Wireless Connectivity Issues – Airtel GPRS and Tata Indicom Data Card

Just got back from Bombay after a hectic five day trip where connectivity was a major problem, so this blog post is for putting it all on the record:

1. GPRS: Airtel has two GPRS offerings: Mobile Office, priced at an insane Rs. 499 a month (they had initially told me Rs. 16 per day of usage, but that never virtualized in the billing). The other is Net on Phone (NOP), which doesn’t allow third party applications like Twitter mobile, PLUS from STAR India, GMail for mobile or Google Calendar for mobile. Why not? No one knows.

So, I requested for mobile office on the 21st since I was going to be in Mumbai. Today’s the 28th, and it’s still not been activated. I’m back in Delhi, and told Airtel CC to not activate it, and not bill me for a service they haven’t provided.

2. Data Card: TATA Indicom has a data card at (they claim) 152 kbps. While at the IAMAI Web 2.0 Conference, I had planned to blog live – there was no Tata Indicom signal inside ITC Grand Central, and for the next few days that I was in Mumbai – connectivity was unreliable. Imagine a max speed of around 136kbps, but an average speed of just 20kbps.

My Indicom experience has been awful since the beginning – we bought the connection around the 27th of Feb this year, and I wasn’t able to use the connection till around the 21st of March. The retailer, from a Tata Indicom showroom, had sold me a modem that wasn’t from the company, and was Rs.2000 more than the actual one. The company contacted me after I blogged about the issue, and the modem problem was rectified, charges levied while service was not operational were removed, and they also offered to refund the entire amount if I was dissatisfied with the service.
Now I had also been told that the connection is priced at Rs. 1500/month. Any additional charge? No, the retailer had said. Later I found that Indicom forces you to take a voice plan along with the data connection, for Rs. 199 (plus tax), and then there are additional charges, including a ridiculous one for “plan selection”. So the Rs. 1500/month becomes Rs. 1907.
So I wrote back to the company, and agreed to take up their initial offer of a complete refund. A senior exec from their Enterprises and HNI BU wrote back:

“I will arrange for the voice rentals to be waived off against your bill as a permanent feature. My local Product team member has already been sounded off on this irrregularity in serving a customer. Please be assured that we shall get the matter sorted out. Hope you will bear with us and continue to be a part of the Tata Indicom family. I shall get the waivers incorporated in your account and get back to you shortly.”

So, he never got back, the waivers were not incorporated, and subsequent emails to Indicom have not received a response. Now that I find that even their connectivity sucks – all the more reason to switch.

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This is how we justify cheating…

auto
Translated: “If you keep a child hungry, then it steals food. And simultaneously, it will learn a few other bad habits. That is the state of auto drivers in…think about it”

Well, that’s an admission of guilt, all right, and a fallacious justification for cheating. The auto rates in Delhi have been hiked, but are autowallahs really going to stop cheating? Or just going use it as a pretext for fleecing more money? How many of them actually have working meters or even go by it.

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Switching to DTH, Tata Sky and Customer Service

Well, I’ve been severely critical of a few companies on this blog in the past, but I guess it’s time to give credit where it is really due.

We switch to DTH yesterday, in spite of our area not being CAS notified: there were only three channels on cable worth watching; English channels (including some sports ones) were last on the priority list, and were often replaced with others. Picture quality sucked as well. No History Channel, no BBC, no CNN, and as I’ve mentioned before – several English channels were shown in Hindi. Requests for the above channels, for changes in language were blamed on  the distributor – Siti Cable. They had what I call a neighborhood monopoly.

So, the chap from the Tata Sky distributor came within a day of the phone request, was most courteous and left his number offering to help in case there is any issue – and that offer seemed most genuine. Within a few hours, the chaps came for installation – but I had work, so I requested them to come the next day at 11am. They were here on the dot at 11 am, and in blistering heat (46 degrees celcuis, and in the sun), put up with my finicky-ness regarding wiring, and in spite of some changes and censure, remain courteous throughout. After four hours of wiring, they set up the DTH, and offered a few basic instructions, including one I didn’t need: grin button se yeh apne aap hindi mein bolne lagegi (using the green button, she will start talking in Hindi).
The feedback from others on the installation from Tata Sky was just as good – that they’re courteous and most professional – and I’d love to know about their distribution pattern and the checks and balances they have in place. Also – who’s handling the training? The only problem we’ve had has been with the IVRS for registration.

Jagdish Khattar, MD of Maruti said on TV recently that their service people sell more cars than their sales people. Tata Indicom, where the experience hasn’t been as spiffy (major gap between promises and delivery, even though the management team that scans blogs has been most helpful), could take a leaf out of Tata Sky’s book.

Now, post purchase and installation, the real test for Tata Sky begins. And we stay next to the Delhi ridge, with frequent visits from destructive monkeys.

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“Truth doesn’t come with an executive summary”…Microfinance Suicides In Andhra Pradesh

So, The Shekhar points me to his latest term paper, this one on microfinance. I don’t have the time to read it, so I ask him for an executive summary. “Truth doesn’t come with an executive summary”, he says.

I guess the conclusion will do. Read Aberration or Synecdoche: Reflections on the microfinance suicides of Andhra Pradesh for the entire term paper. Bugger’s not linking to his previous posts on microfinance, so I’ll do it:

the mess in andhra…
More on microfinance…
The future of MFIs
still more on microfinance…
a contrarian take on microfinance…

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ABN-Amro, Mobile Spam and Marketing Mistakes

Yesterday, I received a call from a lady called ‘Richa’ (phone number +9111-45092650) who claimed to represent ABM-Amro Bank. She just wanted me to confirm my (non-existent) request for an ABN-Amro Global Master Card. I’m in Airtel’s ‘Do Not Call’ list, and I usually don’t get cold-calls. On inquiring about how they got my number, I was told that they have a database with my name and number on it, and that’s all they know.

I spoke to the ‘Team Leader’ who assured me that he would put me on their ‘Do Not Call’ list, and this was just a mistake. He apologised.
A short while ago, I received a call from a ‘Megha’ (number: +9111-45092639)
offering me (yes, you guessed it!) an ABN-Amro Global Master Card. Why are they bothering me again? Her response: “So what, sir? People get 10 calls in a day. This is just two in two days”

Right.

According to yesterdays Financial Express, this and branded tie-ups seem to be means of providing “an instant solution for the present marketing shortfalls.”

Ah, such farsightedness. Think of all that money spent on brand building via TVC’s gone to waste with one stupid call. ABN-Amro did a few things wrong here:

  • They coldcalled. By trying to get a few accounts, they probably pissed off a lot of people, and put off future customers.
  • They generated bad word-of-mouth. Like, here.
  • They coldcalled twice. I’m even more pissed off. More bad word-of-mouth.

This was probably a case of outsourcing sales, and that’s where a risk for any company lies – will the people you hire to contact prospective customers project your company in a manner that you’d like them to? Megha, who called second, was cocky. Is that the way someone would have behaved if I had declined the credit card while at a bank branch? Of course, one has now come to expect telecallers to be dumb and uncouth, but I don’t think it’s excusable.

The risk for the company is greater in services than in products: services are intangible and a bad impression results in uncertainty when one does decide to purchase. One cannot afford pre-purchase dissonance because then, heh, there will be no purchase.
I’m not sure of how successful coldcalling has been in India, but since they’re still at it, I assume it must be working for them.

Just for the record, I’d received another cold-call a couple of weeks ago. How did they get my number? The telecaller explained that he was dialing serial-wise – 98xxxxxxx1, then 98xxxxxxx2 and so on.

I’d also received an automated call from Hutch on my (Airtel) phone, offering me a post-paid connection…which I had spoken to Airtel about earlier in the day, so there’s a leak there somewhere.

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Rant: WTF is wrong with NDPL?

Seriously – what is it with NDPL? All day today, every hour, the power has been cut at least once. Light goes, I quickly save stuff and switch the pc off. After 10-45 min, power supply resumes. 20-40 minutes and another power cut. Can’t get any work done…Now my UPS has given up, and I get around 10 seconds to shut the PC and end up losing whatever I have written…

I know there’s a power problem in Delhi, but why can’t they just publish a schedule so we can plan accordingly? They used to do that in Pune – we knew that there would be a four-five hour power cut post lunch every thursday during non-peak season, and daily power cuts for two hours from 11am to 1pm and 2 to 4 during peak season.

Why 10-15 min every hour? Ridiculous. I thought NDPL had good management, based on past experiences. Things seem to be falling apart, now.

Update (5pm): Happened again. And again. And again. NDPL says that there’s a problem with the grid for the north zone. So why not just shut off supply for a few hours and fix the damn problem?

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Suhel Seth on Pepsi Coke and Pesticides

(running slight temperature, and beset with allergic sneezing fits, so this is going to be short)

CSE’s out with another report on pesticides. The companies had not been cleared, but the issue had been forgotten for a while. Buried. Last time around, I argued for the companies in a college debate and won…even though I felt they were guilty, because it was my task to argue in their favour. I used the Outlook reports, and put the onus on the consumer – if the consumer is so worried, then the consumer should stop.

Suhel Seth (representing the cola companies) faced off with Sunita Narain of the CSE on CNN-IBN today. During the debate, he accused, incorrectly, Ms. Narain of making logical errors while voicing her views.

Those who haven’t studied logic might have believed him, just because he mentioned something like ‘logical errors’. Here’s a list of errors, some logical, that Mr. Seth himself made during the debate:

* He said: companies are global and follow international standards. They have a large customer base who trust that the products are safe. Logical fallacy: common belief
* He said: The companies care for their customers. Why would they do this? Logical Fallacy: begging the question
* He said: There are no global standards (therefore India cannot have one). Fallacy: dont remember which fallacy it is, but – this doesn’t mean that one country cannot set standards for herself
* He said: Outlook sent samples to London, independent test and no problems in the drinks. Fallacy: Does not hold valid until the same samples from the same bottle are tested by two different agencies
* He said: They have same standards as their parent companies. Fallacy: doesnt mean that those standards are being adhered to in India.
* He said: this is an attempt by one small NGO (or one person) to gain fame by targetting large companies. Logical Fallacy: Ad hominem (attacking the person).

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Post First Servicing Performance of the Wagon R

Have been reminded that I’d forgotten to post the post-servicing review of the Wagon R

Before I took it in for servicing to Rana Motors at Wazirpur in Delhi, I made the following list of complaints:

1. Poor acceleration of the car with the AC, and the car slows down very fast if one doesn’t accelerate while the AC is on.
2. Door Alarm beeping whenever the car is switched off, even if the door is closed
3. Poor power steering
4. Occasional Gear slippage and the gear getting stuck in neutral occasionally
5. The car becomes a little uneasy at high speeds (90kmph) – one gets the feeling of a loss of grip
6. Occasionally, the car stalls at slow speeds on startup, or while reversing
7. The boot and the back doors have to be slammed shut, else they don’t close properly and rattle while driving
8. The central locking alarm keeps going off even with the slightest touch (had to turn it off 8 times in one day)
9. Number plate is loose and the screw on one side keeps slipping off.
10. Apparently low average (though I didn’t think so, my dad did)

Post servicing, points 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8 and 9 had been addressed. Since the car is high, they suggested that we get a spoiler installed for lack of grip at high speeds (pt.5), otherwise – no solution. The steering wheel was loosened (pt.3)- that was the best that they could do because according to them, the Wagon R has electronic power steering, not hydraulic. They suggested that we check the average methodically and then get back to them.

Since then problems 1, 2 and 6, which had been the main problems apart from 8 have resurfaced.

On the whole, the car drives well, feels spacious, changing gears is a little iffy, accelerates rather well when the AC is off, is a little noisy, but very comfortable.

Link: I’d reviewed the design of the car after I’d bought it, here.

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Rants: MTNL and Airtel

MTNL blocks blogspot…or maybe it’s the other way round, though I doubt it. I’ve been unable to access my blog since yesterday. I’m able to post via www.blogger.com, but can’t read other blogs. Shekhar, Gautam, Dan and Minx in Delhi all use MTNL and can’t access URL’s ending with blogspot.com . Aditya in Mumbai, with an MTNL landline connection, can’t access his blog or even this one. Both Ankit who’s using Sify and Amit (not Varma) who’s using Airtel, can access blogs.

So it’s an MTNL problem. Their response:

Dear Sir,

All the below mentioned site are accessible from MTNL, ISPs network.
Pl. check again at your end.

Bah.

I wonder how the planets are aligned for customercare executives, or for Telecom companies. Airtel is the latest to do something extremely stupid.

If you’ve been following the news, you must be aware that the Indian Government has asked mobile companies to verify user details. Sunil Bharti Mittal commented on TV that the Government was asking mobile companies to do it’s job – each citizen should be registered, and a social security number should be sufficient for mobile companies for such verifications. He’s right. Ration Card numbers or PAN numbers could have been sufficient, had it not been for Governmental efficiency (an oxymoron, by the way).

So Airtel, alongwith other mobile companies, has the task of verifying all details. And they botch it up by follow an incredibly stupid procedure –

First, sometime last month, I got an SMS from Airtel, this time not a promotional one, asking me to SMS my details. I’m aware of the government order, so I message them the details.

Again, early this month, someone called me up from Airtel for my details. I informed him that I’d already SMS’ed ’em. Oh! says he, could you repeat them? I do. He thanks me and disconnects.

And today, I get a form from them for further verification, asking for all the details that I’d already submitted to them when I took the account, when I’d SMS’ed them, and when they’d called up.

If you want a re-verification, why not just call up to confirm the address and send the form?

The dumb customercare executive can’t explain it. Tells me I have to fill the form, else face disconnection. Interesting ‘threat’. So…how are Idea and Hutch in Delhi? If I have to submit the forms again, might as well evaluate operators and choose whichever’s the best.

Oh, and before I forget – Promotional Calls and messages from Airtel. I got mine stopped by calling up customercare and telling them to stop them. In case of banks and credit card companies, either tell them that you’re unemployed, or a reporter*.

* Will link to the reporter post once I’m able to access blogs. Else, just look through http://knownturf.blogspot.com

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Car Review: Wagon R

Taking a test drive and driving a car once you’ve bought it are two very different experiences; if you’re not happy with what you’ve got, then it’s termed ‘post-purchase dissonace’, and it usually does affect everyone. We bought the Wagon-R Vxi 20 days ago, and though it is rather premature to do a review on the maintenance of the car, I thought I’d list my design likes and dislikes, and the problems I’ve faced so far:

Likes:
1. Dashboard: probably the most convenient thing about the Wagon-R’s design is the Dashboard – lots of spaces for keeping keys, chewing gum, mobile phone, organiser, spare glasses etc. There’s also a cup holder on the drivers side if you want to drink while driving (though I don’t recommend it). It’s a major improvement over the old zen Lxi that I switched from, where I was forever seeking a place for my mobile phone. There’s also a hook in the dashboard, in case you’re carrying plastic packets and need a hook to hang them around. This is a clear indication of the length to which Maruti went to make this care driver-friendly.
2. Magazine/Newspaper racks on all doors
3. Reclining seats: All four seats can recline, and almost fully. In fact, I’ve devised a way by which the seats can be re-positioned to make a bed, in case you’re on a long trip and there’s no hotel in sight: Push the front seat right in front, remove the headrest and recline it (correct grammar?). Then recline the back seat fully, and you have a slightly uncomfortable bed ready.
4. Extra dumping space underneath the front two seats: Something I didn’t notice before I bought the car. The space under the front seats is slightly lowered so you can keep even a laptop easily. Useful if you want to hide something from the parkingwallah, or thieves.
5. Back windows are not electronic: Well, some can look at this as a disadvantage, but given a few instances of the central locking and power windows getting jammed, I think it’s quite useful to have manual windows at the back in case of a similar emergency.
6. Low turning radius: or should it be high turning radius? Anyway, the car turns quite sharply, a necessity in the city and its cramped parking.
7. Seatbelts at the back: I don’t know about you, but I now feel uncomfortable in cars without a seatbelt. It’s almost instinctive for me to reach for a seatbelt when I sit in a car.

Now to the post purchase dissonance bit; the things I did not like:
1. Unreliable electronics: If at a traffic light, I’ve to stop for more than a minute, I switch the car off. Maruti has a key reminder feature that emits a beep when you leave the key inside and open the door. Unfortunately in my case, for some unexplainable reason, the beep is emitted even when the door is closed and the car is switched off. I went back to the dealer and there was no such problem with the demo car, so it’s an electronics problem with the piece that I received. I’d have accepted this as a minor irritant and a design mistake, but since it happens inconsistently (sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t), so I consider it an electronics malfunction. More on the service advisor later in this post.
2. Power Steering: Frankly, WHAT POWER STEERING? Maruti’s power steering is designed such that it reduces in strength as your speed increases to prevent accidents in case you execute a sharp turn at high speeds by mistake. Unfortunately, the power steering seems non-existent to me. The steering is only a fraction easier than the Zen, and lacks as much power at slow speeds as at high. It’s almost not there. Or maybe it’s an electronics problem with the car I’ve got.
3. Unlocking is injurious: I like to rest my elbow on the window, and its rather irritating that the locks are next to where the window comes up from, and not lower in the door, ala the Zen. What’s worse, the moment you switch the car off (I do regularly at traffic lights) the car unlocks automatically and the lock jabs you in the arm. Very very irritating.
4. Auto windows: There’s a switch next to the door on the drivers side for ‘auto’ window lowering and raising. What the salesman doesn’t tell you (didn’t tell me) is that it is only for auto down, and not for automatically raising the window. Not too much of a problem, but I think it should have been clarified.
5. Childproof rear windows: Like I’ve mentioned above, I like to rest my elbow on the window. On the only occasion that I’ve sat at the rear, I’ve been uncomfortable because the rear windows do not lower fully. Their minimum limit is around 2 inches above the base of the window, in order to make them ‘childproof’. I don’t know how Maruti does their research, but there can be people in this country who don’t have kids, and who might like a fully lowered window to rest their elbow on. I’d have preferred a button for switching between the childproof and the childless options. The moment the front seat became empty, I switched.
6. WHERE DO MY SPEAKERS GO? I honestly don’t know. There’s space for the tweeters in front, but no space for the speakers at the back. What Maruti offers you is a flimsy, seemingly breakable, board that you’ve to attach at the back. The problem – your back seats can’t recline because of the board that rests between the seat and the boot. So, there’s so space for speakers at the back, unless you want to put two large boxes of speakers in the boot, which you can’t fix anyway without cutting the interiors of the car.
7. Useless side view mirrors: They’re high instead of being long, so you can’t really assess the traffic at either side. Very difficult to drive without a long side view mirror in Delhi, though a majority of the people don’t care enough to use them.

I went back to the dealer with a few of the electronics problems that I felt could be addressed. I didn’t know that the automatic windows were only for lowering the window, so that problem was dispensed with. The power steering and the incessant beeping were not addressed. What was strange was that Maruti’s service advisor didn’t know of the cars features, which is ridiculous. He had no idea about power steering, and only on demonstration of the problem in comparison with the demo car did he agree that there ‘could’ be a problem.

What really irritates me, always, is the fallacious reasoning that he employed to try to make you accept inadequate performance of the car-
1. No other customer has complained about this car
2. I (the service advisor) have never noticed these problems
3. These things (the poor steering, the beeping in spite of a closed door and the auto window) are features of the car.

I’m sorry, but no one else having a problem does not mean that my car can’t have a problem. Or no one else bothering to complain doesn’t mean that a problem doesn’t exist. The service advisors poor observational skills (he hardly knew anything about the car anyway) doesn’t mean that my car doesn’t have a problem. And when the features are clearly specified in the manual (because of which I accepted the poor design of the auto window) , how can you claim otherwise? He repeated his fallacious reasoning again after stating ‘Main aapki baat maanta houn, par…’ (I agree with what you’re saying, but…), and I clarified again. He couldn’t counter it, so suggested I talk to the salesman who said that the issues would be addressed at the 30 day servicing.

The car goes for its 30 day servicing soon. Let’s see if things improve or not.

P.s.: I’ve to buy a music system, so I’m open to suggestions on MP3 music systems and speakers, and on how one can fit them in a Wagon-R with minimum inconvenience.

Crossposted with modifications at Mouthshut.com, here.

Update: Post first service review here.

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