The National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (NTRA) has announced that it will impose fines of LE20 million on any mobile operators not meeting service quality guidelines in the second quarter of 2023.
The decision was announced in the NTRA’s report on Mobile Service Quality Measurement for the second quarter of 2023 issued on 1 August.
There are four mobile operators in Egypt: Vodafone Egypt, affiliated to the UK’s Vodafone; Orange Egypt, affiliated to the group of the same name in France; Etisalat Misr, the local branch of the UAE group; and WE, run by Telecom Egypt.
The report’s findings were based on measuring the key performance indicators of voice and data services, such as the call-blocked rate, which is the rate of unsuccessful attempts to start a phone call, and the call-dropped rate, which is the rate of disconnected phone calls for technical issues before being ended by either side.
Other indicators included call access time, which is the rate of calls requiring a long time from the time the dial buttons are pressed until a ring is heard by the other side, and voice quality.
The findings were based on 114 districts, while measuring equipment was used for distances of 150,000 km across major and smaller roads in urban and rural areas.
However, Ahmed Mokhtar Al-Mansour, an ICT expert, pointed to some shortcomings, saying that the report needed to identify further points in order to determine its accuracy “such as the measuring methods, the population density in the areas tested, the load on the network, and whether the tests were conducted in different areas at the same time.”
The NTRA report indicated that the number of districts where poor voice services were reported across the four mobile operators had decreased. Vodafone reached 22 areas, down from 33; Orange 35, down from 46; Etisalat 21, down from 23, and WE 61, down from 71, it said.
Al-Mansour said that the report showed that some high-population areas were enjoying good-quality services, when based on his own personal experience he had noted that they do not always have good mobile coverage.
He said the report could have been based on tests conducted at times when there was not much load on the networks.
“The NTRA has increased the number of areas being measured to 114, in order to ideally assess the level of operators’ compliance with quality parameters,” the report says.
The announced new fines on operators not meeting quality guidelines — a legitimate step, according to Al-Mansour — will be used to improve the ICT infrastructure and build communication towers, especially in remote areas and on highways, said an official source.
Al-Mansour said this would reflect positively on the quality of the services provided.
The NTRA “provided voice and data coverage via mobile networks for 118 villages listed within the first phase of Haya Karima [Decent Life initiative],” the report says.
It says that the NTRA has removed “unauthorised repeaters and signal boosters that harm service quality, and 264 points of interference were removed to a total number of 315 devices and 850 antennas” in the second quarter of 2023.
A source working with one of the mobile operators said that “poor quality is noted in some areas because the construction of signal boosters requires the approval of multiple authorities, which is a complicated process.”
“Sometimes we are faced with intransigence from some district officials and are refused permits for digging operations. There are also rumours that signal-boosting units installed on building roofs can cause cancer, which leads some people to refuse improvements to services.”
Al-Mansour said the NTRA report did not mention any possible effects of mobile signals on people’s health.
Another source at a mobile operator said meetings were being held between mobile operators and the NTRA to discuss measures to improve mobile services.
The source said that the operators will request the NTRA’s help to facilitate the acquisition of the licences needed to boost their services and will ask it to reduce the fines.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 10 August, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly