I finally went to chat up the new pretty chick in town called Vodafone. If you don’t know what I am talking about, see my earlier love letter to MTN.
1. Customer Service
I was impressed by the friendly and efficient customer support at Levy Junction and they patiently answered all my questions. Their sim registration process was very fast and efficient and they don’t insist on taking your photo unlike the annoying MTN (imagine you have shaggy hair!). When I casually mentioned to the Vodafone agents that I hope they won’t mess us up the way MTN has done on sim registration, 3 people who were in the queue spontaneously began complaining about how terrible the MTN sim registration process is. One man said he has done it 4 times and he got so upset he has already thrown away his MTN sim card. ZICTA have now come into the picture.
2. Internet Speed
I tested the speed of their connection and it is pretty good. Any YouTube video I tested played immediately to the end without any and without any interruption (this included HD videos). I did an online speed test using wimi.com and got speeds of up to 18Mbs. Compare this with MTN (who were previously the fastest of the cellphone companies) on which I have gotten maximum speeds of 7MBs. Airtel and the useless Zamtel in my experience have never been above 5Mbs, and this is at night.
These Internet speed comparisons of course need to be taken with a pinch of salt because Vodafone are just starting up and their network has lots of spare capacity. The real test will be when they reach their full network capacity. Zambian Internet providers tend to oversubscribe, leading to slow Internet speeds instead of expanding their network capacity.
Vodafone are using 4G LTE technology which is the new standard in cellphone technology in Zambia. 4G supports speeds of over 30Mbs although of course we won’t see this in Zambia anytime soon. If you already have a 4G phone or are planning to buy one, make sure it is “TD-LTE” because apparently, there are other implementations of 4G technology.
Vodafone are selling 4G cellphones and routers at between 15% and 50% of their normal price as a promotion until 30th June. The cheapest smartphone as per their leaflet is the Lenovo A2010 at K890 (normally K1,140) and the most expensive is the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge at K7,990 (no discount). They have the Xiaomi Note Pro at K2,690. Their best deal is the “Mi-Fi” router selling at K300 (normal price is almost K700).
The Mi-Fi router is a pretty nifty little gadget that is smaller than the Galaxy mini range of cellphones. It is about half the size of the Galaxy S range of smartphones. Mi-Fi has 8 hour battery life once you charge it and you can connect up to ten devices (laptops, computers, cellphones, tablets, etc) and is ideal for the home. Vodafone also have a bigger router that can take up to 32 users and is suitable for SMEs at the office. The routers have an in-built firewall and you can control what devices can connect and what they can access on the Internet. eg you can block access to torrents and other peer-to-peer file sharing systems.
5. Wi-Fi hotspots
They have these available at various places just like iConnect. Their K9 per hour price seems on the high side though.
They have a range of pricing covering most needs. Their best deal is the monthly one for K250 and you get 10GB of data which is plenty for most people, as long as you minimize playing video from the Internet. This deal is available on any 4G device with their sim card. MTN has a similar deal for K250 but its weakness is that you can only get it with a special router that you have to buy from them at about K1,000 and it only works with power (it has no inbuilt rechargeable battery which is problem with load shedding).
To my knowledge, neither Aitel nor Zamtel have any comparable monthly deal. 10GB on Airtel, MTN and Zamtel will cost you K700. If you want value for money and you can afford to spend K250 at a go, the Vodafone deal is the best by miles. If you want flexibility and spend as you go, the MTN Browse4eva deal is probably the best, although you have to spend K5 in a day to access the K0.03/MB price (K150 per month) and you can only get a maximum of 1GB in any 24 hour period at this 3 ngwee rate. K250 spent on Browse4eva will give you about 3.5GB in a month. The Zamtel “Real Mahala” deal at either K3 per day or K7 gives you 3GB per month in daily doses of 100MB and is only good for WhatsApp and email.
1. No Voice Calls
There are no voice calls because they do not yet have a voice license. So nobody can call you on a Vodafone number just yet, although you can use WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Viber or Skype for calling people who also have a reasonably fast connection.
2. Ignorant Staff
I was again disappointed by the usual lack of knowledge in Zambia and Vodafone are no exception. I always get irked by the fact that employees of most companies in Zambia simply don’t know their products or services well enough, especially frontline staff. I asked a most basic question of whether I can get two SIM cards and the Vodafone staff at one of the shops refused. They said it is impossible which I simply did not believe. If it is true, then Vodafone have messed up. If I want to have their service in my dual sim phone as well as a Mi-Fi router at home, why would they be crazy enough to say “No! We don’t want more business from you”? So I am more inclined to believe their staff are ignorant like hell which means either their training is poor or their staff are intellectually lazy and don’t want to read (the curse of Zambia!).
After further probing, another employee claimed that it is possible to get two sim cards but you have to produce another ID, meaning that you get one sim card using your NRC and another your Drivers License or passport. Again this doesn’t make sense and if it is true, then Vodafone are shooting themselves in the foot. This is a very simple feature to have in any software system for goodness sake! In the end, nobody knew the answer to my simple question and I find it hard to believe that out of all the thousands of customers Vodafone has served, I was the first one to ask about 2 sim cards at that shop.
3. Missing Features
Vodafone have a leaflet saying that you can get up to 3 sim cards that use the same data bundle. This is very smart but I was told by their employee that this feature is not yet available. This is not very clever of Vodafone. Why dish out leaflets with features which are not yet available?
4. 90% functioning App
I checked out their app (available on the Apple store and Google play) and although it has a facility to punch in your VISA card number to make buying airtime easy, the facility doesn’t work in Zambia. This is not good because they should have had the facility ready before launching or otherwise put something in the app that tells you “Not available in your country”.
5. No support line
I cannot call Vodafone on 111 the way I do on any other cellphone provider. So what happens at 2am in the morning when I need technical support? Not cool!
6. Poor or non-uniform network coverage
West of Lusaka beyond 7km, the signal dies. In Lusaka city itself, there are many areas where their coverage is not 100%. They should have had 100% coverage within a 20km radius of Lusaka at the very least.
7. No 3G support
They do not support 3G technology so your current cellphone and other devices will most likely not work on their network. You can mitigate against this by buying their Mi-Fi router and connect through it.
8. No night deals
Other providers give special deals from midnight to 5am at ridiculously low prices. This is great for students and those who need a large amount of data in one day. Vodafone does not have this type of deal.
Whilst the Vodafone service is fast and great value for money, it is not for everybody. It is skewed towards the middle to upper class income brackets and is not yet very student friendly. Overall, I would give Vodafone a 65% score (so far). In comparison, Airtel for me is at 53%, MTN 57% and Zamtel 30%.
P/S – Details are based on information from last week.
MTN apologises to customers over messages (24 June 2016)
Dear MTN Zambia (20 June 2016)
By Michael Chishala