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TMCNet:  Monopolistic Inattention Underpins Network Failure [analysis]

[March 11, 2014]

Monopolistic Inattention Underpins Network Failure [analysis]

(AllAfrica Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) As one of the fastest growing African countries, Ethiopia continues to witness the rapid expansion of basic infrastructure. This includes roads, railways, water supply lines, power generation stations and telecoms.


There are two sides to this expansion, however. On the one hand, there is fast-growing access to basic infrastructure, bringing more and more Ethiopians into the sphere of improved productivity, economic sustenance and enhanced livelihood. This aspect of development seems to be the most important one for many Ethiopians, who continue to admire the path their nation is following.

As a result, more and more Ethiopians are getting access to electricity, clean water supply, all weather roads and telecommunications services. If we are to take the last strand of the bundle, for example, around 22 million Ethiopians are enjoying the benefits of telecommunications services today. This is impressive in comparison to five or 10 years ago.

There is no need to mention that this same experience holds true in all other economic sectors. A thoughtful mind, therefore, could see that this expansion of infrastructure is the major driving force behind the impressive growth history that the nation has observed over the past 10 years.

Yet, still, this same story has a different face. This face entails the quality of the services provided to the public. If we are to be honest, quality of service is a crosscutting issue in the Ethiopian infrastructure realm. We cannot find a strand wherein quality is not a challenge. It rather continues to be a major hindrance in the national ambition of enhancing access.

Leaving the other strands to the specialists, let me try to analyse the quality problem in the national telecoms network. As a telecom engineer who has worked in Ethiopia for over 13 years, I could, with all confidence, attest that the quality problem is the result of multiple factors.

A smooth telecoms network, for instance, demands an uninterrupted supply of power. As has been the case with Ethiopia over the past couple of years, however, uninterrupted power supply to households, let alone network stations, remains a pipedream. Whenever power interruptions happen, the telecom network faces consequent interruption.

As many of the stations are not supplied with a backup power supply, expensive in itself, network interruption will certainly occur during frequent power disruptions. The lack of a stable power supply is the major culprit behind the network interruption that we experience.

It is solely the responsibility of the telecom services provider - ethio telecom - to ensure that the stations have a stable power supply and backup power. Blaming the infrastructure provider for this is simply passing the buck.

As far as I know, the quality of the network infrastructure provided by the provider had been investigated and found to be reputed, even by an investigative panel from the World Bank. Ethiopian government reports also show that the infrastructure provided in the last telecoms expansion project were in line with the specifications and international standards.

Another issue worth mentioning is maintenance. Telecom networks are not meant to last for centuries. They have to be provided with both light and intense maintenance, especially once they have reached around 80pc of their carrying capacity.

Certainly, ethio telecom is responsible for the maintenance of the network. Where I see problems is in its capacity to execute this task effectively. Even when the network is facing a huge burden from the over 22 million users, the telecom monopoly remains unable to provide the essential expertise and equipment, such as vehicles, required for maintenance.

For many years, the maintenance of the network was being handled by the infrastructure provider, even though they are not responsible to do so. Blaming the infrastructure provider for network interruptions caused by a lack of maintenance is also like shooting at the wrong target.

One would be amazed by how filthy some of the stations around the country remain, due to a lack of attendance from the services provider. They do not seem like they are crucial junctures of information transmission and control, let alone important foundations of economic transformation.

I would say that these kinds of interruptions will stay with us until the telecoms monopoly stands on its own feet to attend to its stations.

For Addis Abebans, however, the days of network interruption may be long, with the new infrastructure provider due to completely replace the old infrastructure. Even if I fail to see the economic and technical rationale for the act, I am sure that the change will bring more days of complete network failure to the city's residents.

Is there any hope on the horizon? To the relief of all telecoms service users, ethio telecom do seem to have started to realise its failures and incapability. That is partly why it signed the first independent network operation support service contract two weeks ago. With the new contract in place, the monopoly could manage about 20pc of the outstanding network problems.

The skills base for daily network maintenance could also be developed in a way that would enable the monopoly to handle both light and heavy duty maintenance on its own.

Certainly, this second tier support is an important service that ethio telecom should have sought long ago. But, it is better late than never.

Of course, even more hope lies within the new telecoms services expansion project. If the project is to be implemented according to its agreed timeline and with the smooth cooperation between the two infrastructure providers, it could boost network quality so much so that telecoms could indeed serve as a vital pillar of economic transformation.

Kirubel Hone He Has Bachelor's Degree in Electrical Engineering and a Master's Degree in Telecom Engineering. He Can Be Reached At Kirubelhone@yahoo.com.

Copyright Addis Fortune. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).

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