Outcry over network glitches

2012-01-14 00:00

IRATE cellphone users in KwaZulu-Natal have voiced their frustration over poor network coverage in recent weeks which Vodacom has blamed on regional technology upgrades. Blackberry users on the Vodacom network are the most affected group.

Problems have included phoners getting directed straight to voicemail, dropped calls, delayed messenger services and no Internet connection.

In response to a generic online question about network coverage, Weekend Witness received numerous complaints from readers, most of them referring to Vodacom.

“There’s this unwelcome trend where someone calls you and goes straight to voicemail,” said Louis Morvite Nondela. “Vodacom mixed with Blackberries is huge on this … my point is that my phone shouldn’t put you on voicemail while it’s on!”

“Vodacom — constant dropped calls, voicemails and SMSes not being delivered. Need I go on? Oh, and this has been going on for some time,” replied Denver Furmage.

Lynnette Hitchcock, a pre-paid Vodacom customer, said she hasn’t experienced problems with coverage until this past week. “I have been unable to receive calls or phone out. Upon phoning I get a ‘number busy’ message,” she said. “When someone tries to phone me, I get a ’missed call’ message, when in fact my phone has never rung.”

Numerous others complained about poor performance of Blackberry messenger and lack of Internet coverage.

Weekend Witness contacted Tshepo Ramodibe, Vodacom’s acting chief officer, who said there “are a number of reasons that these customers might be having problems and we would need to investigate each complaint”.

Vodacom has, however, acknowledged a problem with connectivity.

“We’re replacing radio equipment in stages across the country,” Ramodibe said. “The new equipment gives us the ability to increase capacity and also reduce costs, which is a clear win.

“It can take some time to optimise the network after the equipment goes in, which can certainly be a short-term frustration to customers, but the benefits over the long term will, we believe, make the change very worthwhile. We are currently busy with this process in KZN and as a result have seen an increase in complaints as expected,” he said.

The renewal of the technology started in the last quarter of 2008, and Vodacom aims to have the project complete by mid-2012.

Vodacom is now busy with KZN, North West, and Limpopo provinces.

The glitches in connectivity come at a time when mobile users are increasingly using and relying on the Internet connectivity from their smartphones, according to a recent study.

The Mobility 2011 research project, conducted by World Wide Worx and backed by First National Bank, shows that 39% of urban South Africans and 27% of rural users, a total of 66%, are now browsing the Internet on their phones.

“There are about seven million smartphones in use in South Africa,” Arthur Goldstuck, founder of World Wide Worx, said yesterday. “Just over 4,1 million are on the Vodacom network. BlackBerry is the leading smartphone in the market, with around two million sold.”

Independent Communications Authority of SA spokesperson Jubie Matlou said that he has also been experiencing difficulties with the Vodacom network, and would now be following up on the issues raised.

Ramodibe said that the growth in traffic means that Vodacom’s longer-term target is to double the number of 3G base stations and said the company has committed R6 billion to improving the South African network.

However, he cautioned that a major challenge is getting planning permission for these base stations, which can sometimes take years.

Vana Harries, media spokesperson for network provider Virgin Mobile, said they are not aware of any problems in the Pietermaritzburg region.

Karin Fourie, a spokesperson for Cell C, said that they too have not been experiencing any technical difficulties in the area outside of the day-to-day micro-managing of complaints about faulty towers and too many users in a specific area.

MTN were not available for comment at the time of compiling this article.

• ryanc@witness.co.za; jonathan.faurie@witness.co.za

Sidebar (if needed)

Arthur Goldtsuck provided some insight to Weekend Witness on cellphone usage in South Africa:

“There is a total of 57-million SIM cards in use in South Africa, although number of users is closer to 40-million. Of the active accounts, Vodacom have about 29-million, MTN 20-million and Cell C 8-million.

“There are about 7-million smartphones in use in South Africa. Just over 4.1 million are on the Vodacom network. BlackBerry is the leading smartphone in the market, with around 2-million sold.

“In the overall phone market, Nokia remains biggest, with atound 50% market share. BlackBerry and Samsung are in a tussle right now for second place, with BlackBerry having come from virtually nowhere - 4% - to having about 20% of the market. The iPhone has reached less than 2% penetration, due to high prices and poor availability.”

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