I’ve been more than a bit annoyed at how African mobile giant Vodacom’s network quality has degraded in South Africa in the last few weeks. The last few months have been pretty bad, but the last few weeks have been painful. Dropped calls, calls taking forever to connect, periods of silence and noise in the call, iMessages sent as SMS after a few retries. You get the idea.
Its Twitter support people have been giving me answers like: “As per the feedback in the SR logged to Networks, our Network Engineers are still busy with upgrades in your area” (in office hours? for a whole week? WTF?) or “our Network team will contact you as soon as any updates is available” (yes, that was a cut and paste). Muppets.
What I find frustrating is that they seem to be very happy for me to keep paying for a degraded service and not even notifying me that their service is going to be degraded for weeks.
Scope of the problem
So, I start asking around… Charl: “MTN [Vodacom’s main competitor in the country] as well… Stellenbosch has a massive reception issue.” Dave: “Been to JHB [Johannesburg] of late Joe? There were times I had to drive to find a Vodacom signal so Maps could update and tell me where I was supposed to be going. We’ve got spoilt with near ubiquitous coverage I suppose.” Ben: “Have you had the unfortunate experience of working in Technopark [a technology buisiness park in Stellenbosch]? This morning a developer had to phone back four times before we could complete a two-minute conversation. You might as well use empty cans and really long pieces of string.”
Seems it’s not just me. Ask any of your friends if they think their service has improved in the last six months?
What if the emperor had no spectrum?
What if we’ve all believed that GSM networks “just work” — and we were wrong? What if people built businesses on the assumption that GSM networks will always be up and offer good quality service? Car tracking, payment systems, emergency services, mobile health.
It’s a nice warm bubble and we’ve been very lucky with good service over the last few years, but one has to ponder the scenario where it becomes way less dependable.
Make sure your business model does not depend on good quality GSM network services.
Invest in Wi-Fi. About 70% of smartphone data traffic already travels via Wi-Fi and not mobile networks.
..and in my case, get more annoyed for a week or so while waiting for Vodacom to give me any form of sensible answer to my complaints.. then make peace with the idea that things are not going to get any better soon.
Now you know.
Some extra notes:
Marketing: We need to be first to launch LTE. Networks: We don’t have enough spectrum. Marketing: We need to support the iPhone 5 and my ten friends who have them. Networks: We’ll be the first to piss off most of our customers by neglecting basic voice services. Marketing: Have you seen my new iPhone 5?
This article by Joe Botha originally appeared on Swimgeek and is republished with permission.