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Tales Of A Disgruntled @ZainJo Customer

2011-03-29 by Mohammad H. Al-Shami

I’ve been meaning to write this for a few weeks but was very busy, I finally got the time to do so.

If you know me, you’ll probably know I’ve been struggling with my Internet connectivity since 2005. I’ve been begging Orange (Jordan Telecom Group at the time) for anything faster than 512Kbps, but I was always told that my area was not covered. I live in an area filled with students who don’t have phone lines, and the very few people who use DSL here are content with the speeds Orange was offering. So Orange did not bother upgrading my area because it wasn’t worth it.

I’m not a big fan of wireless technology, so even when Umniah and WiTribe released WiMAX in 2007 I wasn’t keen on switching even though my DSL was disconnecting on weekly basis because of the horrible cables running from the exchange to my house.

I’ve had a Zain mobile line since 2004 and I absolutely love it, unless something major goes wrong, I won’t be switching any time soon, so when I heard they were launching a WiMAX service I decided to pay the premium and go with them (About 38JDs for the 2.4Mbps account per month), assuming their WiMAX service will at least be as good as their GSM service, and assuming they will give me the same level of support they gave me as a GSM customer.

So on April 6th 2009, I went and signed a contract, with a sales lady named “R”, who was very happy to answer my calls and help we with every question I had. But things changed when I had paid. After taking the CPE home I realized that the insulation in my house was too strong that WiMAX signals and the CPE was not working unless I had the “Abajoor” open. I tried calling R but she stopped answering her phone, so I tried calling support.

After some tuning I managed to get everything to work properly, the download speed was never slower than 280KB/s, it was like a dream come true. I finally had a “proper” Internet connection.

For those who don’t know, the WiMAX network Zain was using is owned by Mada, which is partly owned by Zain. Mada was supposed to concentrate on the network and corporate sales while Zain was supposed to handle retail. Mada’s relationship with Zain provided the former with a good amount of towers to install their base stations. The result was a truly stable network with excellent coverage. Even in terrible weather.

Zain’s policy of selling the CPEs kept the number of users minimal, if memory served me right, the USB dongle was about 100JDs and the CPE was about 150JDs, which not everybody could afford. Also, Zain made customers commit to yearly contracts, so you couldn’t skip a month or 2.

7 months later, things changed. Mada and Zain got into a disagreement and Mada opened its own retail shops. They offered the CPE for free if with yearly accounts and the USB dongle for free with quarterly accounts. They also had prepaid cards which allowed people to use the service whenever they wanted. That was very appealing to the students in my area. So suddenly the towers in my area became congested.

The download speed dropped from 280KB/s to 15KB/s, the equivalent of a 128Kbps connection, which cost 13JDs a month at the time. I tried calling support to get a solution, they always said that my account was not 2.4Mbps, it was “up to” 2.4Mbps.

As someone who has worked in 2 ISPs I know the reason for this “up to” thing; Since home users can’t pay the actual price for bandwidth (About 200JDs for 1Mbps), this bandwidth has to be shared between multiple people, this means speed is not guaranteed and during peek hours you will not get the full speed advertised. It is only a best case scenario.

2.4Mbps amounts to about 302KB/s, and accounting for protocol overhead you will lose anything between 13-16%, so you get 260-270KB/s as a maximum. It is totally acceptable to get speeds of 170 to 200 during peek hours.

But getting 15KB/s ALL the time was ridiculous. What made matters worse is the fact pinging the WiMAX gateway which is inside Mada’s network took anywhere up to 6 seconds. To put matters into perspective, the normal ping time is about 60 milliseconds which is 6 seconds divided by 100. This meant that even browsing was way too slow, as every request sent had to wait 6 seconds.

The solution was simple, Zain and Mada could have installed new towers or upgraded the existing ones. But nooooooooooooo, that would have cost them money. Whenever a customer care employee didn’t answer with the “up to” response I got “we’re working on it”, or, “It’s your PC”, or “It’s the CPE”. Testing the CPE at 4AM (The time with least Internet traffic) gave me consistent 270KB/s, so it was definitely neither my CPE nor my PC. But it was (According to Zain’s support) never Zain’s problem, another common response was “Nobody else complained, it’s just you”. I knew a few people in my area who complained, but it seems they don’t exist in Zain’s fantasy world.

My brother and I are very heavy users, the 25GB quota I had on the WiMAX connection wasn’t enough, so we also have a 1Mbps DSL line, which was working at about 600Kbps, a little better than getting a 512Kbps package.

My cousin, who is my next door neighbor, got fed up with Orange and threatened to complain to the TRC, Orange came the next day and connected him to a digital cabinet 200m away from our house (Orange didn’t agree to connect me to that particular cabinet saying it doesn’t cover my street) and now he was able to get 8Mbps.

This made me furious, at first Orange ignored my requests to be hooked to that cabinet, and I was stuck with this horrible WiMAX service that Zain didn’t bother to fix (Why would they? I’m but a mere customer, the least important aspect in any business). I decided to call the TRC, 3 days later Orange connected me to the same cabinet and the 1Mbps became much faster than before.

Mysteriously Mada somehow fixed something so I was then getting better speeds, but by no means consistent, speed was anything between 70 to 150KB/s. And even on a good day, browsing on the 1Mbps DSL was faster for light websites.

Seeing that I finally had a proper DSL line, it was time to disconnect the horrible WiMAX that hasn’t been working properly (Except during university vacations). But of course Zain had me on a contract, and said I can’t terminate without paying a penalty, which is the subscription till the end of my contract. So I decided to wait a little on disconnecting the WiMAX connection since I’ll be paying for it anyways, so I might as well use it.

In February things went down the toilet, download speeds were as low as 15KB/s again and I had my CPE off for about 3 weeks as the connection was utterly useless. When I went to disconnect the line Zain had the audacity to say “Even though the speed is horrible, that doesn’t mean you can break the contract”. What the Hell? What kind of respectable company says that to a customer?

After I voiced my intentions of not renewing my contract with Zain, I got 4 calls from them in 3 days. I wonder where they were when I was having problems :/

Both people who talked to me tried to convince me to switch to HSPA+, saying they can offer “up to” 21Mbps. Of course my response was “You couldn’t deliver 2Mbps, how can you expect me to believe you can deliver 21? I do not trust Zain as a data provider, and whenever someone asks me if they should subscribe with your service, I advise against doing so, saying you will twist their arms with the commitment period, and then you won’t deliver what you promised. Don’t bother calling me again, I’ve already given the CPE to a friend of mine who is willing to use it till the commitment is over, and I signed a contract for an 8Mbps account in addition to my current 1Mbps line”

I’m not the only one complaining, just take a look at Zain’s Facebook page and you’ll see a lot of people complaining about the horrible service.

Orange isn’t much better, but at least with Orange, if you’re connected to their fiber network, it works, and it’s consistent.

Zain does indeed have the potential to do something really good. I only wrote this post to grab their attention and at least get enough support to force them to stand behind their service and make it a proper alternative to Orange, not just give a half assed service as they did with WiMAX.