How Tanzanians get a raw deal in mobile phone calls

MORE than 30 million Tanzanians currently own a mobile phone handset, but the vast majority of them are having to put up with poor quality of mobile calls, according to a new study by the country's telecoms watchdog.

Mobile phones

Tanzanians are getting a raw deal from all the major mobile phone operators in the country on call quality and other services, the Tanzania Communications and Regulatory Authority (TCRA) said in a new report, even as millions of people now depend on the hand-held communications devices for their everyday lives.

As Tanzanians continue to discover social media, short message texting, mobile money payments and video streaming via their mobile phone handsets, talking on the phone is an experience that has not gotten better for smart phone users.

TCRA said in a research report that all mobile phone companies operating in the country have failed to meet the minimum standards for call quality in both 2G and 3G services.

This means that despite the availability of sophisticated smart phones and even 4G networks, many mobile users in Tanzania are left less than satisfied with call clarity.

TCRA's quality of service report for cellular mobile operators shows that Vodacom, Airtel, Tigo, Zantel and Smart did not comply with the target of call quality in the study conducted in Dar es Salaam during October-December last year.

The voice quality test used by TCRA assigns a "numerical indication of the perceived quality of the media received after being transmitted and eventually compressed."

"All operators did not comply with the target (of reaching a numerical value of 3.5," TCRA said in the report. In terms of the average voice quality for 2G services, Vodacom got the lowest rating of 1.71, followed by Zantel (2.22), Airtel (2.25), Tigo (2.46) and Smart (2.6). In 3G services, the same mobile phone companies also failed to meet the minimum call quality standards, scoring 1.46 (Zantel), 2.32 (Vodacom), 2.36 (Tigo) and 2.51 (Airtel).

Smart offers only 2G services in the Dar es Salaam service area. Under TCRA's benchmarks, a call quality with the numerical value of 1 stands for bad (very annoying), followed by 2 for poor service (annoying), 3 for fair (slightly annoying), 4 for good (perceptible but not annoying) and 5 for excellent (imperceptible).

All Tanzanian mobile phone operators got a score of between 1 and below 3, which means the services that they provide ranges from "very annoying" and "annoying" when it comes to the quality of voice calls.

The newest mobile phone industry player in Tanzania, Halotel, was not included in the TCRA study. In addition to that, all the mobile phone companies also failed to meet minimum standards in call connection failure and call setup success rates.

While the telecoms watchdog has set the target of a call success rate of more than 95 percent, all the mobile phone companies failed to meet this benchmark.

Tests showed Airtel had the lowest call success rate at 79.2 percent, followed by Tigo (87.5 percent), Zantel (90.91 percent) and Vodacom (91.76 percent).

However, the telecoms regulator said technical tests showed that the mobile phone companies managed to comply with minimum set standards for network availability and call drop rates.

TCRA announced earlier this month that it has ordered the five mobile phone firms to pay a total of 112 million/- in fines for providing poor services and supposedly fleecing their customers.

TCRA director general Ally Simba said the firms were found guilty of failing to comply with service quality regulations by preventing network hitches and deducting service charges directly from customer accounts without actually providing the intended services or products.

Vodacom was fined 27m/-, Tigo and Zantel 25m/- each, Airtel 22.5m/-, and Smart 12.5m/-, the TCRA boss stated. He added that the fines must be paid before the end of March, or the non-compliant firms will face tougher regulatory action.

Telecoms experts say as Tanzanians continue to struggle with poor call quality, buying a more expensive handset does not guarantee better quality either because it depends on the mobile phone network. Voice quality is one of the major issues that the Tanzanian mobile industry has to address in terms of its future growth, users said.

Responding to the findings, some representatives of mobile phone companies said the firms were committed to improving the consistency and quality of voice calls.

John Wanyancha, corporate communication manager of Tigo Tanzania, said his company has been consistently investing annually on network expansion and quality improvement.

“Tigo Tanzania set aside $120 million since last year to invest on its network expansion and quality improvement in order to ensure that we provide quality services to our clients,” he said.

Airtel Tanzania’s director of communication, Beatrice Singano, said the company was also investing heavily in network expansion and improvement. She said Airtel was investing $100 million on its network in 2015/06 to improve the quality of service. The number of mobile phone subscribers in Tanzania rose by 16 percent in 2014 to around 32 million, according to TCRA.
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