Vodafone comes clean with network, service update

All base station and aggregation equipment to be refreshed

Following a spate of complaints about its service levels and security standards, mobile carrier Vodafone has issued a statement of its ongoing engineering work and commitment to customers.

Since its merger with merger with Hutchison to form Vodafone Hutchison Australia (VHA), some 9000 people have signed up to a class action against Vodafone due to poor mobile service levels and last month came under fire for possible data breaches.

Today Vodafone is seeking to repair its image with a notice to customers about planned network upgrades and service level improvements.

We experienced some software faults which added to a very frustrating network experience

VHA chief executive Nigel Dews said the company has been “working hard to improve our network and service”, but admitted there is still work to be done.

“We have a very clear picture of what needs to be done and it’s already well underway," he said. "Our plans have been accelerated and we have the teams and resources in place and the right focus to deliver for our customers."

Dews appears in a video on Vodafone’s customer update page.

The growth in smartphones and data usage demands caught Vodafone napping and degraded service could have been “better supported by earlier coverage and capacity upgrades”.

Technical faults were also to blame, according to chief technology officer Michael Young.

“As we worked through upgrading and adding new capacity into the network we experienced some software faults which added to a very frustrating network experience for some customers,” Young said.

“We also discovered that some of the new and upgraded sites were either resetting autonomously or interfering with other neighbouring sites – causing intermittent and immediate disruptions to voice and data traffic for some customers.”

VHA appointed Barry Kezik as general manager for network performance to monitor voice and data service performance

Network upgrade plans announced in late 2010 have now been fast-tracked, including the build out of a new 850Mhz 3G network.

Some 386 sites in the new network have been deployed, with a total of 1500 planned.

Over the next 12 months, about 2500 sites will be upgraded or added to the Vodafone 3G networks, and existing 2G and 3G base stations will be replaced with Huawei equipment.

The radio access network (RAN) replacement project will target the most congested sites first and all radio equipment at around 8000 sites will be replaced over the next 18 months.

Existing mobile phone equipment should be compatible with the new base stations.

The radio network controller (RNC) “hub” equipment at the major capital cities will also be replaced with Huawei equipment.

Hot on the heels of Telstra’s announcement of an LTE network, Vodafone has trialled the technology with speeds of up to 73Mbps and will roll it out “as devices become available”.

In an effort to improve customer service, Vodafone claims to have added 300 more customer care representatives in the past three months.

Vodafone admits call wait times have increased, but a call-back option has been introduced so customers wait less during peak times. In the “coming months” customers will be able to choose the time they want the call back.

A new online customer forum will also be introduced “in the coming weeks”, to enable customers to share information and tips, and to provide service level feedback.

As a sweetener for customers, Vodafone is introducing a free 24-month warranty for all handsets and mobile broadband modems, including iPhones.

Regarding the Australian Privacy Commissioner’s report this month, which found Vodafone did not have an adequate level of security in place to protect personal information, the company is “taking action” and has brought forward the implementation of a number of enhanced security measures and some have already been completed.

Apology comes at critical time: ACCAN

Australian Communications Consumer Action Network commended Vodafone’s Dews for the apology for the string of incidents over the past four months.

ACCAN chief executive Teresa Corbin said the organisation has been communicating with Vodafone since it became aware of the issues in October and advised it to start writing directly to customers about it.

According to ACCAN, customers united through the Vodafail.com website, which logged 11,000 complaints in a month.

The ACMA is due to report on its “Reconnecting the Customer” inquiry and the Telecommunications Protection Code is under review.

“Technologies have developed rapidly since the deregulation of the telco industry in 1997 and unfortunately Australian customers have often had to bear the brunt of the self-regulation experiment. The time has never been more right to shine the spotlight on the issues, look at what needs to be fixed and work together to make it happen,” Corbin said.

Follow Rodney Gedda on Twitter: @rodneygedda

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Tags mobile servicesVodafoneNigel DewsAustralian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN)Vodafone Hutchison Australia (VHA)

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