Airtel, ACL shine, TNM, MTL stumble
By Gregory Gondwe, Blantyre, Malawi
The Malawi Communication Regulatory Authority (MACRA) has issued three quarterly reports on the performance indicators of Malawi’s two mobile phone service providers Airtel Malawi and Telecoms Network Malawi (TNM) Limited, as well as its two fixed telephone line operators, Malawi Telecommunications Limited (MTL) and Access Communications Limited (ACL).
While Airtel Malawi beat TNM on service delivery, ACL likewise triumphed over MTL in terms of quality of service.
MACRA says in all the three reports that its analysis focused on the last quarter of 2011 which looked at the performance of the four service providers in the months of October, November and December.
While MTL has been around almost since Malawi’s independence, Access Communications Limited (ACL) as the second national fixed wireless operator in Malawi, only commenced operations in Blantyre in January 2010.
While MTL has been present in all corners of the country for decades since Access Communications Limited was launched it has commissioned their network in less than 30 new sites.
And while for ACL MACRA focused on 11 key performance indicators, for MTL it focused on 5 key performance indicators.
For MTL the major Key Performance indicators under consideration as presented in the report are; Call failure rate; Dial tone rate; Fault Clearance rate; Connection Rate and Public Call Offices in Working Order
For ACL the focus is on Intelligence Network(IN) Platform availability, Call Setup Success Rate, EVDO Context Activation Success Rate, Call Drop Rate, Handover Success Rate, Traffic Channel Congestion, Trunk Congestion, 1X Packet Call Setup Success Rate, Radio Availability, MSC Availability and SMS success rate.
On Call failure rate which measures the unsuccessful calls between originators and the recipients against a total number of call attempts, MTL managed to meet all call failure targets although MACRA noted that even when MTL managed to meet all call failure targets, it is only local calls where it is doing extremely well.
“It is also noted that the call failure rate has gone up from 2.1% in the third quarter to 5% in the 4th quarter. However overall, MTL maintains the Call failure rate within the required rate,” says MACRA in its report.
MACRA's target for Long calls is 2%, and in all the months MTL registered 0.0 while on the Long Distance Calls whose target is 6%, MTL managed to register 0.1 for October, 0.28 for November and 2.00 for December. MTL also managed to beat the target on Network to Network as well as International respectively.
On Dial Tone Rate, which measures the presence of a dial tone every time a customer picks up a phone to dial any number., MACRA says with the advancement in technology and advent of digital switching, the delay factor in obtaining a dial tone is almost negligible.
The target for this is 99% and MTL achieved 100%.
“For modern day digital switches, the delay factor in the dial tone rate is almost negligible as evidenced by the 100% achievement in respect of this KPI. MTL has maintained doing well in this area,” says MACRA
Fault clearance rate
Fault clearance rate measures the speed at which network faults are cleared against the prescribed targets in order to reduce network outages. MTL failed to meet the target.
This also measures achievement of fault management process within a network management system.
Within 48 hours MACRA’s target is 80% and within the period MTL managed an average of 51%, while within 7 days MTL managed an average of 81% against a target of 99%.
Although MTL failed to meet the target for fault clearance rate in this quarter, MACRA says with regard to fault clearance within 48 hours, it is noted that MTL made slight improvement in the month of October and December and performed worse in November compared with the same in quarter 3.
“The poor performance was due to cable vandalism in their network and the erratic supply of fuel,” says MACRA but still adds that MTL has been strongly advised to put measures in place to deal with the challenges being encountered in fulfilling such obligations.
Connection rate measures the speed at which customers are connected to an existing network, as well as the availability of system capacity in relation to accommodation of additional customers. MTL failed to achieve the target.
Within 28 days MACRA’s target is 90% but within three months MTL managed an average of 84%.
“MTL Failed to achieve the target connection rate in December in both categories but it managed to beat the target in the months of October and November,” observes the MACRA report.
On the indicator of Public Call Offices in Working Order which measures the percentage of all Public Call Offices that are working against those that were supposed to be installed and brought into service within a given period, MTL failed to meet the target again.
MACRA explains that Public Call Office means any facility which Voice Telephony service providers make available to the public, including a telephone bureau, community phone, Public Pay Phone, telecentres or teleshop.
MACRA says for telephone bureaux, telecentres, internet laboratories and community service phones etc, its target is 95% but MTL on achieved 91%, while for card-operated Public Pay Phones, MTL only managed an average of 71% for all the three months period under assessment.
“Among the other reasons MTL has attributed failure to achieve the target due to vandalism and erratic fuel supply,” says MACRA.
Overall MACRA says MTL Performance is satisfactory despite its failure to meet some Key Performance Indicators.
“There is need for improvements in fault clearance rate, connection rate and keeping public call offices on working order,” says MACRA in the report.
9 out of 11 for ACL
Out of 11 key Performance Indicators ACL stumbled on two.
In a different report that solely focused on ACL, MACRA says the overall performance of ACL was satisfactory as it managed to beat the target in most of the Key Performance Indicators during the quarter under review.
“However ACL need to improve in some key performance indicators namely Radio Network Availability and SMS Success Rate whose targets were missed during this quarter,” MACRA says.
ACL did well in Intelligence Network (IN) Platform Availability, which is the time in minutes per month where the intelligent Network Platform is up and running.
MACRA says when the IN platform is out of service, customers cannot be correctly billed.
“Intelligent Network is a network architecture that separates service logic from switching equipment, allowing new services to be added without having to redesign switches to support new services. It encourages competition among service providers since it makes it easier for a provider to add services and it offers customers more service choices,” explains MACRA.
The target for IN availability is 99.999%, meaning only 0.001% of the time or less than 6 minutes within a year, users may experience NI platform unavailability beyond which the grade of service is considered unacceptable.
In all the three months, ACL managed to beat MACRA’s target by achieving 100% IN platform availability.
Call Set Up success
On Call Set Up Success Rate, which is a percentage of originating calls that were successfully established against unsuccessful attempts, ACL also managed to beat the MACRA target - during the period under the three months review it was around 99%.
MACRA explains that due to various reasons, not all call attempts are established and that the target for this Key Performance indicator is 98.0%, meaning only 2% of the calls may experience Call Setup failure, beyond which the grade of service will decline.
The other indicator MACRA assessed is called ‘EVDO CONTEXT Activation Success Rate’.
The regulator explains that EVDO originally stood for ‘Evolution, Data Only, but recently it is referred to as ‘Evolution, Data Optimised’.
EVDO, according to the MACRA report, is a Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) standard for wireless internet broadband service using the cellular approach.
“EVDO optimises internet bandwidth usage on the network by breaking data into packets and then sending these packets independent of each other just like internet protocol (IP),” it says.
The MACRA target for this Key Performance Indicator is 90%, meaning only 10% of the users may experience activation failure beyond which the grade of service will decline.
“ACL managed to beat the MACRA target during the three months period under review by reaching 98%,” MACRA says.
Call Drop Rate
On Call Drop Rate, which is a measure of number of calls that are prematurely disconnected before end of conversation against the number of all call attempts within the measurement period, ACL managed to beat the target during the three months period under review by 0.2 to 0.3 percentage Call drop rate experience by consumers.
MACRA says call drops are normally due to failure of handover, radio loss and network congestion.
“The target for this Key Performance Indicator is 3%, meaning only 3% of the calls may experience Call Drops, beyond which the grade of service will decline,” it says.
The other area of focus was the Handover Success Rate, which is the ratio of the number of successful completed handovers to the total numbers of initiated handovers.
“Handover and handoff happens when a phone is moving away from the area covered by one cell entering the area covered by another cell, the call is transferred to the second cell in order to avoid call termination when the phone gets outside the range of the first cell,” explains the MACRA report.
It says the target for this Key Performance Indicator in 90%, meaning only 10% of the calls may experience Handover failure beyond which the grade of service will decline.
“ACL managed to beat the target during the three months period under review by 99% HSR rate experience by consumers,” it says.
Traffic Channel Congestion
Traffic Channel Congestion is the unavailability of network elements due to unusually high traffic that may accumulate in any node of the network.
The MACRA target for traffic channel congestion is 2%, meaning only 2% of the calls may experience this. The higher the value the more difficulty it is to make a call.
“ACL managed to beat the target during the three months period under review by 0.682 in the first month to 0.381 and 0.002 in the second and third month respectively,” it says.
On Trunk Congestion which is a measure of traffic congestion between mobile switching centre (MSC) and the various routes like interconnection to other network operators in Malawi including international traffic ACL managed to beat the target during the three months period under review.
The target of this key performance indicator is 2%, but by 0.659 in the first month to 0.974 and 0.659 in the second and third month respectively ACL had it in the bag.
1X Packet Call Set up Success which is basically the setup success rate for data calls target 90 percent but ACL managed to beat the target during the three months period under review by 99% in the first and third months while 98% in the second.
Radio Availability measures radio availability where when a base is down, customers surrounding that Base Station will not be able to make or receive calls since there will be no network signal.
The target for radio is 99.8%. ACL narrowly missed the targets, with scores of 98.3%, 99.5% and 99.4%.
Mobile Switching Centre (MSC) availability assesses the percentage at which MSCs were up and running.
Mobile Switching Centre is the core equipment that controls the entire CDMA network.
MACRA says if MSC fails, there will be network failure in the whole country or in a particular area serviced by the affected MSC as no calls can be made.
The target for MSC is 99.999%, meaning only 0.001% of the time or less than 6 minutes within a year, users may experience MSC unavailability beyond which the grade of service is considered unacceptable.
In all the three months, ACL managed to beat MACRA’s target by achieving 100% MSC availability in all the months.
SMS Success Rate, in which ACL also managed to beat the target, is a measure originating SMSs sent by customers against SMSs received by the intended recipients.
MACRA says this is affected by a number of factors that include a scenario where a customer’s inbox is full which may prohibit incoming of new SMSes just as when customers attempt to send an SMS when they don’t have credit in the cell phones, a signal of SMS delivery failure is sent back to the SMS serve.
“SMS failure can also be caused by fault equipment like transmission, Base Transceiver Station, Base Station Controller, Mobile Switching Centre, SMS server etc,” explains MACRA.
The target for this Key Performance Indicator is 90%, meaning 10 out of 100 SMSes may be allowed to fail.
MACRA says ACL managed to meet the target for SMSs terminating into ACL’s network during the period under review., with scores of 96.7%, 96.6% and 97.1% on the Mobile Originating SMS success rate on one hand. On Mobile terminating SMS success rate, it registered 79.1%, 75.4% and 75.2%.
TNM vs Airtel
In another Key Performance Indicators quarterly report released by MACRA, TNM limited failed to offer better mobile phone services in comparison to the services offered by Airtel Malawi.
“TNM needs to improve … as its key performance indicators were below acceptable levels,” MACRA says in the report.
The regulator says it is however aware that despite the Performance Key Indicators (PKI) looking good, customers in Malawi are still experiencing poor quality of services as evidenced by dropped calls, congestion, poor voice quality, one way transmission, where you are able to hear the called or the calling person but she or he cannot hear you, and so on.
The report which focuses on the fourth quarter of last year looks at the performance of the two mobile phone service providers in the months of October, November, and December in 2011.
The report analyses the Key Performance Indicators which have been achieved by these Global Systems for Mobile Communications (GMS) service in the areas of Radio Network, Call Set up Success Rate, SDCCH Congestion, Traffic Channel Congestion, Call Drop rate, Handover Success Rate, GPRS Context Activation Success Rate, SMS Success Rate, Trunk Congestion, and Mobile Switch Centre Availability and Intelligence Network platform availability.
Under the Call Set Up Success Rate MACRA was looking at the percentage of originating calls that were successfully established by customers.
While Airtel managed to beat MACRA target, TNM failed to beat the target during the entire period under the three months review.
While Airtel posted 98.9%, 99.0% and 99.2% for the three months TNM managed 96.8% and 96.8% in the first two months.
On the Percentage of Connections with Good Voice Quality with a focus on Signalling and Traffic Channel Congestion MACRA was measuring the Percentage of call connections with good voice quality which is made up of two components namely Traffic Channel (THC) congestion and signalling (SDCCH) congestion.
“The implication of this congestion is that any customer establishing a call will not be able to successfully make that call. He or She is likely to encounter messages such as network busy or circuit congestion if using smart phones or a busy tone if using ordinary phones,” explains the report.
Signalling Channel (SDCCH) Congestion has a target of 0.5%, meaning 99.5% of the calls should be established at any particular time without experiencing signalling channel congestion since the signalling channels facilitate easy establishment of a call.
“Airtel managed to beat the target while TNM failed to meet the target during the entire period under review,” says the report.
While on Traffic Channel (TCH) Congestion which is a KPI that directly relates to SDCCH Congestion in as far as voice quality is concerned, the traffic congestion comes into play when the number of customers are increasing in particular area or network and this is usually resolved by adding software or hardware capacity, especially voice channels, in the affected node of the network in order to increase capacity.
“The target for this KPI is 2%, meaning only 2% of the calls are allowed to fail due to this type of congestion,” explains the report and while again Airtel managed to beat the target TNM failed to meet the target during the entire period under review.
Call Drop Rate
On Call Drop Rate whose target is 2%, MACRA says both GSM operators registered some call drops on their respective networks.
The report also assessed GPRS Context Activation Success Rate which is a measure of Data related services that were successfully accessed by customers. One typical example is the internet.
“The target for this Key Performance Indicator in 90%, meaning only 10% of the calls may experience GPRS Context Activation failure beyond which the grade of service will decline,” it says.
Both mobile network operators achieved the required performance level. This means that data related services were successfully accessed by customers of both networks.
On the SMS Success Rate, MACRA says with a target of 90%, Airtel registered 98.5%, 98.6%, and 98.2% while TNM registered 96.2%, 97.1% and 97.4%.
MACRA also looked at Trunk Congestion where both networks managed to beat the target for this indicator.
Mobile Switching Centre (MSC) availability was also assessed and in all the three months, both service providers managed to beat MACRA’s target by achieving 100 percent availability.
MACRA also monitored the Intelligent Network (IN) Platform Availability and in all the three months, Airtel and TNM managed to beat MACRA’s target by achieving 100% IN platform availability.
The last indicator MACRA monitored is Radio Network Availability both tumbled. Airtel only managed 89.00% while TNM managed 98.3% in October; while in November Airtel managed 90.65% while TNM managed 97.6 and for December, Airtel had 92.50, while at 98.035, TNM came closer.
MACRA asked all the companies to improve on the areas where they failed to meet the target if Malawi consumers have to enjoy the telecommunication services in the country.