The news that POTRAZ, the telecoms regulator, has decided to implement a Quality of Service (QoS) template to protect the interests of consumers in telecoms deserves some applause.
This development will save subscribers from the frustrations of taking on a huge monster of a company whenever they lose a crucial dollar in a billing inaccuracy or some other such disservice.
It is very difficult for prejudiced subscribers to follow through on minute figures, considering the steps necessary for any complaint to be heard or corrective measures, especially for individuals, to be taken.
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The high switching costs to move from one network to another in the absence of number porting doesn’t make it an easier and enough times users are stuck with a network not necessarily out of choice.
However, to contribute my own two cents to the consultations currently underway, here are a four issues that POTRAZ should consider with its QoS drive. the critical aspect will be enforcing these measures, as some have already been explored by different operators in one way or the other.
I strongly believe support is a component of the service I get from a service provider. The final regulations must enforce the availability of support services from the service providers including a manned call center 24 hours a day.
I do not have to give examples of how frustrating it is to call some call centers at a crucial time like when your DStv payment hangs between EcoCash and MultiChoice right before a soccer match.
In fact, just to prove my case, you may want to dial any help desk or call center right now and see if you get through before you get to the end of this article. These days, whenever I do eventually get through, I now make it a point to record the call and go directly to a supervisor as the call center agents are usually clueless, rude, and eager to get rid of you as quickly as possible without really understanding your needs.
To be fair, though, I have to disclose that my experiences are with one mobile operator, but I can almost bet that this is a common problem. POTRAZ must ensure all service providers, not just network operators, are equipped with toll-free connectivity to support services for their customers because support is a major component of the operator – subscriber contract.
USSD channel standards
I could not find in the draft QoS standards any section that deals with quality of USSD service delivery. Again I speak for many subscribers when I say the USSD services from some service providers are deplorable.
Either the session simply refuses to start, the transaction fails midway, or an error code is returned despite everything having been captured correctly. This is frustrating especially when racing against time.
Whether it is an issue of congestion or simply poor service standards, I expect POTRAZ to outline some form of Service Level Agreements (SLA) for the USSD platform where an up-time and success rate is enforceable.
Furthermore, because the USSD services keep growing, every service provider must provide some form of directory service of all the services on their network by dialing a reserved shortcode that works across all networks, say *347# (347 is dir on the number keypad).
As part of quality of service, networks must ensure they have a working toll-free emergency number service available round the clock that relays calls to emergency services such as police, ambulance, fire, rescue and so forth.
A quick survey I carried out recently confirmed what I’d suspected – Most people are not sure what the emergency services numbers are in Zimbabwe even though they know it is 911 for the United States.
POTRAZ can score a quick win popularizing our local numbers, especially in this age where it is more fashionable to capture videos and images of horrific accidents before helping the injured.
While we already have an emergency dial prompt, every operator must also pre-load these emergency numbers into the SIM and possibly disallow deleting by the user.
An emergency number can be the difference between life and death for someone and in the same way that networks can be used to warn subscribers in the case of extreme weather conditions such as cyclones and hail, networks have the social responsibility to provide access to emergency services.
Terms and conditions
The number of services that consumers sign onto without elaborations of conditions and services is alarming. Service providers must make available regularly or engage in some form of consumer education to make sure their consumers are aware of what they are signing for.
In fact, the rushed SIM registration process has given way to some irregularities including fraudulent IDs captured in the system that are then abused as is the case of the EcoCash user who registered lines in the name of prominent politicians and went about extorting money from innocent citizens.
In retrospect, operators must provide a channel through which consumers can request and read the terms of service so that they also know their limitations and what to expect from their operators. This will go a long way in consumer education as most of the times consumers are ignorant of their rights in terms of the standard of service they are supposed to get and recourse in case of an agreement with the service provider.