Let’s see what we got with GSM charges

It was celebration across the land. Nigerians were excited by the arrival of GSM service and the possibilities of endless access to making and receiving phone calls. Expensive calls, several dropped calls and weeks later excitement gave way to reality. We soon realized we were paying over the odds for calls. We discovered from access to information from other lands that GSM calls needed not be that expensive, plus we increasingly got pinched by the charges on time not spent. You remember being charged a minute for a second call? So we paid as much as N100+ for a 61 second call!

Roll the days and time forward, came Globacom with their Per Second Billing (PSB) and soon the others joined in after they had said it would take years for them to offer PSB services. The feeling that came with knowing that you were paying nothing more than the time used on the phone was fulfillment. We felt like we had won a major battle against the service providers – but that was only the beginning of our many wins.

Econet metamorphosed endlessly, MTN reached into remote areas, Glo took the game to Blackberry pedestals and Etisalat came in telling us we had not been talking all along and showed us why – 25kobo per minute meant talking without minding the time spent. Glo came with unbelievable charges like N40 for a 3 minute call, reduced Blackberry charges having introduced it into the Nigerian market and charged as low as N12/minute on the regular calls. Airtel – the latest stage of Econet’s multistage development – raised the bar. They offered free text messages, 20k/second though after a 60/second first call of the day. It did look like MTN could not be bothered. In their characteristic way, they responded with resonating reverberations. 0k/second calls, 25k/second calls – directly attacking the Airtel charges in their introductory adverts and reduced data charges. It is curious to note that the special MTN charges had number restrictions – Only four family and friends on the MTN network, one on any other network and one on an International line could enjoy the charges. Smart as they are though, MTN are not particularly quick to remind us that the special charges were reserved for just six of the numbers on our contact list. The well advertised 0k/sec call for a whole month came with the payment of N250. Of course the billboards only showed a very incredible 0k/sec call to one magic number. In the midst of all of these, one thing is certain; we are paying far less than we did just a decade ago.

Other factors make things even much interesting. With the introduction of dual SIM and triple SIM phones, it means you can be on all the networks without having to go around with more than two phones – three, four phones in the hand or pocket is more than a handful for me. From paying N33,000 for weighty phones like the Nokia 3310, Sagems – where are they now? and Trium phones – phones whose weight required that you sometimes tell your callers to call you back after two or three minutes so that you could get some rest from carrying the obvious weight-like phones. Now we pay just N12,000 to get dual-SIM and even less for some.

“What goes up must come down,” is a popular but untrue saying. The fact that it is not everything that obeys that makes it a faulty statement. The prices of Petrol never returned. The N30 that could buy me a team comprising of a soft drink, a loaf of bread and fried egg to boot in my Junior Secondary School days in the mid and latter parts of the 1990s, cannot by itself buy any of those team members. My grandfather bought his bag of cement for the amount of money it will takes my nieces to buy N5 candy. My dad bought same for N1000 pIus and if I am lucky and Dangote permitting, I will get it for N2000 a bag, but that means I must start my building project soon enough. I don’t know of anything in Nigeria that has gone up and truly come down to at least its previous levels save one thing – GSM calls. If it cost N13 to make a 61 second call in 2001 and it cost N100 for the same in 2011, that would have been some 669% increase over a decade and that would have been normal in our usual rising prices economy, but for the GSM charges, the percentage is the exact reverse. It cost almost 700% less to make the call you made in 2011 and with more value added services to boot. You can do a hundred and one things on your phone more than you did in 2001 – that is even if you could afford the N25,000 SIMs and N40,000 1G phones. Either of the just quoted figures could get folks started on a business centre today. The times are great and they are nowhere near where they could be.

Imagine the future of telephony! It is unimaginable. Submarine cables for all the players, reduced prices to call London – how I need that, free phones for getting on the new networks. Let’s just pray the government would give room for more players to come in to play with the current players. While it does look like we are paying less compared to the previous years, we are still paying way more than say Airtel’s home country India. Same Airtel charges Indians less than the rupees equivalent of N3 for the same charge of 60k/second and 20/sec they want us to celebrate.

Until we can get to make calls without price consideration, until we don’t have to recharge our phones in weeks and still make endless calls, long may the price crashes continue. We have the number to make their businesses profitable so why can’t they reduce the prices even more?

PS: This piece was submitted to a magazine in January but it looks relevant still doesn’t it?
Japheth J Omojuwa @omojuwa on twitter blogs on , amongst other Nigerian and American sites. He has had his works featured on the BBC site and was recently voted Best Nigerian Political Blogger

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