Economy

TELECOM BATTLE: Talking values

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A little over ten years ago, I bought my first SIM card for the equivalent of today’s 70 cedis. It was a ‘Spacefon’ number and getting that SIM for my unwieldy Nokia 3110 phone was one of the best things that happened to me that year. At the time, I had just started working for Skyy Power FM in Takoradi and my salary was the equivalent of today’s 60 cedis. So I got that that SIM card after living like a miser for several months all in the name of saving. My hustling uncle in the UK got me the phone, which couldn’t fit in my pocket.

The telecom services then were terrible but I also wanted to get in on the fad before it faded.

The fad did not fade and 10 years down the line, SIM cards are selling as cheaply as one cedi and, in some cases, they are even being offered for free. ‘Spacefon’ is no more. It is now MTN and it’s still the market leader – as it was about a decade ago. But the monopoly it used to enjoy is all but broken and it’s facing very stiff competition.

Other telecom providers like tigo, Zain and Vodafone appear very determined to take as much as they can from MTN. The keener the competition gets, the more the consumer benefits.

Take the current race to be the network with the ‘lowest call rates’ as an example. For me, the clearest winner appears to be Zain, with Vodafone as a very determined Vodafone. MTN lost the race long before it began. In its complacence, MTN sat down and allowed the likes of Vodafone and Zain to drastically slash their call rates to a mere 8p per minute.

The price reductions are moving a lot of subscribers away from MTN. I’ve heard people say things like “My MTN is for receiving only” and “I am only keeping the MTN chip because I don’t want to lose my contacts.”

MTN is hurting but not so much as to be forced into panic mode. Now, it’s just trying to find ways to stem the haemorrhage. Its first attempt at this, though, has been a very bad step that amounts to ignoble deception.

For almost a week now, MTN has put out adverts claiming that it is offering the “best value”, urging you to talk for as low as 7.5p per minute – creating the impression that they have introduced a tariff regime that beats Zain and Vodafone. But their claims are not entirely true.

You see, while Vodafone and Zain offer 8p from the very first minute you start talking, MTN demands that you talk for at least three minutes before you can take advantage of the 7.5p/min offer.

That means that those of us who like to talk in short bursts are not covered. In the same advert in which they claim to offer the “best value”, MTN has two other offerings. Take either of these up and the so-called best value rates apply to only five numbers, which you would need to choose as so-called “family and friends”. Call any other number and you pay 10per minute.

How can any of this be “best value” for anyone?

Simply put, MTN’s offer comes with many strings attached – just like when SIM cards were sold for the equivalent of today’s 60 cedis. The difference between then and now, however, is that there is competition, there is choice and there is every indication that the days when the telecom firms took us for granted are well nigh over. Above all else, it is clear that the battle is not necessarily for those who have been around the longest. In fact, they are the ones who are grasping at straws and resorting to cunning deception. But they lie bad! The battle will be won by those who play it fair, innovate and offer real value – quality, dependable services at cheap rates. Best value, is in the eyes of the beholder and in my eyes MTN is far from providing that. Not now and definitely not with what they are currently advertising.

 

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