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The Sorry State of Affairs with Mobile Phone Connections in Sierra Leone.

The Sorry State of Affairs with Mobile Phone Connections in Sierra Leone.

USA. Saturday May 26 (SLENA) – I first experienced mobile or euphemistically termed cellular phone service in Sierra Leone with Mobitel. I’d arrived shortly as the rebel war was culminating into a raggetty peace accords in 2001 desperate to see my now departed father whom I’d not seen in nine years sojourning abroad as the war raged on. Then, there were no SIM technology and the nascent mobile phone companies used CDMA technology (no SIM cards) which some companies in America for instance, still use but in this humble opinion should have been stacked on the dusty shelves of some technological museum several years back. One needs to be a telecom encyclopaedic archivist to decipher whatever those companies had metamorphosed into or are now called.

And like Mobitel, many more lost their original corporate identity, gobbled up by stronger or newer, more vibrant players in the market place: Millicom, Tigo, Celtel, Zain and some others probably not listed here by this aspiring mobile company nomenclaturist. What has not changed however and probably one might argue, greatly deteriorated is the same patchy service, and erratic connectivity that characterized those primordial footsteps of cellular technology service as it manifest in Sierra Leone. This phenomenon is particularly bothersome as relates to the infinite number of dropped calls, scratchy or muffled receptions and outright “unavailability” when it comes to many of the mobile telephone service in the country.

In fact, in this respect it seems the leading, most widespread and subscribed to mobile service provider in the nation, is the most culpable. How many times have you mobile phone user, desperately tried to “reach some one”- a popular phraseology once employed by one of the finest giants in Telecom -AT&T- and being told your intended party is “out of coverage area” or “…unavailable…” But what makes this even more frustrating, is that you the caller knows for a fact, the other party is physically planted at the office just next door, or you left them a few minutes ago at home getting the children ready for school. All of a sudden a mimicked European-accented digital voice tells you they are “out of coverage area” or “unavailable.” But, the party you are struggling to reach, will readily lay her / his hands on a Bible (excuse my bias) with a key in it (you might not know this symbolism) and swear to high heavens they’d not stepped out of the vicinity you left them, their phones are fully charged and were expectantly clutching them awaiting your call for that possibly very important matter, discussion or business information, that couldn’t wait.

The irony of it all and what is most disheartening to an expectant surfer (an internet enthusiast) like this complainant is that the leading company for instance boasts of 3.75 G  internet service but does not even provide, in my opinion –it’s still a free country, is Sierra Leone people- 1.75 G service. This writer has lived for 26 years where true 3 and 4 G service is norm, and knows a thing or two about that. Residing by the sea shore, very far from natural encumbrances, like tall peaks, large buildings or densely forested areas, my perception was that a boastful company that mouths off countrywide service and takes in a pretty penny while at it should at the minimum, provide service devoid of multiple dropped, scratchy or inaudible calls and uninterrupted internet service to their subscribers who pay hefty premiums for such service.

Boy was I wrong! I bet the average user encounters, if they attempt ten calls per day, a call success rate at first try, of about forty-percent. Four out of every ten! Of those four, one call will be eventually dropped and two will be scratchy or inaudible, if they engage in a conversation at least five minutes long. Woe betide the unsuspecting commuter in a Poda or taxi or one being justled by a million bodies on notoriously pedestrian, Fourah Bay or Kissy roads in Freetown, expecting or attempting to receive that business call or hospital prognosis for a dear one from doc at Connaught! All, actual experiences of this complainant! The muffled, gramaphone- (hopefully you have lived long enough to know what this contraption was- the Ipod of a glorious past) -scratchy or cross-voiced reception is akin to ET (the lead in the movie Extra-Terrestial) trying to reach his counterparts on Mars or wherever they were! In this opinion, the leading company especially, and the sheep who follow seem to have more subscribers than they have bothered to install and maintain capacity, to accommodate them. And they keep on minting new SIMs and promote aggressively on major thoroughfares in the city causing traffic havoc among other nuisance. They bask with their blaring, noisome loudspeakers in the loot provided them daily, sometimes hourly because of the many ineffectual or impotent calls by their subscribers who have little real options, like the internet, instant messaging or home-based lines. With little or no compunction, the mobile phone compamies think everything is honky-dory, and that they are the best thing that happened to Sierra Leone since baked-bread. Well I dare say and hopefully every frustrated and in my opinion swindled Sierra Leonean or guest in this country fed-up with the broken mobile phone service thinks similarly, they are ignominiously awful in what they are offering us their loyal subscribers. Wake up and smell the coffee, as we say elsewhere! Our choices are really non-existent! They all and severally provide, basically the same lousy service. Nationally, we have degenerated in to a practically non-existent home- or office-based land line system, once the pride and envy of West Africa.

Which means we communicate distantly mainly by using their patchy service, with digitized voices or other mimicked foreign-accented ones telling us our parties are “unavailable” or “out of coverage area”. But as familiar as the phrase “network problem” is to every mobile phone user, in many instances, their apparent lies are made glaring by that very phrase that is now vernacular.  You mobile phone company guys and girls have already ingratiated yourselves to subscribers by voucher credits that never come in, purchased phone cards which upon installment, are told not valid or already used and to top it off, borrowing their jargon, a most a very complicated cumbersome internet-credit recharging procedure by the boys and girls in red and white. We the people –subscribers- are asking you for refunds on all dropped calls from now on, where the call has lasted more than a minute. Common, you surely can monitor this, can’t you? You send us your nonsensical messages about “the last customer you called is now available” whom, in this opinion, your lousy service can’t get us to in the first place, as you glut our mail boxes everyday! Surely, monitoring your dropped calls should be much easier, ,shouldn’titt? On behalf of all mobile phones users, this writer declares, provide us better service that merits our hard-earned Leones or vacate the airwaves and let deserving companies that will do a better job of it occupy the vacuum. We can do better without the sickening tingling you create in our timpanums, everyday  as we gooseneck to hear what the heck the other person is saying just a couple city blocks away. A word for the Wise is Sufficient!

MAG/SLENA

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