Power To You

May 18, 2011 § 6 Comments

That will be Vodafone’s tagline in their tv, print and radio ads- Power To You. It’s quite comical when you think of how little power you actually have when dealing with the telcos we have in Ghana: Tigo, Glo, MTN, Vodafone, Airtel, and Expresso. I’m not sure which others I’ve left out, but there’s probably a few other junk services I don’t know about. Yes, they’re largely non-existent services running on pre ’95 technology.

I got my first taste of T1 speed in early 1997 and was totally hooked. College followed not long after with an even beefier version of what I got in prep school. It was T1 on steroids. You could download all the Napster music your hard drive and attention span could allow in moments. Sigh… remember those Napster days? Anyway, this was school, and even though my home dial-up service wasn’t as juiced as high speed, I could do a lot with it and comfortably. Two years ago, I was working on a Bloomberg terminal and never wondered just how much data streamed in and out from my turret each passing work day. I had an iphone that ran on AT&T Edge. Again, nowhere near T1, or E1 or whatever speeds I got at work, but that thing was speedy and I practically lived on it.

When you walk around Accra, or come across a few of the ads from the mobile companies here, you’ll think we’re right there with the best of them. MTN claims 3.5G on 2000 cell sites across the country. Vodafone also claims 3G service at 3.6mbps on their “broadband” service. I could go down the list, but that’s unnecessary. They all claim similar speeds, data rates, and prices, but what do you really get? I’ll tell you what you get: you get hosed! And here’s what’s worse: Ghanaian’s love it!

First thing: THERE IS NO 3G SERVICE IN GHANA! If anyone tells you otherwise, they’re either lying to you, or have no clue what the differences are between dial-up, 3G, basic broadband, and fiber optic. To the regular Ghanaian and even the ones who walk around with their BBs thinking they know something about tech, the very act of managing to access a website on a phone or desktop means you’re using broadband service. I had MSN dial-up back in 1997. That thing was 56k, and I doubt I ever got to 56k. The service I had in 1997 is 10x better than the best service you’ll find in Ghana in 2011 (not counting the expensive deal at the “mall”). The whole system runs on what seems like obsolete technology. I found myself having a friendly argument with a vodafone sales lady about 3G speed a few weeks ago, but then it dawned on me that the whole exercise was useless. It was like having someone on the ground that has never flown on a plane look up at a Cessna and 747 to judge which one was moving faster. To him or her, since they’re both high up and moving, they might be moving at the same speed. For someone who has never sat behind a platform and seen downlink speeds at 30mbps, 200bps (not a typo) is broadband, too, since it gets him to facebook, or yahoo mail, or whichever website he accesses, even if it takes 15 minutes for each site to fully upload- if it fully uploads!

Second Thing: THERE ARE NO OPTIONS! On first look at the services advertized, you’re given the impression that you have all the flexibility in the world. You pay per use. When you need more, you “top up” with more credit. I can’t tell you how much I hate that term. If you’re buying that 2, 5, 10ghc credits, you’re typically not adding to an equal amount or more of what’s there. It’s usually the opposite, so why say “top up?” It costs 8gp for each text and about 13gp for each minute of call on average. Every deal you read about or see on tv is a gimmick. You’re always paying about the same on each mobile network. Some of these companies even offer monthly plans, but they’re carbon copies of the pay-go plans. You don’t get any improved service options, and in fact, you’re forced to pay upfront before your plan begins. Someone tell me how this makes any sense? They also like to throw in these teasers about bonuses for every top up. I’ve watched people get excited about that 1ghc bonus they’ll get on a 2ghc credit purchase. My dad finally shut about the bonuses I’d get from my top ups when I let him know that it costs much less than 1gp per call for the telcos. That’s right, suckers: me and you are charged 8-13x what it costs to offer the service. Would you pay 8-13x what a product costs? I didn’t think so! But we do, and we do so with such glee! Africans are the saddest bunch you ever met. We’re told to bend over and take it, and we say thanks afterwards! 10 days ago, I found myself unable to use Vodafone’s broadband service. Have I already told you it’s far slower than my 1997 MSN dial-up? For 3 days, I couldn’t get on a single website. It normally takes 5-10 minutes for me to access my gmail account, which is my bread and butter, but no luck there. What’s worse, money was being siphoned out of my credit and before I knew it, 15ghc was gone in 3 days and I hadn’t opened a single webpage. I got sick of it all and shut down my notebook for the next full week. I also sent out 3 text messages 3 days ago. 1 was queued and never went through but I was charged for it anyway. I also realized later that Vodafone was retrying to send that text and each try was costing me money. I don’t mind paying for a service, but I really hate when I’m charged for services not rendered. It got to 2.50ghc stolen before I deleted the message for the tries to end.

Lastly: NO CUSTOMER SERVICE! Do you use Vodafone? Have you ever tried calling the three main numbers they have listed on their website and in their pamphlets? Don’t bother. No one answers those numbers. In fact, the toll free numbers listed are useless as those numbers never dial out for someone to even pick up. I walked into a Vodafone store at Madina and dialed their number to see if I’d been wrong in assuming no one bothers to pick up that phone when you call. I wasn’t wrong. I watched and heard the phone ring over and over and over again. There were 3 sales women behind a long desk and none bothered to pick up the phone. I call all these people sales people because they act like dummies when you ask them a question that has nothing to do with you buying something from Vodafone. Wanna top up or buy the 50 millionth bar phone with pre-1990 software? Super! Want explanation for why you’ve paid for internet but can’t get online? “Call this number.” “I did, and no one picks up.” “Don’t worry. Wait till 1 o’clock and call again. The network must be busy.” I walked into an Expresso store to check out their advertized speeds in person as I’d grown sick of Vodafone. I had read they had an almost non-existent customer service. I entered and was seated with two rent-a-cops pacing back and forth. There were 4 people behind another long desk and monitors. Naturally, they had nothing to do and kept busy talking to each other. I timed this whole thing. It took 40 minutes for them to get to me, and only in time to tell me Expresso had no modems available and to sign up and call in a week to check when some might be shipped to Ghana. No modems in all their stores?! Glo had a store right next to Expresso and had had this fanfare about their newly operational fiber optic service in Ghana. It had been two weeks since that launch and this store was still boarded up. This is a nutshell of customer service in Ghana! So where exactly is this “power to you?”

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§ 6 Responses to Power To You

  • Ann Meredith says:

    I hear you!
    Just want to let you know about i-burst for your internet connection. We have been here for nearly a year now and find i-burst very good. At first I found it very expensive as I had been used to paying a monthly fee. With i-burst you get charged for every megabite. Now we use a megadata card and it is costing us 50ghc per month and we can roll over the megabites we haven’t used. Don’t use my mobile phone that much so can’t comment on that.

  • Samuel says:

    I second the claims about Vodafone Ghana – it really sucks! Sometimes my mobile modem had quite a fast connection, sometimes for more than a day no connection at all, most of the time it was terribly slow.
    As I wanted to change to MTN, they usually have no modems in stock.
    Expresso doesn’t work with OSX 10.4.
    Now I stick with Airtel and I’m quite happy with it. Fast and reliable.

  • fred osei says:

    iv just stumbled on ur blog and i must say that was a good read and real talk. ur definitely right. what we claim as a broadband here was available years ago n we’re bein ripped off n no-one says anythin about it!

    • Mike says:

      thanks Fred. I’m patiently waiting for Glo to show me something promising, but I wouldn’t expect to much. I’m writing this on a speedy broadband connection in Lagos ..sigh… if only this were Ghana.

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