Despite regulatory pressure, telecom operators in Africa compete in the diversification of their offers to increase customers and revenues, sometimes to the detriment of the quality of service, explains a report from Ecofin Pro. Regulators, faced with recurring non-compliance with quality requirements, have moved from raising awareness to financial sanctions.
Despite pressure from regulators, many telecom operators active in Africa are investing massively in the diversification of their product offering, to attract a larger number of customers and maximize their revenues at the expense of the quality of services, according to a published report on September 28 by Ecofin Pro, the Ecofin agency platform dedicated to professionals.
Entitled “Why does the poor quality of telecoms services persist in Africa despite the increase in investment in networks? » , the report specifies that the good quality of telecoms services is of crucial importance, in the same way as network coverage. Especially since it can boost the continent’s economic development by supporting fast and stable internet access, through which businesses can expand their reach in domestic and international markets.
According to the Global Association of Mobile Operators (GSMA), quality of service (QoS) refers to an objective and measurable quality of the telecoms service. It concerns how well or poorly a subscription service works, and is usually expressed quantitatively using speed, accuracy, reliability and security metrics.
In their recent financial reports and public statements, sub-Saharan Africa’s major operators — Airtel, Orange, MTN and Vodacom — have highlighted efforts to improve service quality, particularly in rural areas, as a key part of their operating strategies and their contribution to digital transformation in the markets where they operate. But telecoms regulators believe that despite this vision of operators, the quality of services remains poor, with high call failure rates, poor voice quality, network disruptions, weak indoor signal, etc.
Regulators abandon awareness and move to sanctions
To try to rectify the situation, telecom market regulators are putting constant pressure on operators to comply with the requirements of their specifications regarding the quality of telecom services by carrying out regular audits and setting key indicators. performance indicators (KPI) such as call success rate, error-free SMS reception rate within 30 seconds of sending and Internet connection failure rate. However, operators have often responded as best they can to these measures, which forced regulators to quickly abandon awareness raising and formal notices to move on to sanctions, given the danger that the poor quality of services represents for the policy of digital inclusion that the continent is pursuing.
The report drawn up by our colleague Muriel Edjo specifies in this context several operators have been severely sanctioned in recent years. In Tanzania, Airtel Tanzania Plc, MIC
Tanzania Plc (Tigo), Viettel Tanzania Plc (Halotel), Vodacom Tanzania Plc, Zanzibar Telecoms Plc (Zantel) and Tanzania Telecommunications Company Limited (TTCL) were fined a total of $16.4 million on February 17, 2021, for poor quality of service, despite a previous fine of $540,000 in July 2020. In Niger, the Electronic Communications and Postal Regulatory Authority (ARCEP) imposed, in July 2023, a fine of a cumulative amount of $7.3 million to telecom operators Celtel (Airtel Niger), Moov Africa, Niger Telecoms and Zamani for non-compliance with their quality of service commitments to consumers. Similar fines have also been imposed on active operators, among others, in Cameroon, Togo and Senegal.
Faced with these sanctions, telecom operators denounce sanctions which endanger their long-term investment capacity in the network. They point in particular to certain quality of service frameworks, which are too complex, implemented in the region with ” an unreasonably high number of key performance indicators “, which do not always take into account the technical realities of the market such as the lack of adequate spectrum, poor electricity supply or even vandalism to infrastructure.
A “fully assumed” business strategy
In response to the grievances expressed by operators, regulators emphasize that the regulations governing the quality of services were issued at the same time as the specifications relating to telecoms licenses. They also note that the investments made by operators mainly focus on modernization (the adoption of new network technologies) and the extension of network coverage, while reducing their telecom tower assets.
Citing the Swedish telecoms equipment manufacturer Ericsson, the report indicates that the poor quality of services represents “ a fully assumed business strategy » for many telecom operators on the continent. These operators give priority to the diversified service offering to the detriment of improving the quality of services. This strategy, which focuses on quantity at the expense of quality, aims to attract the greatest number of customers with a wide variety of value-added services, and to maximize revenues from subscribers covered by the telecoms network. Thus in different business segments such as voice, data, mobile financial services, these telecoms companies make money thanks to a large number of consumers who sometimes access the networks as best they can.
Given the development challenges inherent to the telecommunications sector in Africa and the crucial importance of the quality of telecoms services for a prosperous and connected future on the continent, the report recommends the intensification of cooperation between governments, regulators telecoms and mobile operators with a view to creating an ecosystem favorable to the expansion of telecommunications services and digital inclusion.