With the increased cost of internet bundls, free connectivity is a breath of fresh air and Airtel Zambia has come through to try and save the day with free data for subscribers who manage to maintain at least K2 in their account balance for the next 3 months, as of June 13th, 2014, to access the social media platform Facebook.
Question is, why provide free Facebook at this time? This is most likely an attempt at getting more subscribers aboard the Airtel Zambia network who will access this facility thus increasing revenue for the company. These subscribers should range from youths and infrequent users of the internet on the Airtel platform. They could also be trying to bring back the customers lost during the KYC (Know Your Consumer) or SIM registration period. Or, this is to attract new clients through their data space through Facebook.
It seems like a brilliant idea allowing people to stay connected but that’s the only benefit. According to the Airtel Zambia website, there is full access to Facebook features such as posting statuses, sharing and viewing pictures, sending messages, writing on other people’s walls but there is no video streaming allowed as it will give you a pop-up notice informing you how you will be charged normal data rates to view that video. This means more users might pay to view these other sites and hence increase revenue for Airtel as they have to pay with their account.
Many people will obviously use the service but how long will they stay connected to the Airtel network once the promotion is over in 3 months? Very few we predict due to the current problems this free Facebook access is causing.
We tried out the service over the weekend and firstly there was a general internet connection problem with Airtel Zambia who sent a message acknowledging it. Could that have been coincidental? We don’t think so. We think the service was rolled out without proper preparation to handle the weight of the usage that would follow it.
Why roll this out in the World Cup period anyway? A lot of people are using social media to stay connected and rant about the games and in a football loving country such as Zambia, ofcourse this free Facebook will be abused by subscribers to talk about the games. That’s already traffic for one purpose on the platform.
It could be why the Facebook browsing experience just got slower. It now takes ages for pictures and new stories on to load and we think this could be as a result of congestion due to increased internet traffic from subscribers.
We also have to consider the bandwidth, or how much data can be allowed to be transferred from one point to another in a given period of time, usually a second. If the bandwidth is small, then internet speed will be lower as many customers try to access the free feature on a specific data transfer rate . We have already felt the impact over the past weekend as we could hardly use Facebook, both the mobile app and browser versions as easily as before.
Airtel Zambia could be using this feature to try and build their VLR (Visitor Location Register) and see who exactly and what area is mostly using the service. They will be able to observe what towers transmissions are being bounced off the most. This in turn leads to them being able to assess their other RGE (Revenue Generating Events) such as calls and texts over the network as people will have to use their phone for those purposes rather than just for Facebook. They will have to buy airtime at some point, hence, profits for Airtel.
However, these slow speed are affecting users who are using the paid service on other websites because they are within the same bandwidth as the free Facebook service. This could lead to customer loss as they seek other faster internet service providers (ISPs).
The increased usage of data could also affect the voice call quality because the same towers are being used for all these services so there is likely to be a lot of dropped calls on the network if something is not done about it.
With the minimum balance being K2 we predict the rural areas and low income areas will come alive on Facebook over the next 3 months. Is this their target group? Most likely. Facebook in Zambia is also commonly used by the youth so this will appeal to them as well as low end users who use the platform for fun. For the businesses on Facebook however, this might slow down the way they operate if the speeds stay this slow. It might disrupt the free-flowing of business sales and advertisements as they need both speed and value. If the timeline is not able to refresh itself within seconds of loading, ads may not be seen and thus businesses lose out on potential clients.
Is this an attempt by Airtel to gain a part of the market share? Very likely, seeing as recently their competitor MTN beat them when it comes to their customer base, according to the Zambia Information and Technology Authority (ZICTA) and they still want to stay relevant. It almost seemed like a move made in panic as they try to get in on the action but without properly putting all the requirements needed in place. Yes Airtel may be trying to have the best promotion among their competitors but what’s a promotion if you can’t get the benefits fast enough?
In the long term this is supposed to be a revenue generating venture as some subscribers will still stay on the network even after the promotion is over but with these slow internet speeds which people’s need for faster, quality internet services, we think not.
However, you can always opt out of the free version and use the billed service.
Image Credit: Know Your Mobile