You can't hear me? The problem with your phone network

Only eight out of Kenya’s 47 counties on average enjoy the industry-set quality of services from local telcos Safaricom, Airtel and Telkom Kenya. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

Only eight out of Kenya’s 47 counties on average enjoy the industry-set quality of services from local telcos Safaricom, Airtel and Telkom Kenya, pointing to the underlying gaps that exist in the country’s network coverage, at a time the penetration of mobile devices in the economy has grown to hit 127.8 percent or 64.7 million gadgets as of last September.

Latest data from the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) shows that it is only in Nairobi, Mombasa, Kiambu, Nakuru, Lamu, Migori, Siaya and Nyamira counties that the three telco firms have attained a combined average of the required 80 percent score in Quality of Service (QoS) compliance levels.

In the just-released QoS report for the year ending June 2023, Nairobi led the pack with the operators posting an average of 93.9 percent compliance rate, closely trailed by Mombasa at 87.9 percent, then Nakuru at 84.9 percent. The telcos posted a common score in the rest of the five compliant counties at 81.8 percent.

Market leader Safaricom posted a passing score of 80 percent in all but six counties which included Isiolo where it scored 72.7 percent, West Pokot (72.7 percent), Bomet (72.7 percent), Vihiga (63.6 percent), Kisumu (72.7 percent) and Kajiado (63.6 percent).

The giant firm posted a 100 percent mark in seven counties which included Nairobi, Mombasa, Lamu, Nyandarua, Kiambu and Busia counties. It is only in Kajiado that the Peter Ndegwa-led firm was outdone by rival Airtel.

The latter, on the other hand, missed the compliance mark in 25 counties, which is over half, with the lowest score being 45.5 percent in Baringo and Laikipia counties while the highest was 90.9 percent in Siaya, Homa Bay, Migori, Nyamira, Nairobi, Kericho, Nakuru, Murang’a, Nyandarua, Machakos and Mombasa counties.

Telkom Kenya only attained the threshold score in Nairobi at 90.9 percent, with the lowest mark being 36.4 percent in Makueni and Murang’a counties.

CA says that during the review, the counties of Garissa, Wajir and Mandera could not be accessed due to security concerns and related advisories.

“End-to-end quality of service assessment is done using drive tests for outdoor sites, while walk tests are adopted for indoors. The drive tests were done across 44 counties that are currently accessible in terms of local security,” stated CA in the report.

In a national overview, only Safaricom surpassed the passing grade after it posted an overall score of 90 percent of the set Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), with Airtel and Telkom Kenya falling short at 79 percent and 65 percent respectively.

The two non-compliant operators have since been slapped with penalties by CA for the underperformance, accompanied by a notice of non-compliance which requires the networks to improve their current scores by the next assessment, with the authority warning that failure to mend the trend will lead to the application of escalated sanctions.

The regulator further flagged ageing base transceiver stations, as well as their sparse deployment, as the most likely contributing factor to the failure of Airtel and Telkom Kenya to meet the KPI thresholds, adding that the two showed good performance in urbanised areas while having below-average coverage in rural and far-flung areas.

“The Telkom Kenya Limited network appears to limit optimisation in such a way that network coverage rapidly diminishes after about five kilometres from the town centres and serving cells. It was further noted that the MNOs (Mobile Network Operators) are not performing optimally even in areas where they rolled out services long ago,” noted CA.

The authority singled out stratification and competition as factors that have continued to impact the performance of the two players, saying it considers the quality of service a product of market investment levels.

“The authority, therefore, will continue to implement regulatory interventions that will balance the market and ensure the success of the different operators in order to help them grow and compete effectively,” wrote CA.

Section 23 of the Kenya Information and Communications Act, 1998, mandates the industry regulator to ensure that licensed telco operators and service providers offer good quality services in line with the licence conditions.

Among the KPIs used to assess telco performance include End-to-End QoS, Quality of Experience (QoE) and Network Performance (NP-QoS).