Saturday, October 3, 2009

Is the 3.5g Technology, a Vanity to the Ghanaian Mobile Phone User?

Have you tried the newest mobile technology been introduced by the GSM companies in Ghana yet? Does it make commercial sense to introduce 3.5g technology when mobile phone subscribers in Ghana cannot simply connect, won't connect and don't enjoy what they are paying for?

Making a simple voice call in Ghana is a hassle, so what could have informed some of the telecommunication companies to provide video calls? It is laughable and amounts to biting off more than they can chew. And as if by an electric switch, almost all the telephony companies - including even those who have been accused of providing sub-standard services - have switched gear in their marketing strategies to coerce people into using fantasy services when they can't even make voice calls.

There are currently about six mobile operators in the country, and on receiving its license to operate mobile services in Ghana, Globacom Plc, operators of Glo, announced it was going to operate a 3.5 network and so did Zain Telecommunication Ghana, which has already started providing the service to its subscribers.

To be seen as the market leader, MTN Ghana is now aggressively marketing its 3.5g service for subscribers to enjoy the thrill of "face-to-face" conversation on their phone with their families and friends. Something, I don't see been necessary at all.

Ghanaian consumers are discerning and deserve to have the best in mobile technology, and telecommunication operators in the country are counting on third generation (3.5g) mobile services to stimulate fresh demand in a mobile market that is approaching saturation point.

And all these services are being offered at a time there has been a wave of complaints from mobile phone subscribers resulting from continued call drops, cross calls, speech mutation, and wrong voice prompts, among others. But the potential benefits of 3.5g mobile technology appear to have swept many telecommunication companies operating in Ghana into fantasy mode. Yes, you heard me; fantasy mode…!!!

In fact, 3.5g is a fancy technology that lets users transfer larger amounts of data more quickly, speeding up links to the Internet and allowing them to watch and send videos. The technology also allows users to play games and participate in video-conferencing. There is no doubt that there is clearly a need for Internet connectivity in areas where there is no Internet infrastructure and 3.5g offers the potential of bringing Internet access to people who can't afford PCs.

Since some of the mobile telephony operators introduced 3.5g services, most consumers have developed a penchant for accessing the Internet on their phones and operators are cashing in on that. Most common is the recent increase in sign-ups on Facebook by Ghanaians. However, mobile service operators have proved over time that they can't be relied on to provide uninterrupted voice calls to their subscribers without a hassle; thwarting the basic reason why people bought their phones.

Even when a couple of years ago some of the operators were sanctioned by the National Communication Authority, the telecommunication regulator, to halt new access line activations until their networks were appropriately dimensioned to take on additional capacity, they failed to do so.

And if they cannot provide simple services such as voice calls, why do they think consumers can trust them enough to provide continuous and reliable video calls? This is on the back of the fact that video calling requires the transfer of huge data and bandwidth, and since the network infrastructure of operators is already under stress, there is without doubt that ensuring constant connectivity will be a challenge for operators.

Besides, hi-tech handsets capable of sending and receiving video messages are also currently far from cheap, and most of the handsets people use to make their calls are not 3.5g enabled, which is required to make a video. So, definitely, afford-ability is going to be the biggest problem. Only a certain strata of society will be able to afford 3.5g phones to start with.

The verdict is that people may fancy and love to have new phone services, but considering the economic situation in the country with per capital income assumed to be around of US$600, I bet Ghanaians will be unwilling to pay the going price for a 3.5g handset and its services. They would treat their body well than spend on a handset to be able to access 3.5g.

A group of young adults I had a word with are skeptical that mass demand for the new services will materialize in the short-term, arguing that few consumers will be willing to pay the hefty premiums levied by 3.5g operators. Even the cheap and sometimes free voice-mail services are rarely used by many mobile phone users in Ghana; how much more a sophisticated and expensive service like 3.5g video-calling. My guess is as good as yours..!!

When it comes to technology, Ghanaians are conservatives and would prefer to use their mobile phones for talking and short messaging services than to chat and browse on their phones. Many people might even think that since their old phones can browse and access the Internet, there will be no need to get an expensive 3.5g handset - blinding their eyes to the fact that the Universal Mobile Telecommunication Services (UMTS) technology which powers 3.5g mobile communications will offer a much richer and faster service.

The only foreseeable way for operators to cash in on the 3.5g service will be to sell to subscribers in the corporate institutions in the country, and that raises questions as to whether the revenue to be accrued from them will be enough to offset the huge investments required for the technology roll-out. So it would be in the best interests of mobile operators to invest the monies that would otherwise have been invested in 3.5g into expanding their network capacity, especially where there is no telephone penetration.

Have you heard the new Tigo commercial on the radio recently? There's a part that goes; "How many "hellos" do you have to say in one phone call…?? After all, making a voice call gets on the nerves of mobile phone consumers - and they wouldn't want to worsen their plight with a video-call.


Edward of PathGhana said...

MJ, I dont really blame the telcos so much, I rather blame the communication authority. They lack the equipment to track lots performance and excesses on the part of the industry players. I see them to be more of toothless bull-dogs. The people they are over-seeing are just to powerful for them to handle. I think they need some equipping.

Shellydesuza said...

The article is really painful. Listening to the miserable functioning to the telephones and we boast of the world trending forward. Usage of Video conferencing software in most of the countries and sad to know there are people who are denied minimum communication connectivity.