Cellphone companies con their customers

Maryanne Maina

Maryanne Maina

There is a famous saying that information is power. But it appears that consumers are powerless when it comes to purchasing cellphones because cellphone companies are not providing essential information.

I walked into a Vodafone shop hoping to buy an affordable phone that was not SIM-locked or tied to a contract deal. This proved to be a difficult task.

I was dismayed to discover that I could not afford a phone. The salesman explained that all the phones in the shop that cost less than R1000 were SIM-locked and this was a promotional tactic used by cellphone companies. The phones that cost more than R1000 were not SIM-locked and only some of them were tied to contracts. Customers who do not ask the relevant questions before making a purchase might be in for a shock because this information is not written on the handset pack. Consumers might end up buying a phone in which they can not use their SIM card because the card works on a different network.

Disappointed, I moved on to the next shop hoping to find a pocket- friendly phone that would enable me to use my preferred network. I spotted a phone from Virgin and asked the salesman about it.

"If you buy this phone and you change the SIM card from Virgin to another network, Virgin will not fix your handset if it gets spoilt," he said.

When I looked at the pack, I could not find this information.

At the MTN shop the response was the same. I asked the sales-man: "What if I don't [obtain] the essential information and I later discover that I have been held to a contract or the phone is SIM-locked?" Her answer was disturbing: "You must make sure you ask or we can't be blamed."