With the hustle and bustle of congestion in mobile service networks, or absolutely no service at all at times, thereby jamming business meetings, forcing decision makers and business executives to miss key appointments, and causing others fail to fulfill special moments, the telecoms regulator was incensed.
As mobile service providers were preparing to go for Christmas fetes, the Zambia Information, Communications and Telecommunications Authority (ZICTA) spoiled their moments by handing them with fines for poor service delivery.
They were fined for failing to meet some of the set parameters on quality of service which includes Call Set Up Success Rate, Mean Opinion Score, Successful SMS rate, SMS Delivery Time and HTTP success Log-ins, as agreed in the Quality of Service Guidelines for 2017 third quarter.
MTN Zambia and Zamtel were fined K1.2 million each while Airtel Networks Zambia Plc was slapped with a K750,000 fine, bringing the total fine to K3.1 million for all the offenses committed.
"As customers may be aware, Section 27 (I) of the ICT Act No. 15 of 2009, places an obligation on the service providers to meet such minimum standards of quality of service as the Authority may specify or publish," ZICTA said in December 2017.
Compounded with slow and sometimes bumpy Internet connectivity, the wheels of economy are slowed in one way or another.
The service providers have more than 10 million subscribers in Zambia shared among them, even though the service has remained below top notch.
One mobile subscriber, William Libingi, has shared that his experiences with all the three networks has not been pleasing.
Mr Libingi, a businessman of Mongu and procures merchandise from Lusaka, explains that due to poor service given, he has missed crucial business and career opportunities from partners and credible institutions.
"They would announce that they are upgrading their systems, and promise that afterwards the service will improve, but even after that it's still the same, at times worse," he says.
Mobile money transfer business is rapidly growing but has not been spared by mobile service providers' poor service, as its experiences are similar to voice call service nightmare.
Increasingly, operators are playing an important role not only in communication but also financial inclusion through various innovative money transfer platforms, Unstructured Supplementary Service Data and Unstructured Supplementary Service Data services.
Sharon Phiri, a mobile money transfer attendant, says like others, she has lost customers when there was no or poor network to complete transactions.
"When there is no network and people want to send or receive money, I advise them to wait a bit, some comply but majority don't," she says.
If, with small numbers of subscribers, service delivery is below par, it can be deduced that the problem is likely to persist or even worsen when more people subscribe.
Sensing this future hustle, Government has acted to find some of the solutions in the telecommunications sector to improve service delivery and spur economic growth.
In December 2017, Brian Mushimba, Minister of Transport and Communications authorised Zicta to find a fourth mobile operator.
After satisfying all the requirements and tedious processes, including submissions and presentations by mobile operators, and inspections of their Quality of Service provided, Zicta issued a notification of award of licences to UZI Zambia Limited.
This was done in line with Zicta's medium-term cast for improving market outcome in the ICT sector as outlined in its strategic plan for the period 2017-2021.
Unitel International Holding B.V registered in the Netherlands, is the major shareholder for UZI Zambia and has a good track record spanning over a decade with presence in Angola, Sao Tome and Principe, Cape Verde and Portugal.
Ngabo Nankonde, ZICTA Public Relations Manager, explains that the development followed conclusion of a technical and financial evaluation process of investment proposals in support of the issuance of the two licenses received.
"Pursuant to the Licensing Guideline of 2017, on September 26, 2017, the Authority, through an open competitive process, invited for investment, proposals that would lead to an issuance of the licenses.
"The Authority received two investment proposals at the time of closing for receipt of Investment Proposals on December 18, 2017. Ensuing from this evaluation process, UZI Zambia Limited has successful been identified for the issuance of the licenses."
She adds: "The process leading to the notification for award of the licenses was preceded by comprehensive market reviews undertaken by ZICTA between 2015 and 2017."
Frustrated with poor service, some consumers feel that the operators have been in comfort zones for too long, and now it is time to create competition that would result in improved service.
ZICTA'S market reviews revealed, among other things, the need to deepen competition on the market to attain improvements in the quality of services offered, attain more competitive pricing outcome and enhance the levels of investment.
Over the years, Ms Nankonde observes, the market has experienced an exponential growth rate in subscription to ICT services which provides scope for more players to participate in the provision of services whilst maintaining viability.
"The country can look forward to improvements in the quality of services offered on the market, competitive pricing outcomes as well as enhanced diversity in the product offering arising from this initiative to deepen competition on the market," she assures.
The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, is the primary advocate and regulator for competition and consumer welfare in Zambia, which has noted that the opening up of the ICT sector would not only offer alternatives to consumers but expected to offer competition beneficial to the growth of the sector.
Namukolo Kasumpe, CCPC Public Relations Officer, said the commission has high expectations in the sector following the entry of UZI in the ICT sector.
"The Commission therefore has equally high expectations like the citizens of this country with the coming in of the fourth mobile operator. The Commission therefore hopes and trusts UZI Zambia Limited will offer effective competition and further hopes that the consumers will benefit in terms of affordable and better services.
For now, all mobile service operators are expressing happiness with the coming of UZI, but would not be comfortable to discuss strategies they would employ to avoid losing customers to the new comer.
But when all service providers, inclusive of UZI, unite towards offering quality service, consumers' complaints and concerns would to be a thing of the past. - Feature courtesy of SUMA SYSTEMS