VIVA: The Fine Print

I find it frustrating when businesses intentionally avoid disclosing information related to their products to their customers —service providers in particular. They don’t want consumers to see the whole picture, so they “cleverly” emphasize their value proposition, but leave out the details which are likely to influence people’s buying decisions. This is also why commitment plans are in place; people can’t opt-out easily after realizing what they had truly signed up for. While I’ll be focusing on Viva in this post, realize that the concept applies to many businesses; some are more or less transparent than others.

Lets take an example and explore the least-expensive most-basic postpaid plan: the 10 KD bundle. Hold on, wasn’t there a 7 KD bundle? Oddly enough, if you visit these two links, you get different results:

Despite its presence on the Viva mobile app as well, let’s assume for the sake of simplicity that the 7 KD bundle is an old package that someone had forgotten to remove from the website.  Is there a difference between the postpaid 10 KD bundle and the 10 KD “Go Unlimited” bundle?

Lucky for us, these two packages are identical: the missing “100 SMS” and “vanity number” offers are mentioned in different places further down on their corresponding page. I will give Viva the benefit of the doubt and assume that it’s a presentation/repackaging mistake, but the issues don’t end there. Side note: You might be wondering how the 10 KD package got to be listed under the “unlimited” section and my guess is that subscribers can send an SMS code (send “210” to 567) to buy unlimited Viva-to-Viva minutes for 1 KD/month.

So what does the 10 KD package give you exactly? Lets look at the first component: talk time. The package gives “KD 8” which, according to the asterisk, means that you get eight dinars worth of credit of talk time. That may seem like a great offer at first, but there is no mention of the call rate: the cost to talk per minute. Follow the second asterisk —it’s ridiculous, but bare with me— to find that the credit is rated for “Pay As You Go”. Well then what’s the PAYG rate, you ask? While I was not able to find it on the website, it may be safe to assume that the Prepaid “Allo” packages share the same PAYG rate: 45 fils/min. That would mean that subscribers would get around 177.7 minutes of talk time. I suppose 177 minutes is not as marketable as 8 KD, am I right? I will not try to get into normal vs peak rates or on-net vs off-net (same/different carrier) because that’s another issue which isn’t explained, but I wouldn’t be surprised if rates go up to as high as 49 fils/min.

Great! So we managed to work out that Viva’s 10 KD package gives us approximately 177 minutes of talk time, right? No, not necessarily. This credit may be consumed by other components once their limits have been exceeded (for the 10 KD bundle: anything beyond 100 SMS or 10 GB internet). Each of these components have their own rates as well. Although not on the website, I believe SMS is 50 fils/message? From experience, I know that it’s not possible to surpass the allocated internet capacity (10 GB), but then why would the asterisk mention that this includes “downloading content and internet browsing”?

We still haven’t talked about the validity of these minutes! Again, you won’t find this information easily on Viva’s website —are you surprised at this point?—, but from personal branch visits, I learned that credit is provisioned on the first day of each month (it was previously the 21st, but let’s not get into that). This means that if you don’t consume all of your credit (ie. your total talk time for the month was less than the amount provisioned by your bundle), you don’t get to keep the remaining amount. There is no concept of accumulating credit/minutes for an indefinite time; credit must be consumed before it expires. In contrast, if all the credit (177 minutes) is consumed very early in the month, the PAYG rate will still apply and the equivalent amount will be billed on the following month.

When it comes to internet service, the 10 KD bundle gives 10 GB capacity. That much is clear. But what happens after that capacity has been consumed? If my memory serves me well, older packages used to provide internet access at “high speed” (3G/4G LTE) then fall back to “low speed” (2G/HSDPA), but “never completely disconnects”. As of writing though, Viva will stop all internet access (refer to the asterisk at the very bottom of the page) unless a power-up or a “booster” is activated (at an additional cost). If you direct your browser to pay.viva.com.kw using your mobile/device (won’t work outside of Viva’s IP address space), you’ll be able to see your internet usage and activate a variety of power-ups.

A power-up cannot be purchased/activated multiple times. For example, if you buy the 1 GB (1 KD), you will not be able to purchase it again until the next month —at least not via the payment portal? You will need to buy the 6 GB booster (5 KD) or some other option if you want to continue to consume bandwidth. To make matters worse, these boosters are not very clear either: there are different types with limited validity, but you’ll have a hard time finding/understanding them from the website/mobile app:

Screen Shot 2017-07-01 at 7.42.30 PM

Boosters:

  • 1 KD (1 GB “extra GB”)
  • 1 KD (20 GB only works with “Social Media”)
  • 1 KD (20 GB works on weekend “Friday and Saturday”)
  • 1 KD (20 GB only works at night “from 1 AM to 7 AM”)
  • 1 KD (20 GB only works for streaming “SD YouTube”)
  • 2 KD (20 GB only works for streaming “HD YouTube”)
  • 3 KD (15 GB “extra GB”)
  • 3 KD (40 GB only works for “Gaming”)
  • 5 KD (6 GB “extra GB”)

Some of these can be activated by sending special SMS codes, selecting them from the payment portal or Viva’s website (member’s Self Care section). The term “Social Media” includes WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Viber and Instagram according to this 2013 launch post.

Then there’s the matter of “Surf On” plans:

Screenshot_2017-07-01-20-01-51

 

  • 4 KD (15 GB with unlimited Social Media – not shown on website anymore?)
  • 7 KD (50 GB with unlimited Social Media – not shown on website anymore?)
  • 18 KD (2 TB)

I’m assuming that “Surf On” is an internet subscription plan while “Boosters” are just temporary capacity extensions? Regardless, Viva promotes adding a Surf On package to your existing postpaid plan (they’re on the same page), but I see no point of buying a 4 KD surf-on plan when a 3 KD booster gives the same capacity? Is that why the 4 and 7 KD options have been hidden on the website?

Viva’s prepaid plans are slightly less confusing than the postpaid, but keep in mind that a bundle must be activated every month otherwise the PAYG rates apply. Power-ups for prepaid plans are priced differently than postpaid. Oddly enough, the prepaid 8 KD package with a 1 KD minutes booster gets you 250 minutes, 150 SMS and 25 GB. That’s approximately 70 minutes, 50 SMS messages and 15 GB extra compared with the 10 KD postpaid plan described above!

There are still numerous points which I have not yet to addressed, but I feel that this post has made my point clear: even for the most basic of services, a business can really confuse and mislead consumers when it comes to promoting their products in subtle or disingenuous ways. Viva’s (as well as other mobile telecoms) packages and pricing structures are designed in such a way that consumers are encouraged to either spend more than what they actually need upfront or risk, unknowingly, paying premium rates as they try to reduce their usage. Service consumption naturally varies from month to month, but businesses prefer a steady stream of revenue and hence promote long-term commitment plans and pose hefty penalties when consumers decide to change their minds. Don’t let them take advantage of you. Keep an eye out for the fine print, the asterisks, ask about the details, and watch out for any sudden changes they may make.

Update:

I just noticed that the Prepaid packages have “doubled”, but the effect isn’t reflected on the product page. Is this “doubling” a temporary offer? Your guess is as good as mine.

Update 2:

According to this study (page 23) about 75% of the mobile subscriptions in Kuwait are prepaid.

Update 3:

Found out the hard way (again!) that boosters are renewed automatically, so be sure to deactivate the service before the start of each month if you don’t plan on consuming additional data.

Advertisements

How I Use My iPhone

I find it very strange that I’m still getting web visitors despite not updating my blog for many months. Maybe they come for nostalgia? For those who haven’t visited in a long while: hello and sorry for shaking up the dust on your subscription feeds! In any case, I’m taking this opportunity to express an idea that I’ve had from reading about minimalism and simplicity. It’s based on the basic concept of self limitation.

During day-to-day life, I’ve come to realise that I spend a lot of time using my phone doing numerous things. Reading news, checking/sending messages and email, taking photos, listening to music, watching video, shopping, using maps, etc… Even when there’s nothing to do in particular, I find myself checking various badges/notifications by flipping though the pages of apps on my phone. For a regular observer, doing any of these activities used to be obvious; watching video was done at the TV, reading news was done at the table with a newspaper, sending email was done at the computer, and so on. However nowadays, all they see is a person who is attached to their phone from the moment they wake up until they fall back asleep. This observation has lead me to question my attachment to my phone, but rather than go through a tech sabbath, I decided to limit myself so that I don’t fall victim to all this “compressed technology” as I’d like to think of it.

Limit the Number of Apps

I started simplifying by thinking about the purpose of a phone; that is to make phone calls —or generally, allow communication on demand. But surely, the iPhone can do much more than that. If you happen to watch Apple’s keynotes regularly, I’m sure you’re familiar with how often they boast about the many millions of apps that exist on their App Store and the hundreds of features that they empower their users with. So with that in mind, if I am to take full advantage of my phone, I would have to think about the core essentials of my phone —the necessities— and select only one or two apps at most, to satisfy them:

  1. Making phone calls – Built-in Call app
  2. Messaging – WhatsApp and Built-in Messages
  3. Calendar Events – Sunrise
  4. Photos – Built-in Camera and Photo app
  5. Navigation – Google Maps
  6. Tasks and Reminders – Todoist
  7. Keeping notes – Simplenote
  8. Email – Gmail (personal) and Acompli (Exchange)
  9. Music – Built-in app or Google Music
  10. Video – YouTube
  11. News – Google Chrome and Podcasts
  12. Security – Google Authenticator
  13. Finance – Bank App and MoneyWiz

To stay true to the concept, I limited the number of pages on my iPhone to just one. For the iPhone 5 and later, the page grid can hold a maximum of 20 apps (plus 4 in the dock) so that should be enough to start with. One of icons in the grid will be an archive folder dedicated to all the stock Apple apps that cannot be deleted:

Image

 

Then I went ahead and thoughtfully populated the grid with just the essential apps. Tip: some apps such as FaceTime, Camera, and Stop Watch/Timer don’t need to consume space on the grid, because they are still accessible from other places such as Control Center or within the Phone app. I also keep the App Store app within this folder because downloading more apps would go against the intention limiting the number of apps —deleting and replacing apps is fine. If you still think that having this few apps is absurd, add an intermediate step: keep all your apps in the archive folder and over time, you’ll begin to distinguish between frequently used apps and lesser used apps then move them out or into the grid accordingly.

Limit the Number of ATTENTION REQUESTS

Having limited the number of apps, the second limitation has to do with the “checking” aspect of the phone, namely notifications. Go to Notification Center and go through each app and be sure to disable all notifications. This part is tricker because iOS provides different types of alerts and indicators that grab your attention. Start by thinking about the apps that need your immediate attention by showing up on your lock screen. In my case, I’ve selected “phone” (for missed calls), reminders and calendar events (for time-sensitive alerts). You don’t need immediate notifications for messages, emails, etc.. because most messages don’t require an immediate response and tend to become a distraction. Even in cases of urgency, it’s likely that a response cannot be given because of the user’s preoccupation (eg. while driving, out of the office, in a meeting, having guests over, etc..).

 

Image

App badges are also a distraction; if you unlock your phone to see that you have a reminder, you will not hesitate to notice a “1” badge indicating an unread email. Remember the golden rule: limit yourself. You can only allow your phone to grab your attention x number of times during the day, therefore badges must go unless it belongs to an item that requires immediate (time-sensitive) attention.

Limit Checking of Your Apps

You are probably wondering, “Hold on, if I turn off all notifications, how do I know which apps I should check and when to check them?”. The answer is simple: set specific times of the day to check your apps and limit the time you check them. For example: Check WhatsApp messages four, and only four, times a day (morning 9 am, afternoon 2pm, evening 6pm, night 9pm) for a maximum of 10 minutes each. For apps that are less active, for example email, choose to check your inbox just twice a day, preferably during times when you are in the best position to be able to respond to them (ie. in your office or near a computer containing all your documents).

I hope that this post has inspired you to think differently about the way in which you use your phone. I urge you to try some of these ideas for yourself and share your experience in the comments. Get out of the habit of redundant phone checking and put an end to excessive distractions!

HDMI Cables

Cheap HDMI cables will produce the exact same picture and sound quality as expensive cables.

HDMI uses Transition Minimized Differential Signaling (TMDS), which does two things:

  1. Compress digital signal to minimize transitions (the TM part)
  2. Compares two simultaneous versions of the signal to negate noise (the DS part)

This means that you either get the whole data as it was sent, or nothing at all; it’s not possible to get something in-between like a “distorted” or “poor” signal. In rare cases, if the cable quality is poor, the receiving end will not be able to tell 0 from 1 and you will clearly see white pixels across the screen (no pixel information). However, it  is more likely that you will see no image at all. The same can be said for audio: the digital codecs (Dolby and DTS) have error-correction built in, so you get bit-for-bit output or no audio at all.

There are only 4 types of HDMI cables

  1. Standard-speed (Category 1)
  2. Standard-speed (Category 1) with Ethernet
  3. High-speed (Category 2)
  4. High-speed (Category 2) with Ethernet

Category 1 cables can only carry up to 1080i. Category 2 can carry signals up to 4K including 3D. 3D content is simply double the resolution, not double the frame rate.

“HDMI 1.4” is a connection spec, not a cable spec; in other words, it refers to  hardware (TV, Bluray, etc…) capabilities, not the HDMI cable itself.

Cables longer than 10 meters

If you need to run long HDMI cables (10 meters or more), it’s probably worth considering an active cable. An active cable is one with chips built into it that help boost the signal. One example of such a chip is RedMere. Active cables allow for thinner cables or longer cables. For most connections, any regular cheap cable is fine.

Sources:

Zain vs Wataniya – Which one should I get?

After comparing Zain and Wataniya postpaid voice plan charts, we get an interesting result:

Image

The following results are close talk time approximations, please refer to the previous charts for more accurate numbers:

  • If you talk less than 300 minutes per month, get a Zain subscription with a 4 KD plan.
  • If you talk between 300 and 700 minutes per month, get a Wataniya subscription with a Hala 300 or Hala 500 subscription (10 or 15 KD)
  • If you talk between 700 and 850 minutes per month, you can get either Hala 850 or Zain’s 20 KD package
  • If you talk between 850 and 1230 minutes per month, get Zain’s 20 KD plan
  • If you talk more than 1230 minutes per month, get Zain’s 30 KD plan

Wataniya Hala Packages Chart

I made a chart to help Wataniya subscribers pick the lowest cost postpaid voice plan.

 Image
 
Here’s the breakdown:
  • If you talk less than 493 minutes per month, get the Hala 300 package (10 KD)
  • If you talk between 493 and 708 minutes per month, get the Hala 500 package (15 KD)
  • If you talk between 708 and 1304 minutes per month, get the Hala 850 package (20 KD)
  • If you talk more than 1304 minutes per month, get the Hala 1600 package (30 KD)

Zain Wiyana Mix Chart

I made a chart to help Zain subscribers pick the lowest cost postpaid voice plan.

Image

Here’s the breakdown:

  • If you talk less than 273 minutes per month, get the 4 KD package.
  • If you talk between 273 and 556 minutes per month, get the 10 KD package
  • If you talk between 556 and 1230 minutes per month, get the 20 KD package
  • If you talk between 1230 and 2256 minutes per month, get the 30 KD package
  • If you talk more than 2256 minutes, get the 40 KD package

To know your talk time, visit Zain’s website.