Vodafone still struggling to restore 4G in Qatar

By:
Alan Burkitt-Gray
Published on:

Customers say 2G back in operation in Qatar but Vodafone flies in engineers to try to restore 4G services

Vodafone’s network in the Gulf state of Qatar appears to be slowly getting back into operation after a day-long outage – but the company is no clearer about the causes.

Consumers were reporting this morning that the 2G network was working but 4G was still not working.

The company’s initial response on Monday was to blame a technology upgrade. “While performing a critical service upgrade to the network earlier today, we faced a technical issue causing the current outage,” said the company.

Vodafone Qatar said later that engineers “from our global partners” were flying in to “solve a technical issue triggered by a routine upgrade as part of our network modernisation programme”. It added: “We will announce a full compensation for all consumer and business postpaid and prepaid customers in due course.”

There has been no suggestion that the outage is related to the boycott of Qatar by Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have alleged that the country is backing terrorism and have demanded that it close down its Al Jazeera TV station.

Vodafone Qatar is quoted on the Qatar stock exchange. Around 82,000 Qatari nationals bought about 50% of the company in a share flotation in 2009, less than two years after it won its licence to compete with Qtel – now Ooredoo. The Qatar Foundation owns 27% of the company and the Vodafone group just 23%.

Now the company is facing pressure from the country’s Communications Regulatory Authority (CRA), which said it “has initiated a full investigation into the outage”.

The regulator has demanded “a detailed investigation report” by Thursday, “addressing violations of the service continuity and customer information obligations stated in its licence”. It pointed out: “Vodafone is bound by its licence to provide customers with appropriate compensation for this disruption of service.”

The company immediately took steps to do just that, saying: “As part of the compensation plan, all balances that expired last night will be returned to customers in full. with a new expiry date of 28 July 2017. Moreover balances scheduled to expire in the next 10 days will have their expiry date extended so they remain valid until 28 July 2017.”

The CRA said it wanted details on the “main cause of the outage, the nature and extent of the impact on customers, the steps taken to resolve the issue, and the measures and procedures put in place to avoid such outages in the future”.

In its annual results in May, Vodafone Qatar admitted declining customer numbers and declining revenue: both fell in 12 months by about 3% to 1.5 million and 2.06 billion riyals ($560 million) respectively for the financial year ending 31 March.

CEO Ian Gray – who joined in late 2015 after chairing Vodafone Egypt – said at the time: “This has been an important year for Vodafone Qatar. We have achieved a turnaround in the business and delivered real improvements in financial and operational performance. Notably, the superior quality of our network was substantiated by independent technical network audit and our world class customer service is reflected in our positive customer satisfaction results.”

He said decline in revenue was “due to a shift away from lower margin business and reduction in mobile termination rates” and decline in customer numbers was “due to a one-time disconnection of customers with inadequate customer registration information”.

The outage will cause a headache for new chief operating officer Sheikh Hamad Bin Abdullah Al-Thani, appointed earlier this month. He has a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the University of Ottawa, but is also a member of Qatar’s ruling family. Rival company Ooredoo is chaired by Sheikh Abdulla Bin Mohammed Bin Saud Al-Thani.