Telkom’s switch to Vodacom roaming sucks for LTE-only data users

Telkom recently switched from MTN to Vodacom as its roaming partner, a move which has caused nothing but headaches for a chunk of its customers.

Subscribers who have been using Telkom’s on-network data bundles report that their connections have become unstable.

For seemingly no reason, devices will connect to Telkom’s new roaming network, which is called “TelkomSA-R”, and refuse to switch back to its own “TelkomSA” network.

When this happens, customers who buy Telkom’s own-network services, which are sold as “LTE/LTE-A only” contracts or bundles, are disconnected from the Internet and unable to use their data allocations.

To add insult to injury, Telkom sends these subscribers an “out of bundle” SMS stating that they are out of data and need to load a new bundle. This, when in reality they have not run out of data, but have been pushed onto the TelkomSA-R roaming network for reasons unknown and are simply unable to use their data allocations.

TelkomSA-R data roaming message

Asked about these problems, Telkom arranged an interview with Beauty Apleni, the chief technology and information officer for Telkom’s consumer and small business segment.

TelkomSA-R network an entirely different roaming design

Apleni explained that Telkom recently switched from using MTN as its roaming network partner, to using Vodacom.

The roaming agreement had with MTN was a more traditional arrangement, where subscribers simply connected to MTN whenever Telkom’s coverage wasn’t sufficient.

Traffic would flow from MTN’s towers, into MTN’s core network, and then be handed off onto Telkom’s core network.

Telkom’s roaming agreement with Vodacom is an entirely different design.

Under this new deal, Telkom has access to Vodacom’s entire radio access network footprint, and it is connected directly to Telkom’s own core network.

This is the reason for the creation of the TelkomSA-R public land mobile network (PLMN).

Telkom now has access to 19,000 towers

Apleni said that the reason for choosing the new network design, is that it lets Telkom address several customer complaints.

She highlighted three key areas where Telkom wanted to make improvements through its new roaming agreement:

  1. Increase coverage — expand its national footprint
  2. Decrease dropped calls
  3. Allow subscribers to access the LTE services on the roaming partner

Under its old roaming agreement, Telkom subscribers were only allowed access to MTN’s 3G/HSPA+ network.

Vodacom has not only allowed access to its faster LTE network, but also offered Telkom seamless roaming. This means fewer dropped calls when moving between the coverage cells of two (or more) towers.

Through the new roaming deal, Telkom also has access to over 19,000 towers around South Africa: 14,000 on Vodacom’s network, and 5,000 on its own network.

Corporate photo of Beauty Apleni

TelkomSA-R roaming complaints

Apleni said that the network has been configured so that, as a priority, subscribers will stay on the TelkomSA network—Telkom’s own towers—wherever possible.

“If you move towards the edge of the network, you will be migrated to the roaming network,” she said, emphasising that this roaming is seamless now.

However, Telkom subscribers have told MyBroadband that they are not getting the experience that Apleni described.

Under the old MTN roaming arrangement, Telkom was very aggressive about switching subscribers back to its own network (TelkomSA) whenever it had coverage available.

Some subscribers even complained that it was too aggressive — switching you back to the Telkom network even when the signal was weak.

With the launch of the TelkomSA-R network, subscribers are reporting that they get pushed onto Vodacom roaming and get stuck there.

Subscribers can sometimes force themselves back onto the TelkomSA network with tricks like switching airplane mode on an off, rebooting their devices, or manually selecting the TelkomSA PLMN.

However, this doesn’t always work, and people who use Telkom’s own-network data packages report that they find themselves disconnected from the network with no way to reconnect.

Apleni thanked MyBroadband for reporting the issue.

She said that part of the switch from MTN to Vodacom as their roaming provider is monitoring issues on the network and addressing them as they crop up.

“A network is something you configure on a daily basis. From when you switch on, you are constantly tweaking,” said Apleni.

Every area is configured differently, she added, explaining why subscribers may experience connectivity issues in one area but not another.

Apleni said that they only completely switched off MTN roaming on the Telkom network in the last days of June, and that they will continue tweaking the configuration of the network over the next few weeks.

Now read: Telkom Mobile roaming nightmare for LTE bundle users

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Telkom’s switch to Vodacom roaming sucks for LTE-only data users