Canada maybe a “first world” developed country, but when it comes to cellphone service, it’s got nothing when it comes to Bangladesh. Don’t believe me? Ask Piotr Staniaszek – who recently got a bill for over $85,000 from Bell Mobility. What was his crime? He used his cellphone as a modem so that his computer could get on the internet. He downloaded some high-definition video and transferred a lot of large files which, as the BBC put it resulted in “massive extra charges”.
You know what’s so funny? I do the same thing but it costs me only $20 a month. I seriously give my cellular provider a run for its money. I’ve done over 2 gigabytes of activity in the past few weeks alone. The latest episode of The Uncultured Project on YouTube took me 300 megs alone. But, unlike Canada, the cellphone providers here don’t care how much you use or whether you are using the internet on your phone or connecting your phone to your computer. Plus they have a feature so that prevents you from accidentally incurring excessive charges.
I used to think that Canada, having the status of a “first world” country meant that it did everything better than “the third world”. I guess, when I hear those terms, I imagine it as an analogy of a race. But, whenever I look at my cellphone here – I’m reminded that there are some things Bangladeshis do better than Canucks. I feel sorry for my friends in the Frigid North.
I wrote an article about this on NowPublic.com. It’s after the jump. It’s the same thing that I said here though – just more news-ish sounding.
Piotr Staniaszek was no doubt in shock after he received 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 a cellular internet connection – uncultured.