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Opinions of Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Columnist: Alfa, Abdur Rahman Shaban

My Mobile Telecom Report, MAGVET & MNP

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*Mobile Phone usage have over the last decade and over proven to be an integral part of the average Ghanaian, whose daily life between dawn and dusk has a phone use component at a point or the other.*

For as long as these phone have been with us; there has been a quantum leap on two fronts relative to mobile telephony; on one hand is the particular brand and features of the equipments (mobile phone) whiles on the other hand, the service quality by a particular telecom company (telco) comes into perspective.

Time without number the average Ghanaian hooked unto any of five networks currently operational within the telecom sector, has been made to believe that he/she is being given a raw deal relative to quality of service of telcos.

I would try to draw a historical trajectory of the terrain – which admittedly might not be conclusive in its entirety – but as I have come to know it; the terrain has evolved from the days when SIM cards/chips were sold as extraordinarily high prices.

Apparently this state of affairs years back had everything to do with the yearning on the part of early day subscribers to own SIM cards and operate mobile phones; this was coupled with the relatively lesser number of phone users.

Following a successful drive on the part of pioneer telco operators and the National Communications Authority (NCA) to sell the idea of mobile usage amongst the citizenry, mobile penetration rocketed in a few years and brought with it a new trend.

The latest trend was one that blended some competition and innovation unto the Ghanaian market, SIM prices had fallen drastically and telcos were now having to sell their products to subscribers.

Over the time however, SIM cards across board sell at the lowest note denomination in Ghana’s currency regime; i.e. GH¢ 1, the simple reason being that telcos unlike before gain their profits on the back of selling airtime; call rates, internet and text charges etc.

In the wake of heated competition in the market, one cannot lose sight of the fact that there are clear market leaders as there are those who on a daily basis do all it takes to increase their market share; a very keen area of competition for the five operators are relative to the advertisement drives they undertake in particularly the electronic media.

One of such innovative adverts on the part of one operator is the infamous GAVET series of adverts that are running on TV, as I came to know, every alphabet of the word GAVET represented a particular rival network, - Glo, Airtel, Vodafone, Expresso and Tigo respectively.

Whiles MTN looked as if they were being smart as to adjudge themselves as without blemish, I would hereby pose as MAGVET, and would here deliver a mobile telecom report as a person who has encountered all five networks except Glo which is yet to be launched.

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*MAGVET and My Mobile Telecom Report*

As is the case with GAVET, every alphabet of* ‘MAGVET’* represents all six networks namely; MTN – Airtel – Glo – Vodafone – Expresso – and Tigo in that order, and for which reason I hereby present an unbiased personal telecom report.

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*MTN*

Undoubtedly the market leader having evolved from the days of Spacefon – Spacefon areeba and to the current multinational MTN boasting some nine million subscribers constituting an estimated 53% of market share.

MTN in my opinion has brought a considerable amount of innovation into the Telecom market especially with their call scheme popularly known as the MTN Zone, but switching the plan from percentage to monetary terms though leaves some market watchers skeptical.

Lately, their sky rocketing rates relative to mobile internet is one area of grave concern as is the call drop rates that increase by the day even though in their GAVET advert, MTN lauds itself of having 2000 cell sites; that I fear has not made their services any better.

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*AIRTEL*

Despite entering the market on the back of a multinational takeover of Zain Telecommunication, Airtel look to have taken over exactly where the ‘rampaging’ and I dare say, ‘marauding’ Zain left off.

Airtel via the introduction of several services is carefully covering grounds when it comes to wooing subscribers unto their network. Then again, their 8Gp call rates across board to all networks sure must have gained them some new ‘souls.’

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*GLO*

Africa’s biggest telecommunications network owned by Nigerian business magnate Mike Adenuga; upon being granted the license to operate a telco, Glo has been labeled by the NCA as the last and final operator in Ghana.

Indeed, Glo, even before their official launch in the country have positioned themselves as a very serious entity with huge capital investment in telecom infrastructure, the most noticeable one being the submarine cables that link Africa to Europe.

As things stand now, most subscribers are waiting patiently for the ‘triumphant arrival’ of Glo, who beyond the telecom infrastructure pumping lots of funds into football, as lead sponsor of the local league, Glo has as ambassadors high profile showbiz personalities.

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*VODAFONE*

In the case of Vodafone, they came into the market as did MTN and Airtel, the highly respected international brand, took over the operations of Ghana Telecom, who have exclusive oversight responsibility of all landlines, their mobile wing being *‘Onetouch.’*

Vodafone’s investment over the period that they took over from Ghana Telecom has been significant, the company has as well breathed a new lease of life into the outfit and is gradually positioning the outfit in a very competitive field.

Following in the footsteps of Airtel, the decision of Vodafone to reduce call rates to the lowest in the market, 8Gp; showed the extent to which the entity in which the Government of Ghana has (GoG) has a high stake is poised to impact on the market.

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*EXPRESSO*

Expresso of today, started out as Celltell evolved to Kasapa before becoming what it currently is.

The clear difference between Expresso and the other networks is ingrained in the fact that their services are CDMA based compared to the more popular GSM technology employed by all the rival telcos.

I contend it is safe to state that, Expresso clearly is the least subscribed to network amongst the others but surely a network with great deals and promotions.

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*TIGO*

The second most influential network from where I stand, Tigo; hitherto Buzz and at another time finally arrived at Tigo – another international network across the African continent.

Tigo have built on the successes of years past and have played a significantly critical role in the market and roll out strategic products which might not necessarily be different from what others offer but certainly with a wee touch of exclusivity.

Whatever their market share is; Tigo are certainly a network that has lots of promise and one that could potentially be the choice network if a subscriber is open to th option of change be it temporarily or permanently.

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*CONCLUSION*

All of these networks are in competition for the same subscribers, MTN is a market leader but I personally see Airtel and Tigo as strong brands that have done enough in the general scheme of events to merit my thumbs up.

Vodafone as I see them are pulling up their weight in order to claw back the majority share they commanded at the inception of mobile telephony in the country, Expreso remains a force to the extent that they have some loyal customers as is the case with the other networks.

MTN I strongly feel must do extra on the level of man power to match their subscriber base, a certain measure of CUSTOMER SERVICE consciousness on the part of some of their staff members would do them loads of good.

Glo is the last player, whose entry into the market has been marred some minor hitches considering that they are in possession of the last mobile telecom license. It is a highly anticipated event and one can’t wait to see how Adenuga’s

*MOBILE NUMBER PORTABILITY (MNP)*

MNP certainly is the new *‘thing’* and surely heralds a new era in the mobile telephone industry, it effectively brings an end to the difficulty of switching networks for fear of one’s contact unable to reach him at any particular time.

The first effort at breaking off the fear as above stated was the entry into the Ghanaian phone market of double SIM handsets which afforded a subscriber the luxury of keeping two mobile numbers concurrently.

Number portability in simple terms is the system that affords subscribers the comfort to ditch a particular network and hook onto a rival network, for a minimum of 30 day period. After which he continues on his new network, hops to another or revert to his earlier service provider.

A champion of the scheme has been current Communications minister, Haruna Iddrissu, who was certain during his ministerial vetting that MNP was a service that was absolutely critical if real competition was to be established among service providers.

Subsequently however, the Minister pushed a legislation to that effect and currently has the legal backing and technical capacity to implement the much talked about and much awaited MNP; which admittedly a large chunk of Ghanaians are skeptical about.

Beyond all the skepticisms, genuine or otherwise; Bob Palette, formerly of Kasapa Telecom and a consultant for the NCA on MNP contends that there is really no cause for alarm as the regulatory authority (NCA) is well equipped to police the system.

Palette explains the interest parties in the number porting process as; the Donor Network (DN), the Recipient Network (RN), Porting Access Ghana (PAG) and the subscriber, irrespective of whichever reasons he cites to check out of and check into an alternative network.

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*How to port?*

A subscriber starts the process by walking into the office of network he/she wishes to hook onto and making an official request to the RN, he presents a valid Identification card and is given a new SIM card, following which the RN via the PAG contacts the DN to agree terms.

A subscriber is expected to fill a fresh form as porting translates to starting a new contractual arrangement with the RN, he/she sends a text with his old network and within 5 minutes minimum or 24 hours maximum receives a confirmation text, changes his SIM card and whence buys recharge units of his new network.

As a means of effectively policing the MNP, the NCA would be on hand to ensure that a DN does not make any overt or covert moves to convince a subscriber wishing to port, or to frustrate their efforts at switching networks.

Whiles a very notable and laudable effort on part of the telcos is that they bear the full cost of the porting process, subscribers are warned in the event that they wish to port to back up all their contacts since their DN SIM would be deactivated.

Thursday July 7, 2011, was the date set by the NCA for the implementation of the MNP, the time is now more than ever if it is that a person wills to switch networks without losing their original cell numbers; just remember to go along with a valid ID card and remember that it is only after a 30 day period that you can change your network.

Decision time is NOW; to port or not.

© Abdur Rahman Shaban Alfa

alfarsenal@yahoo.com/ newcguide@gmail.com