By Waidhuba Martin,
Mr. Waidhuba is a graduate electronics engineer registered with the Institute of Engineers (IEM), Malaysia (#104186) and holds a Master of Philosophy in Engineering from UCSI University, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. His current interests are in software and communication systems design, technology, project management and research.
It is the mandate of the Communications sector in Uganda, to accomplish the following as enshrined in the Uganda Communications Act, 2013. Regulate the rates and charges for communications services thereby protecting consumers from excessive tariffs and unfair competitive practices. Set national standards and ensure that they are complied with at international level as laid down in international treaties to which Uganda is a party. Promote and safeguard the interests of consumers and operators as regards the quality of services and equipment they get.All this mandate would, according to the Act, guide the metering, packaging, and billing of Data services offered by Telecom and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the country. However, considering that different Telcom and ISPs may use different network infrastructure, configurations, and vendors to achieve better market differences through network performance and service positioning, This is likely to influence the given tariff implementation, the marketing mechanisms, and perceived quality service by the customers. There is therefore need for an indigenous standard to guide the offered data volume measurement, the achieved QoSmeasurement. This article seeks to develop a standard of Public Data Network to comply with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU-T) standards currently in force.
Key words: Data volume, Service provider, Customer, End-user, Quality of Service, QoS, Measurement, Telecom, Internet Service Provider, (ISP), Network Performance.
Data services may traditionally be defined as all Internet-based services that are provided through the open Internet access based on the network neutrality principle and by using best-effort approach for packet delivery. This, including Over The Top (OTT) services or simply ‘data’ as popularly known by the user community.
However, although the Internet was initially designed to provide best-effort service (i.e., where all IP packets are treated in the same manner and considered fixed service delivery), its evolution has demonstrated that not all packets are the same and it could be delivered via mobile network as well as fixed networks. It is on this basis that the ITU-T QoS framework presented by ITU Recommendation (Rec. ITU-T E.804, 2014) (ITU-T G.1000, 2002), suggests a more application-oriented framework that relate to the data service offering by a given service provider and the need to use a service function MATRIX to facilitate identification of Communications QoS criteria.
According to (Chaesub, 2013), the Quality of Service (QoS) and the Quality of Experience (QoE) of IP-based platform(s) should be adapted to regionally agreed standards, a directive agreed by ITU. As illustrated in Figure 1, HTTP-based services (Web-browsing; and Mobile applications relying on internet access for their effective functionality) are among today’s most carried and demanded services and that call for QoS for Data Services to be consistently reported by the communication sector regulator to guide both consumption and competent service provision.
2.0 THE PROBLEM AT HAND
Quality of Service (QoS) has moved from its initial definitions targeting to traditional telecommunication networks (for example, PSTN/ISDN, broadcast networks) to QoS in IP networks and services as reflected in Figure 1. Additionally, the data volume measured (and charged) by the telecom operators is not the data volume seen by the end- user. Moreover, it is not possible or feasible that user bitrates and user data volume could be monitored at some intermediate or edge gateway in the network, only on the end-user side. The above situation could be attributed to factors varying per network/telco/internet service provider, such as other networks on the end-to-end path, background traffic from other applications, type of network (fixed, mobile, and which technology 3G, 4G, etc.), user equipment, traffic management techniques applied by the ISP for the given tariff package, etc; necessitating the need to comply with a standard of measurement.
This transition calls for a shift from reporting only on QoS for Voice Telephony to include Data Services, embracing the required new Data Services measurement approach, Performance value metrics and Quality of service parameters (QoS), especially for the packet-switched data communication services (ITU-D, 2017; ITU-T Rec. Y.1291, 2004). However, that transition at both regulator level and service providers (subject to technical audit or verification), is yet to be appreciated in the case of Uganda. This is reflected in the consistent availability of QoS results on the national regulator’s website and media publications. This implies a lack of attention to the Data/Internet Services performance metrics and the corresponding QoS results (UCC, 2020; UCC, 2014; UCC, 2018), which leaves the Data services user at the advantage of the service providers (ISPs, Telco) and yet QoS continues to be required and expected by end-users who consume the data services daily, and which calls for QoS/QoE related standardisation to protect the user( consumer) interests, even as reported by (Takahashi, 2015) .
3.0 WHY IS A SOLUTION NEEDED?
ICT services’ consumer stages that are outside the actual usage of the service subscribed or purchased are often left to the responsibility of the user to educate themselves. More so, these stages which contribute to the overall Quality of Services and eventually consumer experience; also referred to as the “non-utilization stages of ICT services” according to ITU-T E.803 recommendation. For example, (1) quality and content of information on a service and its features; (2) the contractual conditions offered by the service provider; (3) provisioning facilities, (4) documentation, and (5) service support after contract with customers.
In an article published on the regulator’s blogpost (UCC, 2020), it was stated that “subscribers hold the key to their data bundle usage, only that many don’t know how to use it”, where ‘Data bundles’ refers to a form of data service packaging sold in volume (MegaBytes, MBs) by the service provider and measured in segments according to ( (ITU-T Rec. D.12, 1988)) and as shown in Figure 2.
Thus, how Data services are measured, packaged, and billed by the different Telcom network operators and ISPs is of key interest to the End-users (consumer) as it directly feeds into their perceived QoS according to the Four-viewpoints model of QoS, recommended by (Rec. ITU-T E.804, 2014). Here it is noted that, on the side of the Service provider, differences are likely to occur between QoS offered and QoS delivered concerning data services due to parameters that influence measurement of data such as network bandwidth, propagation delay, queuing delay, jitter, Packet loss and Packet error ratio.
3.0 ARE CONSUMERS BILLED ACCORDING TO OFFERED SERVICE OR THAT DELIVERED (SAY, ACCOUNTING FOR ALL SERVICE PROVIDER CONSTRAINTS)?
In a bid to educate and empower consumers, the communication sector regulator has developed and provisioned Mobile application (s), social media tips, and a portal, to ease consumer understanding of their data services’ packages, pricing, speed, and performance as listed in Table 1.
|KOMPARE; https://kompare.ug/||Enables consumers to compare offers from different network operators||Google Play, App Store|
|NetQ-UG Web Portal; https://netq.ug/speed-test/||Enables consumers to measure the data speed and other performance elements of their internet connection||Google Play, App Store|
|UCC Consumer Affairs; @ConsumerUCC, UgandaCommunicationsCommission on twitter and facebook respectively||Offers continuous updates to consumers||Internet access|
According to the national regulator report on QoS for both telephony and mobile services shown in Figure 3, it was observed that there was a lack of network optimization from most operators, as most network failures were related to poor signal quality despite claimed coverage across the country. However, the regulator could assist the end-user by selecting QoS parameters that reflect the different service provider (SP) performance values and publishing those, as well as reporting of QoS performance levels that directly benefit the customer, such as using data held in the Telco/ISPs’ systems, customer surveys, and opinion rating by expert panels.
Although it is incumbent upon the user to select a service provider of choice, based on the respective service offerings as advertised or promoted through campaigns, service providers and regulators are still required to tackle the traffic management challenges that evolve with the introduction of new service applications on the IP Network, and sufficiently protect the end-user.
4.0 GUIDING SOLUTION-MATRIX TO DERIVE THE PROPOSED STANDARDISATION FRAMEWORK
ITU-T Study Group 11 Output (Rec. ITU-T Q.3960, 2016), delivered a “Framework of Internet related performance measurements” which could be established at the national or international level, providing customers of the existing telecom operator’s networks the possibility to estimate the access speed to the Internet with more satisfaction for all parties
Design a survey to collect consumer perception/opinion of the current state of service delivery esp. internet services (data) across all ISPs in the country.
Pricing Model frameworks
Packaging (bundle sizing)
Promotion packaging (Marketing campaigns)
Design a Pilot project for conformity assessment against ITU-T Rec. such as (ITU-T M.3170 series), regarding Internet Speed measurements, Service packaging & pricing, and QoS computation across service providers in the country, and in tandem with ISO committee on conformity assessment.
Design regulatory policy intervention to curb Data Service subscription terms for pre-paid and post-paid customers as used by different SPs to cater for the full understanding of the user, before purchasing data package/bundle. As it must be observed that Tariffs and accounting principles once employed on PSTN networks are unable to scale to IP-based networks and services
Purpose to audit the Traffic management inventions employed by the respective SPs, regularly and guide their implementation (new SP market entrants) accordingly. Moreover, these are based on either of two types (1) Bandwidth allocation and (2) Packet prioritization
Each service provider may implement the above mechanisms differently, directly impacting the end-user negatively or positively when it comes to the overall billing of the data volume consumed, but without the sure oversight of the regulator.
5.0 AREA OF REQUIRED STANDARDISATION FRAMEWORK OR GUIDING PRINCIPLE
This chapter mainly illustrates the flow process of prepaid data volume usage billing as shown in Figure 4.
According to a study across 96 Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) in 28 countries for 2017 using a Data Envelopment Analysis Model (DEA), it was realized that data volume in addition to being the second most important consideration after the data service price, its distribution and fair usage was impacted by the efficiency of mobile network operators due to factors such as the number of connections, availability of spectrum, and its utilization, which are central to the market environment and region of operation.
However, to directly address the aspect of price imposed to a data service user and the user experience it generates due to the different service providers (SP), it would serve right to tackle conformance and interoperability of SP systems that influence charging mechanisms of data services by establishing key guiding principles in form of standardization towards the selection of Data Measurement metrics (metering), tariff policies, and selection of QoS parameters appropriate for IP Networks and services as recommended by clause 7 of (Rec. ITU-T E.804, 2014).
Furthermore, according to (Reddy, Bielov, Finley, Kilkki, & Mitomo, 2019), every nation or region normally has that highly efficient and disruptive operator due to its effort for market share-growth, therefore, it would help to enact a pilot project for conformance assessment of network management interfaces following ITU Recommendations, with the aim to set local operator benchmarks to the charging, the accounting, and the billing of data services as illustrated in Figure 4 above.
In a nutshell, what this paper seeks to address is not unique to Uganda, It is an issue that all IP-based networks face regarding the pricing of telecommunications services and must address. Moreover, considering consumer complaints on data services provision in Uganda, Network failures and lack of sufficient QoS reporting for data services in the country, there is need for an assessment or a study to be undertaken to overcome the above issues. The information and standardization framework proposed in this article shall be of importance to Service Providers (SPs) in Uganda, and the National Regulator to develop the proposed standard or suitable guidelines and establish QoS metrics matching Consumer expectations respectively.
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UCC. (2020, 01 28). Quality of Service Findings for Mobile voice telephony and Data services in Uganda. (E. D.-U. (UCC), Ed.) Retrieved from Uganda Communications Commission Blog: https://uccinfo.blog/2020/01/28/quality-of-service-findings-for-mobile-voice-telephony-and-data-services-in-uganda/
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