The Communications Authority recently fined telco operators over Sh300 million for providing poor-quality of services. Additionally, Safaricom, Airtel and Telkom Kenya were fined 0.15 per cent of their latest financial returns as a penalty for giving Kenyans poor services.
Quality is one of the hardest terms to define, particularly because it means different things to different people. In other words, quality has a subjective component that can introduce a lot of ambiguity in measuring it.
As an example, imagine two passengers travelling from Nairobi to Mombasa.
One uses air transport while the other uses a bus.
After fifty minutes, the airline passenger lands in Mombasa very frustrated while eight hours later, the bus passenger arrives extremely satisfied and delighted.
Clearly, measuring the quality of service for travelling to Mombasa based purely on time taken will not give the full picture of the travel experience.
BONE OF CONTENTION
And this is the challenge with any quality metrics – they will always have the technical aspects (time of travel) and the subjective aspects (customer expectations), which are always harder to measure.
The quality measurement parameters have therefore continued to be a bone of contention between the telco providers and the regulator. However, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has tried to provide a detailed definition for quality of service as a baseline.
The ITU definition is mainly technical but has been adapted to a large extent by the regulator to measure performance of the local telcos on voice communication.
There are about eight technical parameters being measured but the key ones are call-setup rate, call-drop rate and call-success rate.
The call-setup rate measures the percentage of calls that get through to the called party, the call-drop rate measures the percentage of calls that go through but eventually get disconnected abruptly while the call-success rate is the percentage of calls that get through and are successfully terminated by the caller.
It appears from the 2016 quality of service report that on average all the operators scored below the expected 80 per cent threshold, leading to the fines the regulator has imposed.
From a general understanding, quality can be defined as fit for purpose.
In other words, as a subscriber, you would expect that when you make a call, you would expect that over 90 per cent of the time it would go through. You will perhaps also expect that 90 per cent of the time it does not get dropped unceremoniously.
In the event this does not happen as expected, you as an individual may not successfully take these telco giants to task for remedial action. Only the regulator can step in and protect your interests.
Additionally, quality of service is intricately connected to profits and by extension price of services. In other words, telco providers can deliberately avoid expanding their network to meet increasing subscriber numbers in order to post higher profits.
DILEMMAS ON NETWORK CAPACITY
This is more or less like what matatus would do when overloading a 14-seater vehicle with 16 or even 20 passengers. The passengers may complain, but in the short term, the driver reaps extra money at the end of the trip.
Ideally, the matatu owner should have deployed a bigger vehicle to meet the demand. However, it is not always true that the bigger vehicle will be filled to capacity, given that sometimes it may be half-full on a given trip and thus make a loss.
It is a simplified example but telco providers face the same challenge. Over-dimensioning a network does provide the best customer experience but it may lead to idle capacity, which translates to financial losses.
On the other hand, under-dimensioning a network would lead to overloading it and to poor quality of service – but assures a good return on investment, particularly if subscribers cannot easily defect to other networks.
It is always a balancing act between how much to invest in capacity expansion, versus what level of “poor service” the subscribers can put up with before they think of defecting to another provider.
That level of poor service can keep getting worse, unless the regulator steps in. It was slow in taking up this challenge, but at least it is now getting on the right track in monitoring the quality of service.
Mr Walubengo is a lecturer at Multimedia University of Kenya, Faculty of Computing and IT. Email: [email protected], Twitter: @Jwalu