Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I do not think it means what you think it means

I thought some might appreciate our recent experience with customer service here in Kuwait.

In the US, we have not had a television for years, preferring to download our TV from the Internet. So aside from the usual email, bank sites, and blogs we read regularly, it is also our primary source of at home entertainment and a critical link to everything back in the States.

When I first arrived I tried the options available from our rental office and none of them were worth the money as they were almost unuseable for simple browsing. I finally broke down and went with one of the 2 mobile providers here in Kuwait: Wataniya. Wataniya's aircard service provided speeds of up to 3.2 Mbps, and the plan was unlimited data download, and I explicitly asked concerning limitations and was told there were none. We got a winter special on the sign on fee and hardware costs, so I thought we were set. The downloading began!

A month or so ago, everyone in the Middle East was hit by the cable cuts. We were affected too, and for several weeks had either no service, or very slow service. We were unable to download any TV for that time, but we had plenty stockpiled so were ok. Numbers of friends of ours were dissatisfied with Wataniya's service during this time as they heard from others that the competitor's service (Zain) was up and functional long before Wataniya's stabilized. I believe Zain is actually Vodafone, which may mean they had greater resources for re-routing the traffic.

However we stuck to our guns, not least because Wataniya had us in a 6 month minimum contract which meant paying the difference on our hardware if we broke it. By the way, both services cost approximately the same each month, around 30KD or $110. Zain's maximum speeds are7.2 Mbps, but in reality the Internet connection is much lower, but enough to get things done. After about a month, Wataniya's service returned to its pre-cut levels and we were pleased with our decision to stay with them...until...

About 3 days ago, we received a telephone call from Wataniya telling us that due to customer complaints in the area we live, they were dropping our connection that very night! The person said there was nothing to be done. We could go down to a branch office in a nearby mall and ask tomorrow. We were stunned, but there was nothing we could say that would change this person's mind. Sure enough, 1 hour later, our aircard started getting rejected.

Luckily, it was the start of a long weekend, so the next day we went straight to the Wataniya kiosk in the mall and ask (nicely) WTF is going on? The mall guys were stunned, they had never seen this before. I saw one look up the code on our account and read an internal circular titled "customer abuse", but ultimately they told me I had to go downtown Kuwait and visit the head office. Of course, this was Friday, which is the start of the weekend here, so I had to go on Sunday.

Skip to 2 (internet-less) days later, and we are at Tech Support in the Wataniya head office. They look my account up and chat back and forth in Arabic for several minutes. Much concern is expressed. Finally they tell me that it appears that due to a new internal policy, they have dropped the most heavy users of the unlimited data plan, and that we can return on Wednesday to receive our reimbursement for how much we have paid ahead. I expressed my stunned disbelief, but was met with unbending resolution. The guy said that it appeared around 214 other users had been dropped as well. They just terminated the contract and blacklisted the SIM cards. I told him that this was unnacceptable and did he realize he was basically begging me to go to their competitor, and he said yes, he understood that, but there was nothing to be done.

We were incensed, and resolved immediately to find a Zain outlet and get set up. It took a while as this is a holiday season, but we found one at the Airport Mall and signed on. It cost 60KD for the hardware and 6 KD for the rest of February, but we were able to defray the cost with the saved up 30KD for next month's internet bill and the expected 22KD refund from Wataniya. It was a quick and painless process, but not without some interest. I was very specific about asking if there were any hidden limits in their "super unlimited" package (noting the asterisks and the "Fair usage applies"note). The representative said that Fair Usage means up to 30gb. At which time they clamp down on the bandwidth provided so that it is possible to browse the web, but not practical to download TV and such. I pointed out the brochure description where it said the Super Unlimited package allowed "downloading media all day with no restrictions" and asked if that jived with the "Fair Usage" restrictions, and he admitted that it didn't, but didn't seem concerned by such terms as "false advertising." This is Kuwait after all.... I asked if there was a way to monitor our usage statistics and he said the software provided did have a statistics counter that could be reset each month if we desired. When I asked to see the limitations written down (couldn't find them in the contract) he could not provide them, which seemed...odd, but oh well. At least we were getting internet and wouldn't be cut off permanently when we hit the lijmit on the unlimited plan.

All this reminds me of a quote by Inigo Montoya from A Princess Bride: "You keep saying that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." The word here being "unlimited." I'd heard of unlimited plans for cell phones containing hidden limits, and the odd story of people running torrent trackers and hub sites being axed due to excessive bandwidth, but while we may be heavy users, we are not in that category. There doesn't appear to be anything to be done about it though, except to tell our story and warn everyone we know away from Wataniya's data service if they plan to download lots of data. When it becomes practical, we plan on switching our cell phone service over to Zain as well. It's the only way we have to express our displeasure in a way they might understand.


Anonymous said...


Why is the landline/DSL/cable internet service so bad there?

I am hoping to be in Kuwait by March. I am waiting on the working visa still.

I really enjoy reading about your experiences there because you provide the most up-to-date information on what it's like there.

All the best,


JC said...

Glad the blog is useful to you! I don't know what the deal is with the DSL options really. I think our experience has been based around renting from properties where the owners arrange the internet service and distribute it as they see fit to the apartments. At Al Manshar, the situation was more complex. At one time, there were no land lines at all there. The delay was so excessive that they finally bent to the will of their customers and contracted a private company to install their land lines (i.e. they didn't go through the government). Well, because of that, the government decided to punish them by not providing DSL (normal, plain vanilla) service *at all* to any numbers not provided through the government. At my particular apartment, I had one of these non-gov landlines and were told that without it, we couldn't get any DSL period. We were stuck with the service provided by Al Manshar, which may have been satellite. I was told by others that at one time, it was screaming, but as more people moved in it has become more and more intolerable. By the time I moved it in, it was literally unuseable. Browsing the web was painful, and I could not even establish a skype connection, let alone maintain one. I lived out of internet cafes for the first several months here for a connection back to my wife.

At our new place (Warba) they also offered internet service for 15KD a month (it was free to me at Al Manshar). It was *slightly* better in that I could actually use skype for short periods of time. When it was working, it was perhaps the experience of a solid dial-up modem. But what would happen was that periodically, the connection would just stop working for about 30 seconds, which kills pretty much anything else good about it. You could leave a ping session running and watch just stall out for long stretches. This was pretty much equivalent to throwing money away every month. We can't get DSL here because all of the phone lines are internal. There is one phone number for the entire compound and it is then switched internally. So that left cellular as the only remaining option...they apparently don't have internet cable service here, and satellite is exceedingly expensive (plus has other issues of its own). That's the rundown of my experience with Internet service in Kuwait prior to Wataniya/Zain.

JC said...

FYI, I am told by a co-worker who is a professional gamer that Qualitynet is the best way to go for a solid DSL connection. *But* you can only get one if you have an official Ministry of Telecommunications phone line (which we don't). He said he paid about 800KD for a 2mb connection for the entire year. Of course they have other options...

Aaron said...

Very enlightening article. I think this explains why my "Super Unlmited" Zain connection went from getting sustained speeds of up to 500KB/s to consistent 16KB/s speeds overnight. Although, as of 9/20/08 it seems that the data limit per month is around 20GB, rather than 30GB, like the Zain guy told you....

Anonymous said...

I'm absolutely flabbergasted by your article. I was trapped in the 6 months contract as well, and I also was going to cut the connection when they first lowered the speed but decided to stay on it wheb it went back to normal (despite it saying that it goes up to 7.2) but to blatently say you're just not profitable and we don't want your business that is truely appalling.

Once i found out about he fair useage "scam", I surfed the net for all the Internet providers in Kuwait and read all about it on their websites, Wataniya however had nothing about it on their website and dear god if this wasn't Kuwait I'd have sued their asses to hell.

Armil@dsl available in my area said...

I think I would agree wuth JC when he was told by a co-worker who is a professional gamer that Qualitynet is the best way to go for a solid DSL connection.

Thanks for sharing!