One of Vodafone's 150 MSANs located at East Legon in Accra holding a mix of data and voice customers
Vodafone Ghana CEO, Kyle Whitehill said the company has over the past two and half years invested GHC50million to improve its fixed voice and broadband network to provide best quality and affordable voice and data services to Ghanaians.
He was speaking with senior journalists at a brief meeting prior to a field trip to parts of East Legon where Vodafone cables have either been damages or stolen, and where Vodafone has installed its new Multi Service Access Nodes (MSANs) to provide better quality and high speed fixed voice and broadband services respectively.
Whitehill said four years ago, Vodafone inherited a fixed network which ran on old and warn out copper cables serving 250,000 customers, out of which only 5,000 were broadband customers.
He noted that the network then was ‘so inefficient’, it provided speeds of up to only 512kilobits per second, and so even the 5,000 customers using it could not do anything apart from light browsing, and some people resorted to expensive satellite-based internet services being offered by other companies at $100 a month.
“But two and half years ago we decided for moral reasons among others that we would fix the fixed line network so we invested GHC50million into buying and installing over 150 MSANs across the country to provide our customers with high speeds, better quality and affordable fixed broadband and voice services,” he said.
Each MSAN is worth $250,000, and has the capacity to serve at least 1,000 data and voice customer, as opposed to the former system that could hold only 600 customers at a time.
Whitehill said currently Vodafone has 265,000 fixed line voice customers and 79,000 fixed broadband customers out of which at least 60% are on MSAN enjoying up to 20megabit/sec speed; but because of the 40% which are still on the old copper network, the average Vodafone fixed broadband speed is between 4 and 5megabits/sec, which is still the most competitive on the market, according to third party reports.
“We plan to increase customers on MSAN to about 80% and leave the remaining 20% on the copper cables,” he said.
Recently some Vodafone customers have been complaining the company increased individual consumers’ monthly bundle prices from GHC45 to GHC65 and placed a cap of 15GB capacity as opposed to the originally uncapped bundle at GHC45.
But Whitehill explained that averagely, an overwhelming 99 percent of Vodafone’s fixed broadband customers consume below 10GB of data a month, and the only 1% of customers consume 99% of data.
He said that 1% pay the same price as the remaining 99% but their high consumption harms the data experience of the remaining 99%, so the capping was designed to create a fair balance in the system, and ensure that every customer enjoys a great experience, and those who want more capacity would then have to pay more.
“If you are on a domestic package and you are consuming 20GB to 30GB per month then you must have been downloading movies 24/7 and that makes you a business customer and your consumption is affecting eh experience of others paying the same amount as you so we need to migrate you to a package where you pay more.”
“We have moved from a network that had only 5,000 customers to now 79,000 in four years and we have improved speeds from 512kb/s to up to 20mb/s and that means we need to manage the system in a way that every customer’s enjoys great experience on our network and that is why we introduced the cap,” he said.
He said Vodafone envisages that that 300,000 homes in Ghana would be requiring fixed broadband service going forwards, and a lot of those would be high value customers, who Vodafone is very much interested in so there was need to manage the system in the most efficient manner to separate business consumers from domestic consumers, and ensure every customer enjoys great experience.
But Cable Theft Poses Challenges
A Vodafone technical staff fixing a seriously damaged underground cable holding 2,000 customers at East Legon in Accra
But Whitehill said, while Vodafone keeps investing to improve the network quality and customer experience, it is also losing at least GHC2million every year as a result of theft of and damage to its copper cables across the country.
He said in August 2012 alone the company had 34 mega underground copper cable thefts, and each mega cable has 2,400 customer lines, so when such a cut or theft occurs, all those customers lose service, and the company loses money and gets its reputation tarnished.
Whitehill said Vodafone’s copper cables have been stolen more than three times in some communities and the police has not been able to intervene, so it does not make economic sense to keep installing infrastructure in those communities.
“There are places in Tamale we have been told are no go areas for the police because of harden criminals in those areas – so if they are no go areas for the police, why should we keep putting our equipment them,” he asked.
Meanwhile, a Field Telecoms Manager at Vodafone, Kenneth Arthur noted that copper cables were stolen at even at high security point such as the fronts of Burma Camp, Ministry of Defence, Police Headquarter and Bureau of National Investigation (BNI) offices.
“Nationwide, 28% of our installations have suffered from cable theft and some of them, particular at North Alajo, Ajirigarno, Madina, East Legon, and parts of Accra have each led to over 2,000 customers being cut off for at least a month, and it is costing Vodafone money and reputation.
He said when a major underground cable theft or cut occurs it take at least 20 days to one month to fix because the thousands of voice and data customers’ lines in that cable would need to be joined one after the other, and “we are able to painstakingly locate and join only about 50 a day.”
Arthur said Vodafone has 24 hour security surveillance but they also need the public to be vigilant and report any suspicious characters seen loitering around Vodafone equipment to short code 155.
Meanwhile Vodafone said it receives an average of 3,000 complaints from fixed broadband customers every week, 50% of which are usually because they have consumed or their credit: 25% because the network is slow at peak hours but it is reported as ‘not working’ and 6% of which are actual issues that require an engineer.
“We have improved our customer service such that we now able to fix 94% of the complaints within four to five days and the more challenging ones get fixed in a matter of eight days,” he said.
Vodafone is fixed line voice and broadband market leader and second largest mobile voice and data operator in Ghana with over five million customers representing some 20%market share.