Ever imagined how life would have been like without communication? It is a fact that cellphones have become such a fixity in our day-to-day lives that it is hard to imagine that not so long ago we were able to function without them!
In recent years, the newer, state-of-the-art models of smartphones such as Samsung, the BlackBerry, Apple’s iPhone and some Nokia series have transformed cellphones from mere phones to actually miniature computers with the technological capacity to plot your bearings and help you find your way through unfamiliar territory via satellite.
Here in Malawi, where access to information and communication technology is still limited, the new versatile models of phones are making a big difference in redefining the rules of communication and social intercourse.
Besides, the industry has created thousands of jobs from the actual network operators such as our own TNM plc, Airtel Malawi Limited, Malawi Telecommunications Limited and Access Communications Limited to pre-paid airtime vouchers and dealers, the telecommunications industry. It is the same on the larger global scene at large where millions of jobs have been created by the industry.
However, I have problems with some “archaic” marketing trends in the industry which have seen companies holding subscribers hostage, thereby curtailing their freedom of choice. For example, we still see our network operators sim-locking handsets such that subscribers can only use a sim-card provided by the operator who sold them the handset. This is bad and archaic business practice, I must say.
My understanding is that where this sim-locking business started, the sim-locks were restricted to handsets sold at subsidised rates to consumers; hence, an operator would want to recover the full cost, so to speak, through airtime. However, upon completing the contract with the network operator, usually, such phones are unlocked to allow the customer freedom of choice, including inserting a sim-card of their preferred network.
However, what I see here at home is that in the thick of competition, phone operators seem to be out to force loyalty from customers. For example, how does one explain the sim-locking of handsets for some smartphones which the operators sell at almost the prevailing market value? Is that fair to the consumer? I also have problems with the operators advertising their services for free using e-mails I send from my smartphone. The ad goes like: “sent from a BlackBerry smartphone provided/supplied by [name of network operator].” This is as if the phone and service is for free yet the subscriber paid the full cost.
I am looking forward to the day when phone operators will realise that once sold to the customer, the handset becomes the property of the consumer and not the operator or the manufacturer.
On another note, I have always wondered aloud on whether phone network operators should be in the business of selling handsets as well? It is like one day waking up to find the Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) selling electronics or indeed water boards selling consumers buckets. Perhaps the Competition and Fair Trading Commission could come in and clarify on this “monopoly” slowly building up in the telecommunications sector.
What if vehicle manufacturers restricted motorists on where to top-up fuel? Likwise, phone subscribers should have the freedom to use, in their paid for handsets, the simcard of their choice.