect you have to appreciate about Data is the fact that Data is Bandwidth. This means that when you purchase a Data bundle, you get access to a fixed amount of bandwidth for a specific period. Data services are therefore subscription based just like your Pay-Tv, which expires after a specified period.

Let’s dig into the technicalities a little here if you are to appreciate this. Bandwidth is the capacity of a wired or wireless network communications link to transmit the maximum amount of data from one point to another over an internet connection in a given amount of time -usually one second. Bandwidth describes the data transfer rate or capacity.

As part of the value chain, telecom companies incur costs to upstream Data providers of Transit Internet IP connection like SEACOM that supplies Africa through multiple subsea cables. These upstream providers give aggregated volume-based discounts that telecom companies pass on to their end users or customers. The volume agreements at this level are based on total monthly usage and have other conditions attached. For instance, some discounts are time-based which explains why some telecom companies take advantage of low usage periods like during the night to offer considerable discounts to increase usage.

Some operators have introduced Data sharing mechanism in the effort to increase usage, which has a direct bearing to the volume-based discounts they can obtain from upstream suppliers. Like in any other sector, resources are finite, and your service provider takes advantage of the usage patterns or payment terms to pass on the benefits to the end users.

What this all means is that the telecom company that is giving you access to data, also has to renew its data access periodically with the upstream data suppliers. Literary, your service provider has to buy data from suppliers who equally put timelines after which, they have to re-subscribe to access that capacity.

Let’s use the Pay Tv subscription business model to explain the data scenario. Think of it this way. Does your Pay Tv subscription last longer if you watched less TV? No. Why? Because the subscription service has a start and end date meaning that you pay for the opportunity to watch as many channels but never the less, the subscription will end even when you have watched only twice in a given month.

That said, some providers now have a rollover plan for unused data, and this is likely to increase competition and gain broader adoption in the data market segment.

The Commission makes a note of concerns of poor customer service, and this will be included in the process audits for further investigation.  The Commission remains committed to promoting and safeguarding the interests of consumers and operators of communication services in the country, and consumer assertiveness in exercising their rights is fundamental in influencing improvements in the communication sector. Always feel free to call the Consumer Affairs team Toll Free on 0800 222 777 to respond and address on any concerns.  IKB

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