Vodafone’s To Update Network; Improve Service

  • Plans accelerated to improve network performance
  • Customer service set to improve, too
  • CEO admits company could do better

After taking a few hits over the past couple of months, Vodafone is ramping up its PR machine as it sends out the message that it is planning to improve customer service and performance. After being the subject of a class action lawsuit over network failures, the company has decided to come clean with CEO Nigel Dews admitting the network needs to be improved.

“We want our customers to be happy with the network, service and value they receive from us,” said Nigel Dews, CEO Vodafone Hutchison Australia.  “We’ve been working hard to improve our network and service but still have work to do.  We have a very clear picture of what needs to be done and it’s already well underway.  Our plans have been accelerated and we have the teams and resources in place and the right focus to deliver for our customers,” said Dews.

From mid-2010, growth in the popularity of smartphones and mobile broadband led to a sharp increase in data use in some areas, which could have been better supported by earlier coverage and capacity upgrades.  At the same time specific technical faults complicated the network improvements planned.

“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,” said Michael Young, Chief Technology Officer at Vodafone Hutchison Australia.  “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.”

“Correcting those immediate software and technical issues has been our first priority in largely stabilising the network in recent weeks.  We are also continuing to work through rapidly injecting more capacity and coverage into the network as well as rolling out our new network and upgrades,” said Young.

Extensive drive testing of the network is ongoing, and while results are encouraging, information from the drive tests is an important feedback tool to enhance performance.

VHA has also appointed Barry Kezik as General Manager for Network Performance, with responsibility for ensuring voice and data services perform at their highest level.

Plans that were announced in October 2010 have been fast-tracked, with support from scores of network engineers, additional staff from vendor partners and capital investment, to give customers better signal strength, faster data and better coverage – including a new 3G network.  The new 850MHz network works particularly well with smartphones and mobile broadband, including a new quad band mobile broadband modem launched last week.  386 sites in the new network have been deployed, with a total of 1500 planned.

With network improvement plans being brought forward, the current Vodafone 3G network is also being extensively upgraded as well as new sites being added, bringing with it more capacity and more coverage.

In the next 12 months over 2,500 sites will be upgraded or added to the Vodafone 3G networks.

The company is also working with network technology vendor, Huawei to replace 2G and 3G equipment at all base stations throughout Australia (which makes up the radio access network(RAN)) as part of its overall plan to improve mobile coverage and download speeds

The national 2G and 3G RAN replacement project will see engineers targeting the most congested and highest demand sites first. All radio equipment at around 8,000 sites will be replaced over the next 18 months.

Current model mobile phones and mobile broadband devices are compatible with the new radio equipment, so there’s no need for customers to do anything as we replace the equipment.

We will also replace our radio network controller (RNC) equipment with the latest Huawei technology at sites in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth. The RNC equipment serves as a hub that is used to control and optimise the performance of the national mobile network.

Investment is also being made in future technology known as 4G (or Long Term Evolution – LTE – of 3G).  The trials of the technology we ran last year were very successful, achieving speeds of up to 73Mbps with the new Huawei equipment in place.  As devices become available we will be able to rollout LTE right across both of our 3G networks.

To improve the customer service experience we have added more than 300 additional Customer Care representatives in the last three months. While wait times have reduced, the focus is to ensure customers are consistently reaching Vodafone Support quickly and easily.

A call-back option has been introduced so customers don’t have to wait on hold during peak times, and in coming months customers will be able to choose the time they want the call.

To make it easier for customers to see what’s happening with the network in their area, new coverage and network status maps will be available on www.vodafone.com.au . This will include information about future plans for network coverage and capacity improvements. New functionality turned on late last week includes the ability for customers to type in their postcode or suburb to see more detailed information about site congestion and maintenance. 

A new online customer forum will also be introduced in the coming weeks, to enable customers to talk to each other to share information and tips, and to talk to us about their service, with the aim of providing fast responses to their questions.

We are also introducing 24-month warranties across all our handsets and mobile broadband modems including Apple iPhones so all now come with additional free protection from the cost of repairing a device for 2 years from the date it’s purchased.

Following an incident brought to our attention in January, the Australian Privacy Commissioner issued a report last week detailing the findings of their investigation. The report confirmed that customers’ personal information was not publicly available on the internet. There were areas of data security that needed improvement. We have responded quickly, are taking action and have brought forward the implementation of a number of enhanced security measures to better protect all customer information, a number of which have already been completed.