The Acting Executive President at the National Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (NTRA), Mustafa Abdul Wahid, revealed that the authority is in negotiations to install devices to measure Internet quality in Egypt, once they reach an agreement with Telecom Egypt (TE) regarding the instalment pricing.
In an interview with Daily News Egypt, Abdul Wahid added that the NTRA is currently studying introducing a regulatory framework for offering regional Internet licences, with two licenses for each governorate.
How did you address the problem of changing landline numbers for some customers, in light of TE’s infrastructure development?
In reality, 95% of landline telephone numbers were not changed due to the instalment of the multi-service access node (MSAN) units, while 99% of the problems faced by these units occurred due to their batteries getting stolen, which resulted in their numbers changing.
As for blocking WhatsApp and Viber calls, these calls are not legal, as these companies did not acquire licences to operate in the local market. We are currently studying putting a regulation for it.
What are the authority’s plans to audit mobile users’ data?
A large number of lines with unknown data were shut down since we introduced verifications and market surveillance. Also, there are no exceptions for the maximum number of lines allowed for one person, which is 10 lines.
Over the past month, we have held meetings with all three mobile operators to discuss latest developments in auditing and verifying mobile phone subscribers’ data. We have also discussed the decision to limit the sales of new mobile phone lines chips and the replacement of chips on company-owned shops and branches, as we decided to extend the decision to limit sales to 20 January, until the companies provide new contracts for their distributers. If the three companies prepare the contracts before then, the decision will be revoked. Starting 20 January, if one or two companies are prepared with the contracts requested, the decision will be revoked for their distributers that are authorised from the NTRA.
What is the current number of mobile subscribers after data revision?
The number of mobile line subscribers in Egypt reached 90.5 million on the three mobile networks by November 2015. After new regulations were introduced for selling lines, sales declined from 5m lines per month to 1m for the three companies.
What efforts do you undertake to ensure the lines are sold in accordance with the regulations set by the NTRA?
The NTRA is investigating the places where lines are sold in violation of the regulations, after receiving reports or complaints, prior to holding campaigns in cooperation with specialised security authorities. Unfortunately, the telecommunications law, which we have requested to change, only penalises the company or the distributer if it is caught selling in violation, but it does not penalise the vendors who sell lines randomly in the streets.
We requested to amend Article 12 of the telecom law in 2011, which regulate line sales, in order to prevent the selling of mobile phone lines without official authorisation from the NTRA.
Is the unregulated sale of lines truly a major issue in the market?
In an inspection of a violating shop in Fayoum, we found that the shop has 150 IDs, and that it uses the data from these IDs in violation of regulations and the law.
How will you eliminate this?
By restoring regulation to the market through organised campaigns to stop violators. In addition, we are working in introducing mechanisms that allow citizens to know the number of lines registered using their names in coordination with Civil Registration Authority.
MSAN units have caused a number of problems for customers. Have these been resolved?
When we receive a complaint related to MSAN units, we send them to TE weekly, while changing line numbers only occurs in limited circumstances, and only in old unequipped telecommunications centres. Only around 5% of the available lines have faced this problem, while the remaining 95% of lines were unaffected.
In fact, 99% of the MSAN unit failures are due to stolen batteries, as they are installed in the streets without protection. We are studying some solutions with TE to resolve this problem; currently TE is no longer installing the units until technical solutions are found to develop infrastructure without using MSAN units to avoid harming customers. We have suggested that the units can be installed in telecom towers that are secured by the companies.
Are there technical solutions for the problems with MSAN units?
There are technical solutions for these problems, and the NTRA has revealed its guidelines in that regard, as the main technical problem is the importation of units that absorb only one operator, known as an internet service provider (ISP). Last April, these units were amended to absorb the remaining types of telecom services operators, which was followed by a number of agreements between TE and these companies.
Recently, rumours have propagated that mobile service operators spy on their customers. Do these companies have the technical capacity to do so?
This is entirely untrue, as neither the operators nor the Ministry of Communication have the specialised equipment to spy on telephone calls. There are specific authorities that are allowed to own these devices, according to the law, but the law prohibit civilians from importing these devices.
Is there a plan to suspend voice calls from WhatsApp?
In fact, these companies did not acquire a licence to operate in the local market. We are currently studying creating a regulation for these services rather than suspending them, especially as these services affected mobile operators’ revenues from text messages by 75%.
What is the NTRA’s plan to transfer television broadcasting from analogue to digital?
The implementation of the plan is currently suspended, due to the large number of users, which amounted to 16 million users, who have normal televisions. We are studying to resolve this problem through providing devices that convert these televisions broadcasting into digital broadcasting. These devices will be purchased through funding from the NTRA’s comprehensive services fund.
What are the details for the regional Internet licences that you are studying launching?
The NTRA recently finalised a regulation framework to launch regional licences for Internet services, as the licences will be offered to two companies in each governorate, which allows for the elimination of illegal Internet cables.
What is the status of the unified licensing system?
The unified licensing system has recently acquired cabinet approval; it is a global trend in most of the major markets, although its implementation was suspended due to a disagreement regarding shareholders’ stakes in the national entity for infrastructure. The government’s share is 51%, which some participant companies objected to, leading to the suspension of the unified licensing file.
The unified licensing system would grant TE the right to offer mobile services virtually without frequencies, while the three mobile phones’ operators (Vodafone, Mobinil and Etisalat) would acquire the right to offer landline services. Further, it would establish the National Entity for Infrastructure in partnership between the government and the private sector in order to implement telecommunications infrastructure work, to end TE‘s monopolisation of infrastructure.
Is the NTRA satisfied with the lever of the services’ current quality?
On the level of voice services, they were deficient in 2014, but they have widely improved in 2015. We are currently negotiating with TE to install devices that measure Internet quality. However, there is currently a disagreement regarding the pricing for installing these devices.