I’ve been looking at information technologies and how they are changing here in Southwest Uganda, as well as how people are assimilating these changes. Not surprisingly, a lot of these changes are promoted through the marketing campaigns of the mobile service providers.
The most popular campaign over the past year is Warid’s Pakalast promotion, in which they offer 24 hours of “FREE CALLS” for 1000UGX (~$0.50 USD). Based on my surveys so far, people in charge of the private health facilities in my study spend a little more than 20,000 UGX (min 1,000 UGX, max 80,000 UGX) per week on airtime. So, 7,000 per week for unlimited calling has the potential to change calling and mobile usage patterns, to change how people conduct business.
The impact is clear. Where MTN has been the dominant provider by far in the past, my survey has shown that 47.5% of my survey respondents also own Warid lines.
The graph above depicts three columns. The first column which mobile networks are used by each of the health service providers (HSPs) as their primary phone line. The second indicates the distribution of mobile networks used for the secondary phone line (often swapped into the phone on demand, if the HSP only owns one phone). The final column indicates total ownership of phone lines, since many HSPs own more than two phone lines.
Most of my survey respondents own one (59.3%) or two (28.3%) mobile phones. On average each subject carries 1.93 SIM cards (i.e. phone lines) and 1.49 mobile phones.
People love this campaign. And the other providers have scrambled to copy it, with Orange offering “free calls this festive season”. Zain’s February promotion is seasonally appropriate: “Share UNLIMITED LOVE this Valentines!”, but costs 2000UGX and is valid only from 6am to 6pm. We all can only surmise that Warid is bleeding profits in order to increase their customer base…. with some success. It’s not uncommon to hear Ugandans say “Pakalast, pakalast” just for the sake of saying the word. While “busha” means “free” in Ruyankole, “Pakalast” doesn’t really have any meaning – it’s just a made up word that makes us think of something that lasts.
In any case, I’ll fully admit I’ve been taking advantage of Pakalast to talk to my fiance when he’s been out in the field. When a 10 minute conversation can cost 1000UGX, it’s pretty amazing to be able to talk for an hour and only pay 1000UGX. But it’s not without its hiccups. Often we’ll activate the service (send an SMS with the word “paka” to 149) and it won’t actually start working until 30 min, or sometimes even 3-4 hours later. Sometimes it won’t even work at all. The notification messages are garbled. And yet, I’ve never heard a complaint about this from anyone. TIA. This Is Africa.
But speaking of bleeding, on January 26th, I received a message from Warid: “Now send PAKA to 149 to get 24 hrs of pakalast at Ush 1,500. To get 4 days at Ush 4,500 send PAKA 3 to 149. For help dial 100.”
The price was increased by 500 to 1,500 per day. Okay so now – for 7 days of pakalast, if you don’t plan ahead is 10,500 (~5.25USD), or if you do plan ahead you can pay for 5 days at once, and get 2 days for free at 7,500 (~3.75USD). Now, bear in mind, that this expense is only useful for calling people on Warid, and by my estimates, at least 50% of users are not on Warid, and for those that are on Warid, their Warid lines are not active most of the time. So this uses up 50% of their weekly average budget for airtime. This will either 1) force everyone to switch to Warid, or 2) make pakalast too expensive…
So far it seems like people are still using Pakalast. The alternative: is too expensive to consider. It almost costs more to call another mobile in Uganda than it costs for me to call someone in the States. And yet – I find that now I am not using Pakalast anymore. Most of the people I’m calling are on MTN, and if I’m only doing one call in a day to Warid, there’s just no value in activating Pakalast. It’s easier to just keep my call short. Perhaps that’s good for Warid..