Common sense ‘not available’

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Logic – there is so little of it in the world today. For instance, Pat Lambie is the best flyhalf in South Africa and he languishes on the bench as a reserve fullback. Heyneke Meyer, who is trying to give me angina, clearly lacks an appreciation of logic.

Of course, this is just a fancy way of writing about rugby in a business column – but if Peter Delmar can get away with it without being sanctioned by the editor, so can I – but the logic is the same.

Do what’s best to win. Do what is best for your customers. In rugby’s case, it is the fans; for tech companies it is the users of their technology.

User experiences of a com pany’s technology is arguably as important as the quality of the tech itself. Apple has shown us this in spectacular fashion, except when it comes to building its own maps system (I love that the industry is calling it Mapplegate. It’s better than the previous Antennaegate.)

We often joke at Stuff magazine that reading the manual is a fireable offence. Part of a product’s success depends on how easy it is to use. If it’s so complicated that reading a manual is required, you’re already on the back foot with first-time customers. Thankfully, we live in an age in which consumers are more tech-savvy and companies are more consumer-savvy and are making products that are easier to use.

One of the glaring gaps, however, and a continuing source of frustration for cellphone users, is the unfathomable contracts offered by operators. Trying to compare them between networks is almost impossible because you are never comparing apples with apples.

Each network has its own terminology, special offers, add-on data bundles and locked-in phones. It’s easier to understand banking fees – still the nadir of consumer obfuscation – than compare cellphone packages.

This is slowly changing but the jury is still out on how far it will go.

Cell C tried to simplify it earlier this year by making all calls – prepaid and postpaid – 99c a minute, irrespective of whether they are to other Cell C customers (“on-net”, for “on network”) or off-net. They offer the same rate for 50 overseas countries.

In response, both Vodacom and MTN said their call rates work out cheaper because of a number of incentives, reduced-rate calling hours and other details.

This week Vodacom’s new CEO, Shameel Joosub, said the network – the biggest in the country by customer numbers – would introduce simplified tariffs this year for data and post-paid contracts, and then for prepaid.

It’s a welcome sign. It’s unlikely that the tariffs will ever be simplified enough to make possible valid inter-network comparisons – like banks, cellphone networks still feel the need to keep their customers guessing despite the bad press and resentment that generates.

Try applying logic – even Heyneke Meyer’s logic – to comparing network prices and you’ll be scratching your head in bewilderment as much as trying to figure what the utterly gifted Lambie has to do to start a test match.

MTN and Vodacom last week both announced that they would begin to offer faster data networks this year. Having tested MTN’s trial Long-Term Evolution network, I can tell you it’s a welcome speed boost and is more like what wired broadband speeds should be. The networks will be available only in Joburg, Pretoria and Durban initially, and are possible because the networks will “refarm” the frequencies available to them.

The networks should be able to use the spectrum used by TV but the Department of Mis-communications is starting to live up to its nickname because it has missed several deadlines to free the frequencies.

Like picking the best man to start the test – Gio Aplon is half the size but twice the player Zane Kirchner is – understanding that your country’s citizens come first is all-important.

This column first appeared in The Times on 1 October 2012

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