by Stuart Hardy, Business Unit Manager of EOH’s Carrier and Network Solutions Division
While many companies in the SA telecoms market are aggressively competing on products and price, almost all of them are failing to address the single biggest pain point for businesses in the country: SERVICE.

Service, and the ability to actually deliver it in the South African telecoms industry, seems to be something that no one is able to address. So it’s no surprise that it is becoming a key differentiator for the newer telecoms companies that have entered the market.

What has happened to telecoms service?

If you sit down with top enterprise clients today and discuss the issue of service in the telecoms industry, the majority of them will share with you the frustrations they experience in engaging with their providers at every level.

So what has happened over the last 10 years to cause such a consistent decline in service in this industry?

1. Bigger has not meant better when it comes to service

The first factor we can identify is that the size and growth of a service provider seems to somehow be inextricably linked with a corresponding decline in service. It appears that the bigger you are and the more clients you have, the harder it will be to provide or sustain your levels of service. And while this trend can be identified in other industries, it seems to be an unsolvable problem in telecoms.

2. Grappling with complexity and condensed time frames

The second issue is that most service providers come from a background of experience where telecoms delivery was simpler than it is today. With the introduction of more and more services the level of delivery has become incredibly complex. And this complexity happened in a relatively short space of time after deregulation in and around 2008.

At that time providers were mostly leveraging off Telkom’s network. Now they are developing their own fibre and wireless networks, and delivering unified communications, while simultaneously rolling out dozens of other product innovations.

While it may be easy to develop a single product, it is considerably more difficult to develop 50 products and integrate them into systems and networks that were not originally built to support them all.

3. Outdated networks are creating bottlenecks

The last of the big service delivery issues the major telecoms providers face is that their networks are actually becoming convoluted bottlenecks that work against delivering this much wider range of products.

Most of their networks are outdated. Having started building them over 15 years ago, they are now in a situation where these networks are not scaling enough to deliver all the new products built on the latest technologies. They’ve become something of a technical mess.

So much so that, while they talk about Next Generation Networking (NGN), most of them actually run several separate networks that cannot integrate. The result is considerable difficulty in delivering what should be a basic service.

Is there any good telecoms service news?

In terms of the traditional service provider space that has existed since 1993, not really. Most of these organisations are struggling to deal with product integration, billing and service, and its unlikely to change in the short term. These companies are continuously investing in better ways to address supporting their customers, but until they collapse their networks and take a step back in other areas like systems, which is hard to do, its not going to improve.

In the last 5 years there are a handful of companies that have developed new NGN networks which today scale and deal with the larger convergence product set better. Its almost like a Apple VS Nokia situation in terms of relevance from a technology and network perspective.

I believe these organisations with shape the future of service delivery, forcing the older companies to address their service delivery issues.

It’s only a better opportunity if you take advantage of it

What is ultimately self-defeating about the current enterprise market in South Africa is that when companies are unhappy with the service and delivery they get from the largest provider in the market, they contract with the second largest. In light of what I’ve outlined above, it’s very unlikely that they will get an improved experience by doing this.

To get better service they have to look beyond the safety of the “no one ever got fired for using IBM” philosophy.

For the younger telecoms providers, the opportunity lies in putting effort into service, support and execution. It’s a sustainable differentiator – especially if one considers that it addresses a problem no one has been able to resolve in years.


Stuart Hardy has been in the ICT industry since 1997, has been in the Telecommunications industry since 1997, intimately involved in product development, operations and product marketing roles. He has held Executive level positions in some of the largest Operators in South Africa and has founded and driven two successful start-up companies in the Mobile data and Wireless networking spaces. Today, Stuart is a Divisional Director for EOH in their Telecommunications sector.