March 22, 2013
Some of my friends call me “the complainant” when it comes to poor quality of broadband services wherever I go in Africa. I get very disappointed when services in Africa fall short of what I expect them to be. I boast a lot to my acquaintances overseas about how well developed the mobile industry in Africa is becoming, so you can understand why I could get frustrated when things don’t work as well as I try to make other people believe.
I believe that in this day and age any hotel with a three or more star rating in the Africa should be able to offer decent basic Internet access, at least for low bandwidth Internet surfing and for sending and receiving email. I also believe that we are at a point in ICT development where I should be able to easily make and receive phone calls from any African capital city. It frustrates me when I have to make several attempts at making phone calls, fail to receive and/or send emails or fail to read the latest news about my country and the world online.
On a recent trip to Ethiopia, I experienced more problems with ICT services than I have ever experienced in any other African country – I have visited thirty African countries in the past five years. When I attempted to make calls on my roaming blackberry in Addis Ababa, about 30% of the time a message said something to the effect that the number I was trying to call was not in service (which was completely false), about 20% of the time there was a message that “all circuits were busy” and about 50% of the time I could get through but more than half of the time I was connected, the calls were dropped and the dreaded “SOS” was displayed on the phone. I was never able to access the Internet on my Black Berry in Ethiopia unless I paid for a Wi-Fi connection which was also erratic. In my hotel room, at the Hilton Addis Ababa, Internet was only available via an Ethernet connection. I could easily connect for about 90% of the time but Internet speeds were erratic – sometimes one had to wait for several minutes for a simple website page to download. Connecting to my work system overseas via VPN was rather tricky, with connections timing out about 50% of the time.
At the risk of straining my relationship with the Ethiopian government, I have to point out the relatively poor quality of service in Ethiopia may be due to monopoly. Ethiopia is one of a very few countries (if not the only one) in Africa that still has monopoly of government controlled fixed and mobile companies. We have learnt that when there is competition, companies will do what they can to improve the quality their networks in order to gain and retain customers. Without competition, there is absolutely no incentive for a company to invest a lot of money in improving quality if the company is guaranteed 100% market share.