Freedom Mobile Rants Technology

Dear MTN Retentions Department

MTN asked my reasons for moving to prepaid. So I told them.

Good day,

Although my technical experience with MTN has been excellent, I have had numerous problems in a number of other areas, specifically related to contract.

1) Price increase during a contract term.
I signed a contract with MTN to pay a certain price for service for 24 months. Half way during this period MTN then decided to raise the price. This is MTN operating in bad faith.

2) When my contract expired, nobody contacted me to offer any upgrade opportunities. Furthermore, I was made to pay an additional R85 for a lousy 300MB of data, something which previously had been included in my contract price.

3) Billing
The invoice and billing system remains a mess. The “Last 3 months Usage” regularly repeats the month. e.g my “Last 3 months” is Feb, Feb, Jan. Statements are not intuitive. Itemised billing is ridiculously overpriced.

4) Web usability
I have a plethora of different login details for all the MTN related websites. all have different login methods and randomly get locked requiring more time to attempt to unlock them. The websites are noisy and do not form a cohesive experience. Functionality is often hidden from the user. Also, massive overlaps of functionality exist which is completely unnecessary.

5) Apps
There are 2 MTN apps for iOS that I have installed on my phone. Both are clunky and poorly designed. They appear to have been created by amateurs. They are more hassle than useful. The one also has some ridiculous USSD verification that one has to go through every time one tries to access the app.

6) Preference to Prepaid
Most specials and reduced rates, data bundles, competitions, MTN Zone, and various other products are targeted specifically at Prepaid customers. Once a customer is locked in a contract, MTN don’t give a damn about them as long as they keep paying. I’ve been a contract customer for around 16 or so years and never felt I was considered more valued than a prepaid customer, which I should be. I can’t use the R200 value included in my contract to buy a data or sms bundle – I’m forced to pay out of bundle rates even when I have an airtime balance of R1000 or more.

7) SMS and Data costs
SMS texting should basically be free – it runs over a control channel and was never supposed to be a paid-for service. Out of bundle contract data prices are still very high on the MTN network. All data should be the same low price. In the United States I paid R400 for unlimited voice, text and data for a month.

8) Net Neutrality
MTN does not support Net Neutrality. I therefore prefer to be on an ad-hoc prepaid account to allow for easier migration to a more Net Neutral competitor should it become necessary.

Please be sure to credit my prepaid account with the remainder of my current airtime, data and sms balance when doing the migration. I have paid for the airtime. It is attached to this SIM/IMEI and I am entitled to it. A failure to do so could be in breach of the consumer protection act.


Computing Entertainment Technology

Nokia 5800 XpressMusic Hands-On

Nokia 5800 XpressMusic box
Image by RafeB via Flickr

Over the past few weeks I got a chance to put the relatively new Nokia 5800 XpressMusic through it’s paces and see how it holds up against my current Nokia N95. This was a pretty important trial run for me as my N95 is starting to take strain physically, although internally it’s still better than ever. Presumably my next upgrade will be to the Nokia N97, but with the cellphone companies doing their best to price-gouge consumers, I was glad to get the chance to see what was available lower down in the more affordable regions of the Nokia range.

The first thing I did was to use the built-in migration tool to migrate every stitch of data from my N95 to the 5800. This is the first time I’ve had that ability directly between phones, and I must say its super-handy. I did have a number of hiccups getting the connection working at first, and these were only solved by specifically setting the direction of data transfer to send from the N95 to the 5800.

Quickly after that I checked the firmware version, which sadly showed firmware 11.0.008 (RM-356). Nokia early-release firmwares are traditionally known to be slower and less feature filled, so I quickly navigated with the comfortable touch screen to the Over-The-Air update utility, which simply didn’t work. True, that could also have been the fault of the Vodacom pay-as-you-go card I’d been using at first.

Nokia 5800
Image by kaosproject via Flickr

Fortunately I could run Nokia Software Updater from my PC, which showed that firmware version 20.0.012 was available to South African users. This promised a significant set of improvements. A few hours later the phone was up to the latest and greatest software version, which seemed to provide a nice set of comfortable tweaks and general improvements. Another bonus was the user-data preservation feature, which meant I didn’t have to restore all my user data after the phone update.

The GPS at first seemed to work really-quickly – but I was deceived – it takes better advantage of A-GPS than my N95 – but the more I used the GPS the more it reminded me of my current, slow, N95, so nothing new there. Give it ten minutes and it’ll figure out where you are, or you’ll be at your destination. For some reason it’s still a long way off the performance of the GPS that comes in the Nokia 6210 Navigator.

The phone has loads of other smart features – 16:9 video playback, reasonable speakers (disappointing for a ‘music’ phone), good vibrating touch feedback from the screen, a fairly responsive accelerometer, handwriting recognition, and it comes with a plectrum and a proper stylus, but in the end the most useful and fastest method of input turned out to be plain-old t9 predictive text. The QWERTY solutions were too slow and could not be used one-handed. One of the best funky features that has been thrown in the S60 package is the ability to silence a call by simply turning the device face down! Very cool. Compared to my N95 the camera is rubbish in anything less than broad daylight, but it still beats the iPhone camera hands down!

There are still issues that could have been worked out before this phone was released:

Nokia 5800
Image by kaosproject via Flickr

– The silly plastic clips holding the battery cover in place are guaranteed to break within a year or so, ultimately turning the shiny candy-bar format phone into a sticky-sellotaped shiny candy-bar format phone.

– The placement of the memory stick and SIM card slots is alright, if a little bit weird.

– No USB charging. Really, Nokia. It’s 2009 already. Get it right. I don’t give a damn about your charger-sales business. The phone is expensive enough to cover that.

– A phone cover is included, but useless for anything other than rendering the phone completely inaccessible.

– The phone feels like it should slide open. Everyone I handed it to had a first instinct to try and slide it open. That’s a sure sign of a design flaw.

Nokia 5800
Image by kaosproject via Flickr

– Greasy fingerprint smudges on the screen – not Nokia’s fault, but the curse of the modern cellphone I guess.

Basically, the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic gets two-thumbs up – the overall package is very agreeable to me as a Nokia user and proved a pleasure to use as a primary phone for the few weeks I spent using it.

[Tempting though the 5800 may be, I think my heart is still set on the N97]

Rants Technology

How Vodacom, MTN and Cell C make big money at our expense.

Cell site
Image via Wikipedia

I just came across an interesting article on the New York Times where Randall Stross decided to investigate the actual costs a text message has for a cellular network operator. Finally someone did the research I’d been too lazy to do for a while.

As I suspected, a text/sms message is basically free. They are sent to the nearest tower over a control channel – a channel that exists in order for the phone to communicate with the network, and so stuffing that channel with a message bears very little overhead, if any. This also explains the stupid 160 character limit that texts are subject to.

So yeah, another blatant rip-off. Go ahead, send your R10 messages to 35050 now!

[Article Link: New York Times]

[Update: A slightly more in-depth technical discussion by Tom Limoncelli at]

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
Freedom Technology

A Cellular Conspiracy?

Interesting reading the following few links are.
Still, I’d prefer to be able to read in silence on a long flight than deal with my neighbours’ cheesy ring tones…

“The FCC rules have less to do with the effects on a plane’s navigation than concerns that cell phones on planes could wreak havoc with cell phone systems on the ground.”,1284,41177,00.html

‘…What’s more, many of the reasons are unclear, especially since many airlines have FAA-approved, seat-installed cell phones of their own. It costs about $3 a minute to make an in-flight call in the United States; a 20-minute call costing $60 doesn’t exactly make company accountants jump for joy…

…”I question (the prohibition of cell phones in flight) because they have a telephone if you pay for it,” said Larry Murphy, vice president of sales and marketing for Flying Food Group…’

‘…Airlines generally abide by the FAA’s recommendation, but what they don’t tell passengers is that no agency — not even the RTCA — has come up with definitive evidence of portable electronic devices interfering with a plane’s instruments…’

Using mobile phones on aircraft

…The use of mobile phones is generally forbidden on aircraft during flight. One reason given for this is that the mobile phone could interfere with the sensitive equipment on the aircraft. This could be restated as “during development these aircraft were not designed to accept signals from mobile phones and there has not been sufficient testing to be sure that they could” as can be seen from plans to improve certification [1] ( Some level of electromagnetic interference is theoretically possible from active radio transmitters such as mobile phones on aircraft. Exactly how much and in what way is dependent on the particular phone system in use and the plane component in question. Whether that level of interference should have any influence on electronic systems which should be designed to fly through lightning storms without falling out of the sky is an entirely different question…

…One area in which interference would be most likely is in the radio-based audio equipment used for voice communications between the aeroplane and the ground. The mobile phone transmitter is much closer to the receiver on the aircraft than the ground station, but operates at a lower power than the ground station…

…Another factor is that from an altitude, distant cells are visible to the mobile with no line-of-sight attenuation from intervening obstacles. This means that the phone could try to establish contact with a far away cell where the signal will not be recognised. This transmission will probably be at maximum power due to the lack of prior response. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission prohibits the use of mobile phones in the air for this reason. This repeated sending of maximum power messages increases the risk of interference with electronic equipment on the aircraft…

…All of the above having been said, according to the BBC “most of the evidence is circumstantial and anecdotal. There is no absolute proof mobile phones are hazardous.” [2] ( Some airlines do allow use of mobiles phones in flight, only restricting their use (and use of all other electronic devices) during take off and landing when communications with the ground are most critical…

…Some articles have even gone so far as to accuse the airline industry of pushing the ban on mobile phones in order to increase revenue from on board telephones [3] (,39020645,2074198,00.htm). A number of new phones have an “aeroplane mode” feature that presumably stops all incoming and outgoing communications while still allowing the user to play games, type notes etc…