Airtel Sierra Leone has been issued a 21-day ultimatum by the country's telecom regulator to improve its services or risk having its operating licence suspended.

The ultimatum was issued because of "the continued deterioration of the voice and data services of the network despite series of correspondences and meetings between the Commission and the company," the national telecommunication commission (NATCOM) said. "Furthermore, the Commission in good faith granted an application for additional spectrum resources to the company in order to facilitate the improvement of their network capacity. When all these seemed to fail, the Commission levied a fine on the company in July 2012," it said.

The notice, which was made public Monday, took effect May 13.

Though a part of the fine of $450,000 has been reportedly paid by Airtel after making an appeal for a reduction NATCOM's chairman, Siray Timbo, was praised earlier this month by the founder and chairman of the United States Telecommunications Training Institute (USTTI), Michael Gardner, at the 8th International Electronic Communications Regulators Conference in Turkey for his "unwavering commitment to integrity" as head of Sierra Leone's telecom body.

However, some subscribers think Airtel is just one of the affected operators in what they consider to be a growing problem among telcos in the country and Africa as a whole where issues including poor service quality, undelivered text messages, dropped calls and inadequate coverage have been raised against telcos.

"I feel good for the notice -- that is if anything good comes out of it -- because this is not the first time we have been making complaints," said subscriber Abu Kargbo. "However, I am not too happy about the perceived targeting of Airtel. It seems proper justice is not being done. We have three major GSM operators in the country and to the best of many people's knowledge, they are all guilty of the same problem. There are times you make calls with two phones placed side by side and one network will not go through to the other. So why target only Airtel?"

NATCOM should give more explanation for why Airtel was singled out, said student Arthur Williams, but he supports the ultimatum.

"I don't know what yardstick was used to determine which telco was to be sanctioned, but I agree with the ultimatum," he said. "Maybe it's because they say Airtel has the largest number of subscribers hence it should be held responsible for not leading aright. We need to be educated more though. We don't like to go around with a mindset that preferential treatment is being meted at one telco over others. I'll also like NATCOM to consider implementing the mobile number portability to provide us with the freedom to move between operators."