Adventures in South African mobile land

As contract mobile plans have been and will probably stay all the rage in the US, it wasn’t until a trip to Austria a number of years ago where I experienced my first pay-as-you-go setup. Just a mere 5€ and I could call away with as much ease as someone who speaks nary a word of German could muster. That was handy, but it obviously had its limitations back in the day due to the size of Austria, recharging, and the fact T-Mobile didn’t allow portability to other T-Mobile networks. The vastly superior PYG plans are the ones I’ve found in Africa (especially Zain), often purchasing the initial SIM and/or recharge credit from a car window on the road, like picking up an illicit communications narcotic fix.
So, naturally, once landed in South Africa, I grabbed a number at some retail shop for one Rand and tossed 30 Rand of credit on it. The setup for the number was like nothing I’d experienced before though. After pawing through the SIM cards on the rack to select what I thought was my number, I went to pay and found out that not only was that not going to be my number, but that there was going to be a wait while it was approved and set up.
Like when buying numbers in Europe, they required my passport as well as proof of an address which, as a tourist is impossible and as it seems they can just mark “tourist” to bypass that step, it would appear to be a worthless step to have. And then there’s the waiting. It was about an hour before I received my actual number and then another hour to get the credit applied to said number. Apparently it can take up to a day in some cases! Those coming for the World Cup, take note of this.
All of this immediately screams wonky to me as I’ve gotten so spoiled with just picking up a number and running with it. They claim it’s all in the name of reducing fraud which is one of those things that makes me crazy to no end because those wanting to commit fraud will not be stopped by this. Sure, it might be an impediment to those dreaming up lesser frauds that don’t involve the use of one’s entire ass, but more than likely, they’re just an impediment to the consumer.
Some day, some one might want to slap the purveyors of voice and data transport systems with the fact that you want access to be as easy as possible to would be criminals so that you can analyze the metrics and actually find the real crime as opposed to forcing me to eat my pizza alone in Kalk Bay because I couldn’t phone my friends to come meet me due to waiting for my phone number to be activated.

2 Replies to “Adventures in South African mobile land”

  1. As we’ve covered on ICTworks, the quixotic quest for SIM card registrations is not new:

    And that it takes a few hours is quick – in India it took a full day for my number to work, and even after a week, I still didn’t have access to the full range of services due to paperwork issues.

    At the same time, India, like a number of countries, also requires my passport if I want to get online – anywhere. From cyber cafes to actual cafes that happen to have wifi – you have to give them a copy of your passport to get access to their Internet.

    I head to South Africa tonight – I’ll let you know my impressions of the SIM registration fun when I apply for a number at the airport.

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