Photograph — TechCentral

South Africa’s network provider, Telkom, has announced a change of partnership to Vodacom for roaming services. This follows the company’s decision not to renew its contract with MTN, which expired at the end of June.

Telkom customers previously had to manually switch to the MTN network in order to maintain a signal. But this led to many users choosing to roam on MTN’s network frequently, according to Telkom’s Chief Technology and Information Officer, Beauty Apleni.

With this development, Telkom customers will no longer be able to force their phones to roam away from their home network. Instead, access to Vodacom will be provided automatically, when the operator determines a user has moved into an area with weak or no Telkom coverage. The handover between the networks is reportedly seamless and instantaneous, helping to minimise dropped calls and poor data connections. 

Considering the rate of roaming switch made by customers, the move by Telkom is expected to be financially advantageous to the company. However, the benefits extend to customers as well, the majority of who had complained about “hard handovers” from its network to MTN’s network, which resulted in dropped calls when moving out of a Telkom coverage area.

The new collaboration between Telkom and Vodacom means customers will no longer have to worry about dropping calls, losing signal or having to force switch networks. 

Moreover, users of the previous roaming service were only able to access 2G and 3G, but not 4G on MTN. “We needed to fix this. As part of us fixing this and improving the service to our customers, technology allowed us to [find a] new way of roaming,” Alpeni told TechCentral.

How the new roaming service works

As explained by Vodacom, the new roaming technology allows it, as the roaming service provider, to broadcast a similar or equivalent network ID to that of Telkom. This means that the user’s device does not necessarily have to select a “home network” and “roaming network.” Instead, the device will stay on the Telkom or the Vodacom roaming signal on the basis of the strongest signal at the time, which would improve customer experience.

“However, Telkom, as the subscriber owner, may decide to optimise certain settings, pushing the Telkom subscriber to prioritise the Telkom self-provided network over Vodacom. In these instances, the Telkom subscriber may be forced to stay on the Telkom network or be prohibited from roaming by Telkom,” Vodacom was quoted as saying by TechCentral.

Furthermore, the Telkom-Vodacom network switch is determined by multiple variables as opposed to just when a device drops below a set signal strength. If the Telkom signal is strong enough for the device to be able to transact, it will stay on the network. But if the signal is weak and the user starts getting dropped packets during a  transaction, then the network will make the switch to avoid losing the session.

“We have configuration settings we have put down. So, when you reach certain quality service levels on the network, then instead of dropping a call or a session, the network will move customers over to Vodacom,” Apleni added. 

The automatic and seamless roaming, however, is for customers on 3G and 4G handsets. Users of 2G feature phones have to first connect manually to Vodacom’s network. This is as a result of the feature handsets not supporting the new roaming technology out the box. 

Once 2G customers have done this, they will be switched back to the Telkom network and the next time they move into an area where Telkom coverage is poor or non-existent, their phones will automatically roam onto Vodacom. 

“It’s very important for 2G customers to have seamless handover, too,” Apleni continued, “The customer has to go through the manual setting to clear barring (of Vodacom’s network). Then it will register Vodacom as an acknowledged roaming partner. This is a once-off process.”

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