What US wireless providers need to learn from telecom companies in paradise
Living in a developing nation, what used to be referred to as a third world country, has its charms. Many of the most beautiful places on Earth are found in such countries -- think Phuket in Thailand, or the myriad members of the Greater and Lesser Antilles. As a resident of one of the more remote and desirable of these destinations -- Mauritius -- I’ve been spoiled by access pristine beaches, lush jungles, and tropical fruits growing (literally) outside my window. But what I haven’t appreciated is the high cost of wireless internet access.
Until just recently, getting a pre-paid wireless plan for your iPhone or Android handset was far from economical. A typical monthly plan, though relatively inexpensive at MUR 299 (roughly $7.50 USD), came with a paltry 2-5GB of data. And as a Twitter and YouTube addict, I found myself refilling said plan almost weekly, depending on how much time I spent lazing on the beach or traipsing through the island’s majestic mountain forests.
By comparison, when I’m States-side visiting my kids at university in PA or MA, I often pick-up a cheap Metro by T-Mobile or Walmart StraightTalk plan for $40-50 and enjoy 25GB (or more) of data -- plenty enough to keep me going for a few weeks while I shuttle between campuses.
Regardless, I long ago resigned myself to the fact that I’d always pay more for less back on the island. But then a funny thing happened around September of this year: One of the main local wireless operators, Mauritius Telecom (a division of global telecommunications powerhouse Orange), lost its friggin’ mind!
Seemingly overnight, it revamped its entire wireless pricing scheme and is now offering 75GB of data per month for nearly the same price (MUR 315 -- roughly $7.80 USD) as its previous monthly plan. In other words, it multiplied the data allowance by a factor of 37 -- and without significantly increasing the price.
Or is it? Mauritius Telecom has long been fighting local competitor Emtel Mauritius for the hearts, minds, and Rupees of the local populace. And, thanks to aggressive marketing and a more stratified pricing plan (allowing Mauritians to buy their data allowances in smaller, cheaper increments), Emtel has been winning this battle running away. But now, Mauritius Telecom has 'lowered the boom' on its rival, leveraging its ownership of the local infrastructure (and, by extension, the network capacity) to bludgeon Emtel by offering volume levels that the market leader can’t match (or at least hasn’t yet tried to match -- we’ll see what happens).
As an 'evil capitalist', I do love a good competition! And, in this case, I see an example of the kind of cutthroat business move that would make a pre-anti-trust Bill Gates blush. Emtel may try to counter with its own expanded data offering, but in the end the real winners are the consumers who are now getting more value -- much, much more -- for their hard-earned money.
Of course, it’s always important to read the fine print in these situations. And the new 'Unlimited 75GB' monthly plan from Mauritius Telecom does come with a few caveats. For starters, you’re limited to consuming no more than 2.5GB per day (hence the '75GB'). If you blow through that 2.5GB, you get throttled down to 1Mbps (vs. the 80-100Mbps download speeds that are typical in the island’s urban areas). However, I’m not sure how often a typical user is going to consume over 2.5GB on a given day, and the allowance -- and any speed throttling -- is reset/removed at midnight, giving you a fresh 2.5GB data block and full-speed each day.
Needless to say, I’m thrilled with this development. No longer do I have to worry about consuming too much data when moving around our vast estate (the downside of developing nation construction: steel-reinforced concrete walls, both inside and out). Nor do I need to fret when streaming podcasts or listening to YouTube livestreams while tooling around the island in my Audi A3 S-Line (gotta love that panoramic sunroof). Because I know that, should I somehow exhaust my daily allowance, it’ll be reset overnight, and I’ll awake with a clean slate and Gigabytes on the horizon.
All of which begs the question: Why don’t US wireless operators do something similar? Instead of restricting customers by giving them a paltry monthly allowance and then penalizing them if they blow through it in a week, why not provide a larger overall plan with daily limits? You’d still reign-in the more nefarious abusers (I’m looking at you, PdaNet+!) while giving everyone the peace of mind that, worse comes to worst, they’ll still have data in the morning.