in Tech

In search for reliable and affordable wireless data plan

Which data plan are you using for your cellular use?

I normally don’t bother to think how much data usage I’m using with my cellphone. I use it mostly to browse and to text using apps like Whatsapp or LINE. In fact, I was quite surprised when I see the data usage summary on my phone settings recently. I only use as much as 11 GB after one year of using my phone although my data plan gives me 4GB of quota each month! I guess the network carrier quite happy having a customer like myself.

The reason why I use so little data connection on my phone is mainly due to unreliable connection quality with Indonesian network carriers. Trust me, I have experimented with a few of big carriers and I found the experience to be consistent. I got intermittent disconnection and slow download/upload speed despite the maximum up-to-and-impossible-to-reach speed they always boast in their marketing campaign. When I want to watch video streaming, make video call with my colleagues or download large files from internet, I always use cable connection as they are more stable and reliable. Trust me, you don’t want to do these on wireless connection as they often disappoint you on most occasion.

However, I recently picked up a wireless mobile WiFi, or dubbed MiFi for short, for my work needs. I actually can tether the data plan from my cellphone to other devices, but I found this method heatened my phone significantly and depleted its battery quickly. After looking for other ways to connect to my tablet and laptop, I decided to get a MiFi instead. It was quite affordable actually, only around IDR 300 thousand for a GSM enabled MiFi which also compatible with 4G network when it is available in the future. Battery life is also quite good for lasting at least 6 hours of heavy internet use. Signal strength is good while easy to set up. But there’s one thing that keeps bugging me: data connection.

Yup, once again the network carriers succeeded in making me to pull my own hair. There are two reasons why sometimes my patience got tested by them. First is because the connection quality tends to fluctuate a lot, meaning sometimes it connects smoothly and sometimes it does not (and let’s not forget about the intermittent disconnection). Second, the data plan they are offering is simply confusing with so many terms and conditions applicable to the offer. Well, at least that’s how it feels to me.

The first reason is easy to elaborate. Being a wireless network used by so many people, it is certain that so many factors are affecting the connection quality. To name a few, there is the number of users who are simultaneously using the network, or the distance between you and the nearest transmitter, even the type of device you are using are affecting the connection quality. I wish they could at least improve the service so the intermittent disconnection could be eliminated, I would be a happier customer!

The second reason is quite complex to discerned. Currently network carriers are waging a war on data plan pricing against each other. Each is offering a plan that would look good on customers’ eyes, until you look at the little asterisk after the said plan. That asterisk is synonymous with various terms and conditions applied to the offered plan. Sadly, the carriers often omit these important information from their customers by simply stating “terms and conditions apply”. We as the customers have to exercise scrutiny before committing ourselves to subscribe to these plans to avoid falling to their trap. Let me give you some example of these deceiving marketing campaigns all priced for IDR 50 thousand:

  • Indosat is currently offering a data plan dubbed Super Internet 4 GB with active period of 3 month. Sounds like a bargain, right? Turns out (after carefully reading the terms and conditions in its website) you don’ t get the quota offered at once. You’ll get 500 MB in the first month, 1.5 GB in the second and the rest in the third month. And guess what? This package doesn’t lengthen your service validity period for three month, meaning you have to buy cellphone credit each month to receive the full benefit of this package.
  • Telkomsel has another offer of internet package plastered on its billboards dubbed SIMPati Loop with 6 GB of data. Another bargain? Not quite. After looking carefully to its website, turns out that the 6 GB offered consists of 1 GB on 2G network, 1 GB on 3G network, and another 4 GB on its WiFi hotspot scattered all over the place. This means if you want to use the last 4 GB quota, you have to get out from your house and go somewhere where the WiFi is available.
  • XL has this offer dubbed HotRod 3G+ of 3 GB data. The advertisement doesn’t say much and again, I have to look to the website and find that the 3 GB data consists of 1.5 GB in 3G and 1.5 GB in 2G.

These marketing campaigns leave me wondering what would I do given the complex structuring of data plans. Moreover, 2G connection is only acceptable for pulling e-mails or using chat applications on your tablet or laptop, but pretty much useless for web browsing, downloading large files or let alone video streaming (unless, you are patient enough to watch a tree grows ˆ_ˆ’).

Not only dividing the month and network type of data plan, the network carriers also get creative allocating the quota arrangements by time of the day you use the connection. Several of them have begun to bundle or sell another quota slot accessible only on midnight to morning only. Some carriers also allocate the day and night quota to make up the total volume of data plan they boast on their marketing campaign.

There are also unlimited data plan offered, but they always have this Fair Usage Policy thing. It will limit the optimum speed until you reach certain data volume and then slows the connection speed afterwards. Don’t let your hope too high on this FUP, though. For IDR 50 thousand, you’ll only get around 600 MB of optimum speed while afterwards you’ll get 64 kbps.

And….. There is still one biggest mystery that makes me wondering what they are thinking. That mystery is the pricing plan for new SIM card and subscription plan. Believe it or not, currently you can get better bargain by constantly buying new SIM card along with the bundled starter package than subscribing to the monthly data plan offered by these carriers!

Who would do that? I would 🙂

Network providers throw lavish data plan with every new SIM card hoping that it will attract new customers into their service. They are hoping once these customers use their service, they would renew their subscription. These data plan are often more expensive from the initial one bundled with the SIM card. The providers are hoping to recoup some losses (if there’s any) from the initial sale of SIM card and regain some profit margin from renewed subscription. However…

I’m using the data plan for my MiFi, which means the phone number embedded with the SIM card serves me no purpose whatsoever. Nobody would send me a text or even call me on this number anyway. So the only reason I buy the SIM card is for the data plan. Given the price per kB of data in the new SIM card is cheaper than the monthly subscription plan, then it’s just the principle of economic in motion. Switching SIM cards are fairly easy anyway, so there’s even less incentive for me to renew the subscription.

These confusions leave me still in search of a satisfactory wireless internet provider. Given the maturity and potential of Indonesian market for wireless connectivity, their strategy still don’t make sense to me. Hopefully they’ll spend less resource to manipulate marketing scheme and put more effort into building reliable network as well as providing satisfactory service in terms of price and honesty of marketing campaign.