In the Shona language, we have the proverb Ukarera imbwa nemukaka inofuma yokuruma which means the kindness you show today if not well thought out can come back to bite you in the future.
In as much as instant messaging has brought immeasurable convenience to mobile phone users across the world and in Zimbabwe, the question of its disruption to mobile operators cannot be ignored. It is reported that up to 40% of the traditional voice revenues have been swallowed up by this new technology as more and more users migrate to the various platforms.
The main reason for its speedy uptake, especially in Zimbabwe, is the accelerated fueling of alternatives to voice communication championed by the operators themselves. This happened when they decided to ignore net neutrality and in trying to lure customers created this super byte that enjoys more rights on the internet than other zeros and ones.
Personally I did not care much about WhatsApp until the bundles came along and word spread that you can virtually communicate for free through this application.
Who was I to deny this heaven-sent gift especially when the cost of calling was 25 cents per minute? This was soon after the celebrated per-second-billing that we had been denied for long by these operators.
Retribution is an admission of guilt and having been wronged by the cost-based pricing model for so long I quickly forgave the operators for free instant messaging and subsequently WhatsApp and Facebook calling. I was more than happy to receive this form of compensation from the years of “unjust” tariffs.
Today, I am not particularly worried about the loss of revenue in as far as it affects the operators themselves. After all, they brought it upon themselves.
I am more concerned about how the costs will be compensated for by passing on to consumers or how the costs will delay rationalized pricing of data and other services and how it will delay the rollout of other non-bundled services, the ones that are more important for me than chatting. Is there a bundle for WordPress, Herald, Newsday? How about one for Paynow, Telpay, Techzim?
It is a fact that as more and more people sign on to these privileged-byte bundles they see less use for other services and the vast opportunities of the real internet. As a result, in as much as the 20% smartphone penetration will increase, it will be hinged on how many more people want to use WhatsApp and Facebook versus a healthier case of how many want to connect to the internet. At a cost of $1 for 10 Megabytes, there is hardly a reason to use the internet outside of these bundles.
But what right to these operators have to decide what I should use my internet for? They have a right to make a profit, fair and fine, but are they really looking beyond these few nuggets and looking at the bigger picture?
How much more traffic would they get for reduced tariffs, and not from Dream bundles orVoice bundles? Wouldn’t users click on that external link in a Facebook post if the cost was the same for all traffic and isn’t that post usually a parody video that leads to another and another? Is there room for streaming, which brings in more traffic? Is there room for music and video applications?
Is there room for streaming, which brings in more traffic? Is there room for music and video applications? Is there room for other OTTS that can be developed locally and thus promote and activate the local telecoms market? Nobody in Silicon Valley is going to make the ZimDancehall streaming service that works here. How will mobile enterprise solutions sign on if there is no tariffs review?
I cannot seem to understand why the operators are busy enabling the foreign applications that destroy them by giving them special bundles. There is more to the Internet than Facebook and WhatsApp. If the operators were going to make a loss anyway, shouldn’t they make that loss trialing local based Over The Top Services? Viva Net Neutrality.