Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Why does MTN want to charge me 470,000 naira for 3GB of data?

Bundles of Naira I'm not exaggerating. I did the math. MTN charges 15k per kilobyte for me to access the Internet via my mobile phone. When that is multiplied by 3GB (314572 KB), it comes to four hundred and seventy-one thousand, eight hundred and fifty-nine naira, twenty kobo.

I chose 3GB because MTN offers a standard data package at 10,000 naira per month with a data allowance of 3GB. What this means is that if you exceed 3GB, you get charged 15 kobo for every kilobyte over that 3GB. This may not seem too bad (actually it seems horrible) and would appear to make my point not only moot, but inaccurate. However the caveat is that this 10,000 naira and other packages are only available to you when you buy their wireless 3G modem with a dedicated SIM. In other words, if you have a completely data capable phone such as the iPhone, and most other modern smartphones, you are can only access the Internet with MTN at the 15k per kilobyte charge using your phone. Hence, if you attempted to use the equivalent of their standard data package, then your potential bill is nearly half a million naira.

Nothing on their website suggests the 10,000 naira package is only for their wireless modem or PCMCIA data card. In fact, quite the opposite. However I walked into their service centre at the Palms and asked about using one of their contracts on my 3G phone. The lady there told me it wasn’t possible, that I had to get one of the devices they provide. I didn’t believe her. I figured that she was clueless, until I exchanged a few email messages with MTN and spoke with one of their customer service people. It really isn’t available for mobile phones.

Unbelievable. On the other hand, maybe not so unbelievable. MTN has a history of throwing expensive pricing at the Nigerian customer base and seeing which would stick. For instance, in the early days, they tried to make us pay for voicemail, but the old Econet forced them to drop that by offering the service free of charge. If memory serves me well, they also tried to make us pay for checking our balances and again had to drop that idea. That was then, this is now and the pattern doesn’t seem to have changed. Now let’s be clear and let’s be fair. The other GSM service providers, Glo and Zain, also charge 15k per kilobyte for incidental usage. Etisalat do have a data deal, but for some mysterious reason are silent on usage pricing on their website. However Glo and Zain offer monthly package deals like MTN and the packages they do offer however provide the kind of flexibility that MTN doesn’t offer and are available on phones – not just modems and data cards. Zain for instance offer the following package options:


They also recently provided an “all you can eat” package for N15,000.00 monthly. Though there is some negative discussion ongoing about this over at Mobility Nigeria. Glo offer the following:


I am not suggesting that Glo or Zain’s packages are perfectly good and that everyone should flock to them. I point them out instead to show they provide much more flexibility and more options for people to work with than MTN does. I have seriously considered one of the smaller Zain packages as a mobile complement to my home broadband service. The reasons I haven’t moved from MTN are two-fold. The room I work in our office building is such that the only service provider whose signals are strong enough for me to receive or make the occasional phone call is MTN. Secondly, I have used this number for years and this is what my contacts know me on. I’m not ready yet for the hassle of changing numbers and having to inform everyone of the change. I also am not a two phone person. Now if only the NCC would implement number portability…

I am not attempting to tell MTN how to run their business, merely advocating for better service offerings. I am also focused on them because they are my primary provider and are uniquely placed to have the largest impact on the industry if they so desired. MTN have shown themselves to be creative or at least on the leading edge of technology in what they can bring to the table with services like the 3.5G network, Google SMS, C-Track, DSTV mobile, OneWorld, and others. They have been the longest lived, most successful GSM provider in Nigeria thus far. They have great breadth, but are, in this writer’s opinion, lacking in depth. It would only take a nimble upstart to replace them at the top of the hill. Econet could have, but, well we know what happened to them (sort of). Now if MTN only matched the Zain offerings number for number, their superior network coverage would make it more attractive to users. If they just moved the decimal point to make it 1.5 kobo per kilobyte, we are still talking about nearly 50,000 naira – still bizarre, but not mind-bogglingly so. They could even go the route of agile non-GSM operator Starcomms with their 100 hour and 250 hour bundle packages. Or even better do something really radical. They might even (gasp) crash the price, do 0.5 kobo per kilobyte, and make everyone else in the industry scramble to adjust. They would still make a fabulous profit.

One last thing. Congratulations to Glo on the arrival of their submarine cable, Glo 1 at Alpha Beach. Now if they would be so kind to run a line to my house. It isn’t too far away.