Cellular network quality: What is the truth?

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) recently published their ECS and ECNS compliance reports for South Africa’s largest telecoms operators.

The compliance assessments, which were conducted for the 2009/2010 financial year, were based on the following regulations: General License Fees; Code of Conduct; People with Disabilities; E-rate; End-User and Subscriber Service Charter; and USAF.

As part of the End user and subscriber service charter regulations the networks provided ICASA with network availability statistics.

Vodacom submitted that their network availability was 99.6% over the measured period while MTN said that they have always achieved a network service availability of over 99% in all areas of coverage.

Cell C provided a more extensive breakdown of network performance, showing an average network availability of 99.33%.

These figures mean that the three cellular operators comfortably comply with the regulations which require operators to “…achieve an average 95% network service availability over a period of six (6) months”.

Are these figures reliable? It is obviously unlikely that an operator will submit statistics which show that they have not met regulatory requirements.

ICASA’s own tests

ICASA recently conducted a quality of service survey of the cellular operators in Gauteng, and published a document in July 2011 which showed that Cell C, Vodacom and MTN failed to meet the minimum requirements for Call Set Up Success Rate (CSSR) and Dropped Call Rate (DCR).

Overall Performance
Overall Performance

The results of the survey found that MTN did not meet the target in terms of Call Set Up Success Rate, whereas Vodacom and Cell C have complied with this requirement.

Call Setup Success Rate
Call Setup Success Rate

However, all three operators failed to meet the target in terms of dropped call rate.

Drop Call Rate
Drop Call Rate

If ICASA only uses statistics provided by the cellular operators themselves to assess regulatory requirements (which was the case in its latest compliance reports), it means that Vodacom, MTN and Cell C will essentially tell the regulator that they complied with network regulations, rather than the other way around.

To effectively enforce regulations about network availability it is clear that ICASA will have to conduct their own network performance and quality testing.

The regulator’s capacity to accurately perform such testing, especially with limited funding and other resources, is questionable.

Related info: ICASA Compliance Reports

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Cellular network quality: What is the truth?