Stronger and stronger

Stronger and stronger

How we refine our network

Having customers enjoy a cast-iron mobile network. That is what we work hard for to achieve at Vodafone, each and every day. Fortunately, this pays off: researchers underline the fact that the Dutch mobile networks rank among the very best telecom infrastructures in Europe, and even the world.

Of course, it is nice to hear we are doing so well. It is also something we can be proud of, but it is not a reason to lean back. On the contrary, we keep investing. A compliment like that encourages us to perform even better. It is an additional stimulus to keep looking for new ideas, testing new techniques and implementing them. After all, a mobile network is never finished and adapts to the constantly changing Dutch landscape. That is why our network engineers are 24/7 busy with expanding, modernizing, redesigning and fine-tuning the mobile network.

I would like to take a look at the past year, in which we addressed the most persistent challenges in the mobile network. These can broadly be divided into two categories: general accessibility (coverage and capacity) and specific local network settings. 

"Hello? Are you still there?"
What annoys customers most, is when a mobile connection is suddenly lost. "Hello? Are you still there?" The culprit behind these 'dropped calls' is in most cases limited or absent coverage in the area the customers are calling from. Especially when callers are on the move, the distance to the nearest transmitter mast is constantly changing. That can be a complex puzzle. However, the dropped call can also be caused by specific local network settings that should keep a connection stable. In the past, those settings were managed manually and not 24/7.

For that reason we have implemented technologies like SON (Self-Optimizing Network) and 'call re-establishment'. SON is an automatic pilot that ensures the best possible balance between quality, capacity and coverage in the mobile network. This technology cannot only configure, plan and manage, it also has regenerative capabilities. In case certain hardware breaks down due to a malfunction, SON can reroute the network to limit the impact of the failure and to ensure the network keeps functioning optimally. For example, should a transmitter mast break down, the surrounding masts automatically adjust their antennas to guarantee network coverage. 

The call re-establishment technology is just as smart, perhaps even smarter than SON: it repairs the connection after a dropped call so fast the caller doesn't even notice the connection was lost. Partly due to these innovations we have managed to reduce the number of dropped calls by an impressive 25%!

Public spaces, no blind spots
Of course, we aim at the best coverage for our customers. Not only do we continue to build transmitter masts, we also provide tailor-made solutions for public places. Providing adequate coverage at large building and infra projects for example, like road, railway and subway tunnels is essential for a good network experience. In December 2016, we equipped the Maastricht Koning Willem-Alexander tunnel with a 2G, 3G and 4G network and in January 2017 the Kethel tunnel on the A4 with mobile coverage.

These were complex jobs, especially because of the strict safety requirements in tunnels. Furthermore, commissioning parties and builders of such projects rarely take into account that basic mobile coverage is mandatory. That is why we urged the parties involved to take another critical look at the Dutch Buildings Decree, in order to cooperate more efficiently and realize mobile solutions a lot faster 

4G Calling and Wi-Fi Calling
New technologies like '4G Calling' and Wi-Fi Calling have also improved accessibility and reduced the number of dropped calls. Thanks to these technologies customers can now make or receive calls at locations where 2G or 3G coverage is suboptimal. In addition, voice quality has improved and the call set-up time reduced. Furthermore, the fast 4G connection remains intact during the phone call, ensuring that other applications using the internet connection are not interrupted.  By now approximately 600,000 customers actively use these technologies, resulting in approximately 11 million minutes call time a day.

Network satisfaction
The key question is: have all the efforts led to increased customer satisfaction regarding our network? One of the tools we use to measure network satisfaction is NPS. We interview customers on a regular basis, asking them questions like: "Based on your experiences with our network, to what extent would you recommend us to friends/family/colleagues?" When we compare NPS results of March 2017 to March the previous year, we see an increase of an impressive +7 NPS points. A great result and the crowning glory of the work done by engaged colleagues. I'm fully aware that NPS is not all that counts, but I am proud that we have managed to improve an already cast-iron network. And we will continue to make every effort to make it even better.

Eben Albertyn, Chief Technology Officer (CTO) VodafoneZiggo