I read this article on Ars Technica this morning and it reminded me of when I bought my iPhone 4S in London in late 2011. I have always done my research and bought my expensive tech toys from overseas when it makes them considerably cheaper. This also allows me to be an early adopter when products are released much later in South Africa. I had saved up and changed my money and was ready to make my big purchase.
I hadn’t had an iPhone since my 3G was stolen two years earlier. Excitedly I rushed to the Regent Street Store in London and was there before they opened. I was the first one in the door and I lined up my purchase. I knew I would need data for this phone and I didn’t have data roaming being on Vodacom Prepaid at the time. I had done my research and was considering getting a T-Mobile UK SIM. I asked the Apple Store employee if that was a good choice and they suggested I pick up a prepaid Three SIM in store.
I was shocked to see that it was only £15 (R280) and included 300 minutes of call time, 3000 text messages and UNLIMITED data! As a South African, unlimited data is unheard of. I figured it would be like the US T-Mobile SIM that gives you unlimited data at 2G speeds. (Fucking slow)
It was not. It was fast. Very fast. At the time, at home, we had 3GB ADSL data and 384k line. This was running at +6mbps and was unlimited. I downloaded all the apps I wanted, I streamed music. I turned on the hotspot on the phone and let my mom connect her iPad to it. We Skyped with friends and family at home.
For our entire holiday of about 3 weeks, we had more talk time and texts than we could use and unlimited data. All for less than I was paying for a “No Phone” contract back in South Africa that offered me MUCH less.
So why did I pay R400 per month for 200 minutes, 200 texts and 500MB of data on a 24 month contract? And why was I satisfied with this? So how can Three offer unlimited talk, text and 4G data for £30 (R550) a month on a month to month deal? If you don’t need unlimited talk time, you can get away with paying £20 (R370) a month and get 200 minutes, still bundled with unlimited data and texts. These prices get even cheaper when you sign a 12 month deal. On top of all of that, they offer FREE roaming in loads of countries.
So whilst we sit here helpless in South Africa with Vodacom and MTN increasing their prices and Cell C and Telkom Mobile’s networks not quite up to scratch, in the UK you have a network expanding and growing by giving customers what they want. Our networks are holding us to a ransom and there is very little we can do. We are allowing these mega companies so much control over us and they are like abusive partners we refuse to leave.
On a less depressing note, if a new network comes around our way or Cell C and Telkom sort their networks out, and offer good deals, don’t be scared to tell your network to fuck off. Vote with your wallet and they will be forced to adapt.
Note: I am currently contesting the Vodacom price increases and they are throwing a lot of red tape in front of me. I have been waiting over two months for a copy of my contract terms and conditions so I can prove they are not acting within the law when increasing their prices.