Friday, April 8, 2011

Are providers bothered about user's grouses?

WHO would have thought there are really some very angry mobile phone users out there?
I was inundated with SMSes and emails from contacts and readers of The Star who read this column last week on dropped calls.
All the emails and SMS from readers have one thing in common - how frustrated they are over dropped calls, failed calls and distortion in voice. This has been going on for nearly two years.
Of the many emails received, one sender, Wang, said “while chatting with my father in Sabah I experienced three dropped calls. Naively, we thought it was his handset problem but actually it is dropped calls.''
For Kumar, dropped calls were a normal thing, but “when I looked at the bills, I would have three or four charges for calls for which I could not get through. Only in this country the consumers are secondary and the providers are the kings. People just don't mind the extra charges (but don't) capitalise on that.''
A senior editor says he faces dropped calls every day and it is really “frustrating.''
Ho said he noticed that his bills had “many calls made in less than five or eight seconds, and are probably due to the call problems ... providers are making substantial gains by charging the customers for the dropped calls.''
Indraveni is frustrated, she wants to change her service provider but has to wait until June. Dan questions if celcos are even providing the necessary network service for users “or (that they) only give priority to those who subscribe for the highest value.''
Soh wants the bad hats in the industry named. His belief is that if you name the party it will force the providers to buck up or they risk users leaving their network.
Tan demands that the regulator do something about dropped/failed calls. In his email he opined that the “MCMC should look at service level agreements. There should be no charge to consumers (for dropped calls) and users should be compensated for services below (par). MCMC, show your authority and take action against unethical providers.''
Ahmad calls for a petition to the MCMC on dropped calls. But who is going to take action against “unethical providers?''
Is it the users, the MCMC, or consumer groups? The issue of dropped calls is an old one. But its recurrence shows that no serious effort has been undertaken to tackle it, so what are the blockages and have the authorities done enough?
The readers will glorify the celcos if the service is good and while they may represent a drop in the ocean of the 30 over million users, they are still users and their voice should be heard.
Dropped calls may be a global issue and in the US recently, the result of a survey on dropped calls was made public because the regulator is vigilant. In South Korea and Singapore, the operators will be fined if the quality of service (QoS) drops to a certain level.
In Britain, the regulator, Ofcom, takes the operators to task and dictates the pricing for services there.
Here, the regulator has in the past done many surveys on customer service but that has been a while.
The last time it commissioned a survey was a handphone survey which was supposed to have ended in December 2010.
An engineer says the regulator does verify the network quality but unfortunately it is not done as frequently as subscribers would want it to be. I think they conduct verifications once every few months.
What can be done to improve the situation of dropped and failed calls?
To reduce or avoid dropped calls, there needs to be total redundancy right from the base station till the core network and that involves more investments; will the celcos invest more at a time when data is growing while voice traffic is coming down. Change the charging to one second block for postpaid and prepaid from 30-60 seconds now.
There should be open scrutiny of an operator's performance in the media for users to decide which operator they want to stick to; this will force improvements in QoS.
The suggestions are there but one thing that we, as users, cannot seem to understand is why are the operators not sensitive to the plight of their users, or are they just concerned about their margins. By right the providers should bend forward and backward to serve their users. More so since they earn the highest margins in Ebitda globally.
So will the situation change any time soon or do users have to take up ad space to tell providers and the regulator of their frustrations?
Deputy news editor B.K. Sidhu believes it's time to switch. She welcomes feedback on QoS, email:
First published in The Star on April 8, 2011

Friday, April 1, 2011

Do we need to pay for dropped calls?

AT 3am someone was chatting away until her call was rudely disconnected. She re-dialled, talked for a while and again, the scissors was at work. It happened three times within the hour.
She knew it was not the MACC, Bukit Aman or MCMC.
Nobody was eavesdropping, the network just failed on her.
Her frustrations can be understood and the receiver's irritation understandable. After the third disruption, who has the mood to continue talking?
The irony of it all is that the network failed on her in the wee hours of the morning when it was a non-peak hour. Why?
“Perhaps their engineers are too stressed at work, they need to go for a holiday before they drop permanently on the ground,” quipped someone.
Were she not on any plan with her service provider she would have switched operator as she had been facing this dropped call issue for sometime now.
But she is not the only one facing this dilemma. There are so many frustrated users out there and it is not just one network; two big networks are causing all the heartbreaks. It is also not just dropped calls, but failed calls on the first attempt, static or interference, and voice distortions, which make you sound like a gorilla on the cellular phone.
Dropped calls occur when the handover from one cell to another is not clean, so to say. And failed calls are a failure of the call made due to traffic congestion.
For every call there is a specific time block, say 30 seconds or 60 seconds, and every time the call suddenly goes offline in the middle of a call means that you are paying for the full block.
And if you have to re-dail, that is considered another call, like two calls in less than 30 seconds but charged for two 30-second calls.
The consumer loses when his calls are suddenly cut off and the providers gain. It is a known fact that dropped calls are the easiest way to make money for the operators and this gain by the operators have gone unnoticed in many countries as users are unaware of the implications of dropped calls and the authorities are not taking the operators to task.
Malaysia has had cellular phone services for nearly two decades now and this problem continues to exist; in fact, it has been a roller coaster ride for users for basic voice calls.
While we understand that voice traffic is on the downhill and data is slowly becoming “king,” it does not mean that people who talk should face these disruptions so frequently.
This makes us wonder if the service providers are really investing to ensure there is enough capacity for all the new additions they get every month, and are they building and compromising voice.
If operators cannot get this basic service right with 3G and WiMAX, then we ought to revisit the priorities for 4G, LTE.
If this were to occur in South Korea, the providers would be in trouble as the regulator acts on every single complaint from users simply because they take service quality issues very seriously.
Here you wonder if anyone frequently checks on the quality of cellular service any more.
And often you hear operators talking about enhancing customer experience,' I really think they ought to look at this very seriously as if our voice calls go offline suddenly, what customer experience are they talking about? This is bad customer experience.
The question is how long more do we have to contend with dropped calls and still pay for them. Shouldn't the operators be transparent about this and tell us that we have experienced dropped calls and refund us?
Perhaps we should go through the provider's dropped call policy to get reimbursed for lost minutes. The easier alternative is to switch networks or port to those providers that are willing to refund. Waiting for rules on dropped calls to come out may take forever.

  • Deputy news editor B.K. Sidhu invites feedback on customer's experience on dropped and failed calls and voice distortions. Please email

  • First published in The Star on Friday April 1, 2011