Kathy Gibson is at AfricaCom in Cape Town – Improving network performance can lead to a better experience for telco customers which, in turn, can drive direct and significant revenue improvements.

MTN put this to the test with the Ericsson Customer Experience Programme (ECEP) in Rwanda and Ghana.

Nicolas Blixell, vice-president and head of global customer unit: MTN at Ericsson, explains that the exercise aimed to support MTN’s strategy of increasing user connectivity and engagement.

The programme collects data and drives performance improvement through network evolution. Together, MTN and Ericsson decided on what actions were required to meet predefined targets, and then executed interventions.

Navi Naidoo, executive: network design and planning at MTN Group, says that the company’s motivation was part of its strategy to transform from a traditional telco to a digital operation.

“Evolving and expanding our networks to meet ever-growing demands from consumers and business users is one of MTN’s strategic aims. Our long-term partnership with Ericsson is aimed at delivering the best possible user experience across Africa and help meet the mobile data demands of tomorrow. Ericsson’s services enable us to provide superior network performance and facilitate the evolution of nationwide mobile networks.”

Despite 13% of the world’s population living in sub-Saharan Africa, the region is served by less than 2% of the mobile base stations installed globally with a relatively low smartphone penetration.

Part of MTN’s move to digital includes a desire to connect more customers which it addresses with its “Chase” programme.

* Coverage – data coverage in rural areas;

* Handsets – affordability and access to data enabled handsets;

* Affordability – data service affordability;

* Service bundling – simplified bundling and end user services; and

* Education – digital literacy and data service awareness.

“If you want to improve customer experience, you need to provide a better network experience,” Naidoo says. “Take the case of Rwanda. We don’t have a 4G network in Rwanda as we don’t have a licence. So we had to focus on improving our 3G performance.”

Over the period of one year, MTN improved its downlink from 5Mbps to 8Mbps, and also improved its voice performance.

Thanks to a lot of network optimisation, the company generated a market share increase of 11% to 54% by the end of the first half of 2019.

During the same period, subscribers grew 23% while revenue and EBIDTA were up 27% and 24% respectively.

“These are big numbers in a small market like Rwanda,” Naidoo says. “It just shows how you can leapfrog your competitors with a high performing network.”

In Ghana – one of the shining stars in the MTN portfolio – the challenges were different.

“In this country, we focused on moving a lot more users to our LTE network,” Naidoo says.

“We managed to achieve huge improvements in uplink and downlink speed, as well as in 3G voice performance.

“At the end of a year, voice revenue increased 13% and data revenue increased 26%. Overall, revenues were up 19% and EBIDTA up 24%.”

Naidoo hastens to add that these massive revenue increases can’t be attributed to just the network optimisation programme, but it was certainly one of the key enablers.

Of more value than straight revenue numbers, MTN saw massive increases in its net promoter score (NPS). In Rwanda it shot up from just 2 in the first quarter of 2018 to 18 in the same period of 2019.

Ghana’s increase wasn’t as dramatic, but still rose from 8 in 2018 to more than 16 in 2019.

“According to network KPIs (key performance indicators) and NPS benchmarks to business performance, both networks are improving user experience and results,” Naidoo points out.

Blixell adds that a key takeaways from the exercise is that to be successful, it’s important to work together on the ecosystem.

“MTN laid a solid foundation with a well-thought-out strategy with clear objectives. We took the responsibility of making it a reality. The result was improved customer experience across the two markets and an increase in revenue.”

Among the specific interventions that MTN took to improve network performance were using all the features built into the Ericsson radio network.

“Once we turned on all the features we immediately saw a big improvement,” Naidoo says. “We activated a lot of the built-in features and also optimised many features.

“We also did a lot of dry testing on where we thought there might be problems; and did some physical optimisation on sites too.

“But the most crucial part of the exercise is to make sure that users with a certain capacity are using the right link.

“This was one of our main focuses, especially in Ghana. We try to keep customers longer on the LTE network and encourage them not to switch back,” Naidoo says.