We’ve been here before, trying to dissect the meaning of Unlimited Internet and we believe it should be a steady internet stream without any disruptions in deliverance whatsoever! If you subscribe to unlimited internet, it should be that caps shouldn’t accrue to your subscription but unfortunately that hasn’t come into realization in Uganda. It remains for ISPs to tell given we haven’t had a truly unlimited player with commendable speeds to speak of. Most, if not all are capped after one depletes a particular volume and exceptions are somewhat pricy.
The fair usage policies (FUPs) have become the villains of this fight given once applied, they throttle speeds to snail speeds and that’s when frustrations crop up from the consumers, who usually have no option but to renew their data subscriptions to restore normal service.
Africell, Smart and UTL have pricey unlimited plans with the orange network offering lackluster speeds of 512kbps, while the remaining two offer speeds of up to 2 mbps, a feat that catapulted the likes of Vodafone after they launched their operations in Uganda with cheaper unlimited packages of at least 2 mbps, 6 mbps, unheard of in the land at the time for the price.
Vodafone then got its fair share of the market with internet packages that sold for a paltry compared the competition. For UGX 150,000, you could enjoy a volume of 35GB at speeds of 2 mbps, for an extra 50,000,they upped their speeds to 6mbps while capping the whole packaging at 50 GB for 30 days.
This was a new chapter of offering internet in Uganda and consumers went bonkers and Vodafone became the go-to ISP for many consumers in metropolitan Kampala. Smile communications, not to be left out launched its unlimited internet packages but the only downside was, it was capped at 20GB for speeds of 2mbps till they realized the urgency for truly unlimited internet that Smile premium plan came into play for 330,000 UGX per month.
This plan was touted to have no caps, no thresholds, no blah blah till Smile quietly issued statement that went against their first promises only after a not so long grace period citing abuse from consumers.
The technical complexities
The absurdity saw reiterations as to why the company didn’t deliver on its promises of a truly unlimited experience. Before long, Vodafone scrapped all its ‘unlimited’ packages in favor of what they termed as business packages. These two ISPs seemed to have changed the unlimited internet subcategory as we know it but have since distanced themselves from whatever promises they had in the first place. And the burning question is, if there anything like unlimited internet in Uganda?
While this unfolded, the biggest of the fold, MTN Uganda and Airtel stuck to their guns and never issued unlimited internet plans to consumers. From a technical perspective, unlimited internet exerts an incredible pressure on wireless mobile network infrastructure given the limited spectrum they get from UCC which they also have to optimize to ensure all users are able to enjoy they services they offer. This includes heavy or premium users who tend to occupy the resources that in return affects other users given it offered over shared infrastructure on both 3G and 4G networks. There is no pipeline as would be the case for fiber to the premise (FTTP) that’s designated for unlimited users only, it’s all shared by subscribers to a particular network.
So it makes sense why the two Goliaths hid away from this unlimited debacle since their networks are already overcrowded and require constant maintenance.
Forces of demand and supply plus marketing gimmicks took center stage and 4G – LTE became the new normal though not widely distributed as 3G, the likes of Vodafone and Smile rode on promises of good 4G networks to lure customers to their side. They indeed succeeded and now they’ve turned their backs against the very consumers they won over since they now have the numbers and consumers have no alternative than to stick to them. We now all know, no one matches the other since almost all pricing for the volumes of data are almost the same across the telco divide.
What will now win consumers is consistency from the ISPs or nevertheless them subscribing to business plans that at least deliver consistent speeds at a premium. The other alternative is maybe lobbying for a consumer protection body amid this debacle that always has their interests at heart, yet I must agree that I view this as a long shot.