Friday 23 June 2006

Be a coward

All too often we fall victim to the heroic impulse, to the desire to be ahead of our neighbours, colleagues and friends and have the latest gadget, the most up-to-date new electronic device or, horror of horrors, the prototype that nobody has tried yet.

So what’s wrong with having something brand new? Something that nobody else has? Well nothing at all, so long as you are prepared to take the risk, the risk of trying something nobody has really tried before.

I used to know a doctor who refused all the efforts of drug companies to persuade him to prescribe any drugs until they had been on the market for at least a year. His philosophy was that he preferred some other doctor’s patients to experience all the unpredicted side-effects before his had to. He would rather have some other bunch of unfortunate patients grow a second head, lose all their hair or have something genuinely terrible happen.

I think that consumers should adopt the same approach. Clearly I’m not suggesting that buying our groceries is the same as prescribing serious medication but the principle is the same. I think that we should sometimes demonstrate some healthy cowardice and let others take consumer risks.

A good example of this is ADSL, otherwise known as broadband internet access. Put simply ADSL is a permanent, fast connection to the internet. It has only recently been introduced to Botswana but it’s in use in many other countries.

So what’s so good about ADSL?

Firstly it’s meant to be fast. One of the biggest problems with internet access is how slow some things are when you use the conventional “dial-up” access using a normal phone line. If anyone emails you some large digital pictures it can take ages to receive them. Heaven help you if someone wants to email you a video file.

ADSL on the other hand can be amazingly fast. BTC have been advertising on street poles around Gaborone that ADSL is “up to 15 times faster” than conventional Internet access. Those of us who have been lucky enough to use ADSL connections in South Africa and Europe can confirm this. It can be enormously fast and it’s a thrill to use.

The other key difference between ADSL and the conventional approach is that it’s “always on”. You don’t need to connect to the internet every time you want to pick up your email or surf the web. You are always connected, 24 hours a day.

In general ADSL is a great thing in my humble opinion and it’s great that it’s now available to us here in Botswana.

However it’s still very new so it came as no great surprise when we started hearing that some people weren’t perfectly satisfied with the service they were receiving. We’ve heard from a few customers who complain that far from being fast, their ADSL connection is actually a lot slower than they are used to with old-fashioned dial-up access. Also they were unhappy that even though you can get an ADSL connection from most Internet Service Providers (ISPs) you are obliged to buy the necessary equipment from BTC, even if, as one caller reported, he already owned top-of-the-range ADSL equipment he had previously used in Australia.

Then there’s the cost involved. ADSL is not exactly cheap, despite the fact that you save money as a result of the faster access. Also, and this is where real savings can be made, you can use your ADSL phone line as a telephone line. Remember the “always on” idea? Effectively you get free local phone calls as a by-product of the permanent connection. However the ADSL options we are given here are significantly more expensive than elsewhere in the world.

Not all the feedback we’ve received has been poor though. One organisation we spoke to that uses ADSL is utterly delighted. Apparently they have saved the entire setup costs, including all the equipment costs in one month as a result of a drastically reduced phone bill.

We’ve contacted both BTC and the ISPs and they have helped us to understand some of the problems. One critical factor is that there are three ADSL options available. Each promises a different connection speed and it seems that the problems are almost all with those customers who had gone for the slowest, cheapest option. According to the ISPs the management of this slower group of users by BTC is not as good as it should be.

So there are two lessons we have learned regarding are ADSL.

Firstly, like in so many areas of life, don’t go cheap. Customers using the cheapest option are the ones who are having the most problems. It’s the same with most technology purchases. The cheapest items are the first to break.

Secondly I’m glad that I wasn’t one of the early adopters of ADSL. I’m glad that other customers were the ones that contracted for ADSL early and learnt any painful lessons. When I sign up for ADSL I’m going to ask everyone I know what experiences they have had and then make a sensible, informed and unashamedly cowardly decision.

On a positive note though I think that ADSL is a great thing and that it can play a major part in improving internet access in business and at home. We just have to wait for the right services, the right guarantees and the right prices! I’m just not entirely sure we’re quite there yet.

This week’s stars!

  • Matshediso from Bomaid for excellent service and for going the extra mile for a customer
  • Officer Malefho from Gaborone West Police Station for being proactive. He even gave out his personal cell number so that our listener could track progress on an accident report.
  • Maggie at Woolworths Foods at Riverwalk in Gaborone for demonstrating her initiative in solving a customer’s problem.

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