Amaka Eze writes that as the roll-out date for number portability draws closer, Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) operators are already wooing subscribers with promos that are hampering network services
Early this year, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) licensed three consortiums, SaabGrintek; Interconnect; and Telcordia as agents to set up, implement and roll-out the Mobile Number Portability (MNP) in Nigeria.
Mobile number portability will give subscribers and businesses opportunities to keep their mobile numbers, while porting from operator to operator, be it a mobile or wireless operator.
Ahead of the mobile number portability regime, which has been slated for rollout in December, mobile telecoms service providers are already scrambling to win the hearts of subscribers through series of promos intended to thrill and draw more subscribers to them.
The consequence of these promos however is that network services had been very bad from bad in the last two months as a result of pressure of the promos on them.
This decay on the network service quality has put to question the possibility that the mobile number portability, which should give subscribers the freedom to choose what network to port to, based on criteria like service quality, price and customer service can be achieved in Nigeria.
As the set date for the rollout draws closer, Nigerians are not very confident that the mobile number portability will help steady the long-time issue of poor service quality, since a simple case of promo galore, has almost destabilised the little sanity that was achieved on the networks after the fine imposed on the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) operators, by the NCC, for their failure to meet the minimum Key Performance Indicator (KPI) in May 2012.
Incessant drop call rate, poor access to service quality, clarity, quality with capacity coverage have become part of the Nigerian telecommunications sector. The situation is so bad that even an old man in remote village has at least two SIM cards, and also knows that ‘netiworki’ is not available on either of the lines.
Mobile Number Portability
Mobile number portability is a tool to promote competition among subscribers; it allows dissatisfied subscribers port their mobile numbers from one network to another, while retaining their original identity (mobile numbers).
It is also viewed as the required antidote to poor service quality that had been a burdened on the Nigerian subscribers over the last one year.
In addition, the service will deepen the competition in the market which will in turn drive network stability, as well as aid the growth of the sector. This is because operators will compete for subscriber’s loyalty, by coming up with all kinds of incentives that will lure subscribers to them, and make them (subscribers) stay or join the network.
Mobile Number portability has been a huge success around the world, because it helps to level the playing field by giving all operators more opportunities to grow their subscriber bases and revenues.
Competition and Promos
Over the past few months, GSM operators had let loose series of promos as they compete to be the most loved service provider in the country. The operators have engaged in different promos most of which were intended to lure more subscribers to them.
Most of the promos entail lowering tariffs, as well as adding new incentives to existing tariff cost of on-net and off-net calls to make them interesting to consumers.
Unlike what was obtainable in the last 12 years, when subscribers were charged between N40 and N50 for a minute call, depending on their package, cost of calls had dropped to as low as N5 – N9 per minute for on-net and off-net calls.
Some of the promos, which have caused jam in networks are; the Airtel Nigeria and MTN promos, which award 500 per cent bonus free airtime to its subscribers who spend a specific amount daily.
The two operators recharge subscribers phones with five times the specified amount of credit used for the day, but mandate them (subscribers) to spend the free airtimes before 12 midnight of that day.
Globacom, on its part has the Glo Gista, which offers prepaid tariff plan and rewards the subscriber daily with lower rates for talking more. The subscriber pays 15K/s for calls to Glo lines and 30K/s for calls to other local network.
Also, Etisalat offers a special amount of free credit and free date to some of its customers. The package gives the customer opportunity to win handsets every five minutes throughout the months of July and August. The free data and airtime received, depended widely on the package the subscriber uses.
These promos have elicited keen competition among GSM service providers ahead of the MNP, leaving subscribers with only one question: which network do we port to, since all GSM network operators have the drop calls.
Pressure on Networks
The irony is that, rather than attract more consumers to the service providers, some of these promos have instead aggravated the poor service quality being experienced in the country in recent times.
And since the aggravated service quality is peculiar to all the GSM operators, there is no service provider that can now boast of a stable network, thus there is no operator to port to, in the event the mobile number portability is rolled out.
Despite the fine on the service providers by the NCC, the string of promos have worsened the poor service quality, leaving subscribers to tussle for steady network, as they partake in most of the promos.
In May 2012, the GSM operators were fined N1.17 billion for not meeting the minimum Key Performance Indicator (KPI). But instead of getting better, the situation is degenerating by day.
Most stakeholders who spoke on the ugly development expressed regrets that GSM subscribers in Nigeria are spending so much and should be provided with good service quality.
“Nigerian subscribers are currently disadvantaged by way of poor service quality especially on the rate of drop calls they get from the operators. Operators have complained that some recent challenges are the root causes of the poor service quality, but these challenges are surmounted and shouldn’t be a bedrock on which excuses are placed,” said the President of National Association of Telecommunications Subscribers (NATCOMS) Mr. Deolu Ogunbanjo.
He added, “Business must face challenges for it to grow, all we are saying is that if we must pay for the services, then the service providers must ensure to deliver good quality services.”
Commenting on the issue, President of the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) Mr. Lanre Ajayi, said, “Promos in the telecom sector engender a sense of belonging to telecoms subscribers, giving them a choice of network to belong and plenty of product offerings to choose from.
Ajayi however observed that these promos have led to lowered tariffs, with operators contending to excite and retain their consumers by reducing charges.
He submitted: “There is little need saying here that GSM subscribers need better services as every buyer with his money needs some modicum of respect. The subscriber, they say, is king. The Nigerian mobile subscriber should enjoy the office of the king and be treated with respect and dignity.”
But the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Mr. Eugene Juwah, has however assured that the commission is working to ensure that the service providers’ correct issues associated with service quality.
He opined that there is a paradigm shift from mere service provision to ensuring that consumer satisfaction ranks highest in priority, in the provision of ICT goods and services. Juwah reasoned that the consumer occupies the central position in our scheme of things and comes top among all our stakeholders.
The NCC chief however urged telecoms consumers in the country to protect their rights by reporting to the appropriate authorities any unfair practice by the telecoms operators including extreme poor service quality.
“Consumers must take advantage of the Consumer Affairs Bureau (CAB), established by the commission to protect their rights, which is one of the commission’s mandates; protecting and promoting the interest of consumers against unfair practices from their service providers”, Juwah mentored, even as stated that the telecoms umpire ensures that subscribers were compensated when they were wrongfully billed or when there was incessant loss of service or drop calls.