Clean bill of health for 4G billing
Local IT analyst Alex Boll recently made the claim that MTC was short-changing its clients with regards to the billing on MTC’s 4G pre-paid services. Naturally, MTC refuted Boll’s allegations and in response invited both Boll and the Economist to discuss the matter and seek a meaningful response with regards to an article the Economist published on 18 December 2015.
In the meantime, following a meeting with the top executives at MTC, it has transpired the incongruence stems from a billing feature and not from any prejudice.
“I used six Netman Time SIM cards each with a very wide variety of connection times. In short I did not get my 60 minutes per SIM” said Boll when he initially tested the 4G billing system.
Explaining the technical complexity of the issue, Boll told the Economist “In November last year I had [bought] a number of Netman 4G Time SIM cards. These are all supposed to provide 60 minutes unlimited data access to the MTC LTE network. I am a MTC 4G Unlimited subscriber and wanted to download a 30GB file without this impacting the 90GB Fair Use limit.” Two attempts by the Economist to gain clarity on the matter from MTC did not yield an acceptable response, prompting the Economist to publish all communication received from its spokesperson John Ekongo, verbatim. At the time, Boll produced records of earlier communication with MTC, showing that he indeed had enquired with MTC’s technical staff, with no explanation forthcoming.
Boll, with 29 years experience under his belt and as the recipient of an international Microsoft award, works as IT consultant to several small and large businesses and to public institutions. He specialises in making online solutions accessible to Namibian individuals and businesses.
Fast forward to March 2016 and MTC moved swiftly to sort out what it perhaps thought was an erroneous analysis.
Upon request, Boll in the meantime mailed his results to MTC whereafter the mobile operator investigated the matter. “Subsequently I have had a very constructive meeting with MTC about my experience. As it turns out the answer is quite technical and I will try and simplify it some” he said adding that MTC was very helpful and forthcoming to resolve the time discrepancy.
Describing the origin of the anomalous time measures, Boll said “It is important to remember that a cellular network works differently to your Wi-Fi network you may have at work or at home. As with your Wi-Fi network there are standards that prescribe how these networks should function. For MTC’s LTE network this standard is called 3GPP. Actually it has a long list of numbers and release versions but 3GPP is easier to describe the standard. The only important thing for us to know about 3GPP is the way it handles connections. It does this by means of data streams and not by time.”
Shedding light on what transpired, Boll continued “Each Netman Time SIM is allocated with 60 minutes but as we now know from the 3GPP standard, it counts streams. While I was downloading my 30GB file I was also browsing the web and as I used the SIM in my router everything on the network was also doing its internet business. This means I was actually using multiple streams.”
“The LTE accounting system had a configuration that was in conflict with the 3GPP standard and as such it added all the streams up and then deducted this from the allocated time. While I was downloading my file for fifteen minutes and also browsing for ten minutes the accounting system deducted twenty-five minutes. In the meeting with MTC I was assured that this issue had been resolved.”
And then to give MTC a clean bill of health, he concluded “Having completed another test in March, I can confirm the issue has been resolved, I again used a Netman 4G Time SIM and set up multiple downloads while still browsing the web I received the full 60 minutes from the SIM card.”