Bangladesh Beats Canada in Cellphone Service
Piotr Staniaszek was no doubt in shock after he received a cellphone
bill totally nearly $85,000. This 22-year old oil field worker from
Calgary had purchased a cellphone plan with Bell Mobility which
included a $10 "unlimited" internet service plan. Staniaszek had then
used his phone as a modem to connect his computer to the internet.
According to BBC News, which first reported the story, he had used it to download high-definition movies and "other large files" which resulted in "massive extra charges".
Perhaps the most shocking aspect of this story is that yours truly,
doing the exact same thing, merely gets billed $20 a month. In this
past two weeks alone, I have transferred over two gigabytes of data -
among which includes my latest YouTube episode
(that alone required uploading over 300 megabytes). The difference?
Unlike Mr. Staniaszek, my cellphone provider allows me truly unlimited
access to their high speed EDGE network regardless of whether my
cellphone is connected to a computer or not. What's the name of my
provider? Grameenphone...... in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh may not be the first place Canadians think about when
comparing (and complaining about) their cellphone service plans. But
examining this small South Asian nation, where over 80% of the
population earns less than $2 a day, may reveal just how much customers
are being gouged in the True North, Strong, and Free. As of 2006, the
number of cellphone owners totaled over 19 million. That is 19 times
more than landline ownership in Bangladesh and 3 million more than the
total number of cellphone owners in all of Canada. Not only is there
more demand for cellphones and cellphone service in Bangladesh, there
is also a greater demand placed upon the cellular infrastructure.
Unlike Canadian cellular providers, Bangladesh cellular companies must
spend money on expensive equipment given both the high population
density and the unpredictable environment. Despite a population density
of over 1,000 people per square kilometer (that's over 310 times more
than Canada), most cellphone customers have minimal network congestion.
Cyclone Sidr may have brought fierce winds, heavy rain, and widespread
flooding which left the entire country in a blackout for over 24 hours;
but, anyone with a charge in their cellphone was able to make both
international calls and access the internet.
Even in the
disaster area, where the cyclone had knocked down power lines and
destroyed homes, I was amazed to be getting four out of five bars of
reception in a boat in the middle of an isolated and remote river. The
reason for such reliable, widespread, and low cost service has nothing
to do with geography or demographics. Rather, it has everything to do
with business. Bangladesh, unlike Canada, has a flourishing, open, and
competitive cellular industry. There are over five independently owned
companies fighting for customers. With unlocked GSM cellphones being
the norm, customer loyalty is minimal with switching providers as
simple as swamping a SIM card.
Cellphone companies are therefore
left competing for customers by promising better customer service,
cellphone reception, and lowest cost. Among the services offered is a
feature which prevents customers from accruing a large bill in the
middle of the billing cycle. A feature which Piotr Staniaszek no doubt
wishes existed in Canada: "Here, I'm $85,000 over and nobody bothered
to give me a call and tell me what was going on" (source: BBC). If
coming to Bangladesh for a better deal isn't his cup of tea, perhaps he
should consider going to Rwanda. Which, in a study conducted by Thomaspurves.com in April of this year, was found to be more competitive in cellular data plans than Rogers Wireless, Bell Mobility, and Telus.
Reporting from Dhaka - via cellular internet connection.
I also run a blog called The Uncultured Project.