Ethio-telecom: From Poor Network to No Network (Getachew Mengistu)
An alleged fiber cable cut has caused a total meltdown of the telecom network in Addis Ababa on Friday 7th February. It has adversely affected the city’s telecom service. The problem affected all services, voice calls and text messages, as well as access to emails and the internet were unavailable as the network collapsed completely. Ethio Telecom sole vendor ZTE, after the cut, should have worked flat out to restore the service but the problem stayed for more than 12 hours and still going without much improvement.
It is well known that service users in Addis Ababa have been experiencing an increase in failed and dropped calls for a very long time despite huge investment by Ethio Telecom. What happened on the 7th February took the network fiasco in the capital to a shocking new level. What residents in Addis experienced was not a poor quality or diminution of service but no service at all!
No doubt the problem triggered enormous frustration for individual customers and businesses in the capital raring many to write and speak about it in the media.
Mind you this problem occurred not in one of the remote locations of the country. It happened in the capital Addis Ababa where the African Union is based and in a city which hosts the headquarters of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and numerous other continental and international organizations. With the capital hosting important international events like the AU summit, South Sudan peace negotiations, welcoming a huge influx of tourists coming to the capital, with banks and other important financial institutions depend on the network to provide their basic services, with people depending on the mobile service to go about their daily life, to have such a total meltdown of the network should raise serious questions about why it happened and who is responsible for it. Having such a network collapse is devastating to the city and affects the image of the capital as Africa’s political center. If there is no mobile signal in Addis and users are constantly losing service, what does that say about the capital which is the political center of Africa? There should be a public enquiry and this kind of incident shouldn’t be tolerable. If not solved sooner the outcome will be catastrophicto the city.
Ethio Telecom said fiber cut was the causeof the problem. Fiber cut is not a problem only of Ethiopia, it happens in many countries and many operators face the same problem. Why the current problem was not anticipated before and a solution not included in the first phase of Ethio Telecoms Expansion Project remains questionable.
It’s obvious that the network traffic in Ethiopia isexpected to increase significantly as more and more services users are added. Ethio telecom should have deployed the right technology solution to problems like fiber cut so that its backbone networks maintain quality of service amidst more growth of network traffic, fiber cuts, bandwidth-hungry devices and applications.
Ethio Telecom in the past asked its customers to support the fight against fiber cut. It has sent mass text messages to customers to support its effort. Did that do the trick? Of course not. The solution that could have solved the fiber cut problem we encountered is theASON (Automatic Switched Optical Network) technology. Ethio Telecom should learn from the experience of countries like Brazil that has the same problem with ours and now they have solved this by using the ASON technology. Now, even when there are up to 7 fiber cuts per day, service users in Brazil end up having no network problems at all. Their ASON solution was provided by the Chinese telecom company Huawei, who occupied 80% of the ASON market in the Brazil.
It seems like Ethio Telecom solution for network problems is to ask its service users to be patient. Rather it should find better solution as many operators and countries do for fiber cut associated network problems. That’s exactly why Ethio Telecom should incorporate the ASON technology to automate resource and connection management to preserve quality of service even when frequent fiber cuts occur.
For the second expansion project Ethio Telecom followed a multi-vendor strategy and after evaluating multiple vendors two Chinese telecom companies were selected to do the job. One of them, ZTE, has done the first expansion project. The second one, the new addition, was Huawei, a telecom giant from. With regard to ASON capability, when searching websites, it’s easy to findlots of websites showings the experience and capability of the Chinese company Huawei in tackling fiber cut problems. For example, Huawei has been contracted to deploy what it claims will be Africa’s first 100GBPS WDM network for Angolan cellular operator Unitel. The companydeployedits 100G ASON solution which provided resilient protection against multiple fiber cuts (said to be a particular problem in areas of rapid urban construction) and thus significantly enhancing the network reliability.Also checking independent third party reports shows the capability of Huawei in deploying the ASON technology. According to the report of consulting firm OVUM RHK, Huawei ranked first in global optical network market and leads the world in WDM ASON solution. Up until 2012, Huawei had constructed over 90 WDM ASON networks, accounting for over 85% in commercial deployment. For the other vendor in Ethiopia, there is almost no report about its ASON deployment experience on the internet.
We are now at a point where such a network disasters cannot and should not be tolerated. We know that Ethio Telecom has included such technologies as ASON in its lot 4 of the second expansion project. Though all the 5 lots have already been allocated to the two Chinese telecom vendors, Huawei and ZTE, lot 4 remains undecided. Ethio Telecom in its many press releases has claimed network quality is the main issue affecting its customers and promised to solve this problem in the second expansion project. In Addisit is expected to be implemented in the next six months. As the tender part which deals with quality of service (lot 4) still not given to any of the vendors, network quality still remains the biggest challenge facing the operator. We hope Ethio Telecom choses the capable vendor disregarding any other selection criteria other than technical capability and track record of the vendors. It’s about time Ethio Telecom try to be nice to suppliers and be nice and accountable to its customers and select the right vendor which can solve the alarming network quality issues in the country.