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Credit and Cell Phone calls in Africa

The third in our series of Technology in Africa by our talented Anonymous blogger!


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So now you have all the stats and many facts about cell phone companies in Burkina. Hopefully you’re not bored stiff, but just in case –  let’s move to a more ‘fun‘ aspect of cell phone (yes, I’m saying that sarcastically), the cost structure for the users.

Dollar Clip Art

I always say that I wish I had the same package in Canada as I have here.  In Canada, I need to either pay for a package with a contract, or pay a monthly fee without a contract.  Either way, I pay.  Regardless of my usage.

Frankly, a cheap monthly plan with a limited number of minutes per month between 9 and 5 is about as useful as a hole in the head to me.  It does not take many phone calls to go over the limit and bang, I have a lovely  bill at the end of the month.  On the other hand, having unlimited call and text is not perfect for my needs, which includes getting in touch with a child in another country.  And I am not constantly on my phone!

But here in Africa, I pay as I go.  I buy a recharge card for 5,000 FCFA, which is about 12$ Canadian, and it lasts me a month or a week, depending on my use.

But, all companies offer free credit bonuses! That means fairly regularly, all three main companies available here will offer a 100% free credit with any recharge.

Now, pay attention.  It does not mean that you have 10,000 FCFA worth of credit in your phone  to call whomever you want for 5000 FCFA.  Nope.  That would be paradise and too good to be true.  It means that you have the initial 5,000 FCFA credit to call whomever you want, and then another 5,000F CFA credit to call any, in my case, Telmob user. (Telmob is the company I use. Want a recap – check out my last post HERE)

So my credit last longer because every time I call another Telmob number, it is debited from my Telmob bonus.  Confused yet? It’s similar to the ‘MyFive’ plans in Canada

Lady, Talking, Phone, clip

For example,  right now, after having recharged my phone three weeks ago for 7,000 FCFA, I still have close to 3,000 FCFA of credit and over 5,400 FCFA of bonus credit (the bonuses can carry over between promotions.)  The bonus will expire on Sept 14, so it’s time to call my friends on Telmob to use it, or I will lose it.

Well, except that there is a slight problem.  I never know who is with Telmob.  You see, the beauty of having your friends saved in your contact list means that when you call, you don’t really check if the number is a Telmob or belongs to one of the other companies.  Once upon a time, when there were fewer numbers and cell phones in Africa, you could tell by the phone number’s first two digits.  But now, with the proliferation of numbers, you can no longer do so with certainty. Using the bonus credit can be hit or miss at times.

Bonuses and Two Phones

Last week, my Masseur was home (I have a very bad back these days and he works miracles!) and I asked him, as he emptied his pockets and prepared to work, why he had two phones. One wasyour basic phone, nothing fancy and the other one wasa smart phone, also known as the intelligent phone, a French translation for the English word ‘smart’.

In any event, in the last article I mentioned that many Burkinabè have two phones.  Well, my masseur explained that it is to take advantage of the bonuses offered by the companies.  This has been confirmed by friends since then.   I have seen this over and over, here and in Senegal where I lived before.  You go for lunch with friends and they have two phones on the table… weird!

Alternatively, people may own a phone with two sim cards, allowing you to have two numbers with different providers to take advantage of their bonuses.  Sometimes, one is the professional phone, and the other the personal one.

Not only do most Africans have cellphones – many of them have two!

How do you put more credit on your phone?

So, since pretty much every phone I have seen (and that is a great many) is essentially a ‘pay as you go,’  the issue becomes, how to make sure you don’t run out of credit?  Technically, you shouldn’t run out of credit if you’re proactive. It’s easy to check the state of your credit,  you just have to dial *101#. Which I admit I often forget to do.

If you run out of credit, the call will drop right then and there.   And I get a message on my screen, something about my credit not being sufficient for the call, or the sms I am trying to send.  Frustrating, but it is my own fault.  I would have just had the prescience to call *101# and bingo, I would know if it were time or not to recharge.

The company also is kind enough to let me know how much that phone call has just cost me after each call.  So, I can either work out the debit as I go… or call *101# to get my balance. Easier.  But credit no credit, I still can get calls because I don’t pay for receiving calls.  Just when I make them.  That was a welcome novelty for me!

 


Stay tuned for the conclusion of technology in Africa next week.

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Job Tips

#JobTips: Smile during your telephone interview – it will be heard in your voice. People hire positive, not negative.

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Data Scientist

Data Scientist – Infographic

Data Scientist

Data Scientist

The most mysterious of all positions.  The ability to write algorithms that find relationships in datasets is only usable if it provides actionable insight.
Consumer behaviour analysis allows front offices to better predict what and when consumers are buying. Data science provides the raw information that allows that to happen.

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Staff Showcase: Meet Harnoor

Another one of our newest members here at Planet4IT is Harnoor Sidhu. A recent Ryerson University graduate, he is an expert on new technologies and advancements that are just appearing on the horizon.

A hard worker, Harnoor has never skipped, been late or dropped a single class through his entire University career. He brings that same determination and dedication to everyone and every project he works on.

He’s also a bit of a movie buff – so whether you want to chat about a career change, or just about the latest Sundance movie, he’s the man to talk to.

You can reach Harnoor by calling Planet4IT, his email or his LinkedIn page.

Harnoor

 

 

 

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Facebook and the real name controversy 

Is Facebook setting a dangerous precident? Or is it just looking out for the safety of its many users?

That’s right – another post about Facebook. The only topic we seem to broach more frequently is Amazon activities! Regardless, whenever you think nothing is happening in the world of digital or technology, just check out Facebook. Odds are, they are doing something controversial.

This particular issue revolves around the concept of real names versus pseudonyms, and if people should be allowed to self identify their digital presence. And it all began with a Drag Queen.

Meet Sister Roma

Several weeks ago, Facebook began suspending the accounts of people’s whose names didn’t fall under their ‘real name’ policy.

This has been a rule at Facebook  a while now, but it was rarely enforced. (This ‘no fake names’ isn’t the only rule – did you know it’s against the rules to have more than one account at Facebook under the same name? Yet my elementary school account remains open and unused.)

 That's more of a guideline than an actual rule. -  That's more of a guideline than an actual rule.  more of a guideline

The fact of the matter is, these rules were pretty much unenforceable, and if an account was deleted well – it’s difficult for a single person to raise a fuss against a power like Facebook.

Until the Drag Queens sauntered into the fray.

Facebook Warns Drag Queens They Will Delete Every Profile In Two Weeks

Sister Roma, whose real name is Michael Williams, is a drag queen. She is also a member of the San Francisco-based Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence advocacy group.

 

Now, she has been identifying herself as ‘Sister Roma’ on Facebook without a problem for six years. Recently though, Facebook gave her an ultimatum. She had to switch her username to her legal name Michael Williams, or risk having her account suspended.

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As I already said, this policy is not new, but was  rarely enforced before now.

Why now?

Facebook is claiming that this is about safety. Forcing people to use their legal names apparently protects users from stalkers, jealous exes, and others who might want to hide behind a pseudonym.

Which is true. It’s good to know who you’re talking too online. Most of us have heard enough horror stories about this issue to last us a lifetime.

“We require everyone to provide their real names, so you always know who you’re connecting with,” says the policy.

I personally have no desire to be caught by a Catfish.

However, would a fake name really stop that? There are thousands if not millions of ways for hackers, thieves and criminals to get access to people online. Look no further than the celebrity photo stealing scandal for an example.

So, can Facebook really be hoping to protect its users safety by enforcing a name change policy?

Realistically? Probably not.

More likely this is about money. Facebook now admits that “performers” should establish pages, rather than profiles.

It’s in the interest of Facebook’s bottom line for its users to use fewer profiles, and more pages.

This crackdown comes as Facebook’s revenue continues to soar. A big part of that success is because of its marketing initiatives.

 

Why are people so upset?

I was chatting with my boyfriend the other day about this issue, and he couldn’t understand why I was so upset about it. I claimed it was a violation of rights, and he said:

“If you’re using Facebook to make money, you should spend money on it.”

If it was just about profits, I might agree with him. But it’s not;  it’s about identity. With this policy in effect, it is virtually impossible for anyone who self-identifies with a name that isn’t legally documented to have a profile on Facebook.

Yes, that effects Drag Queens and performers, but what if you’re trying to hide from that aforementioned angry ex, so you refer to yourself by a different name? Or you are from a different country and you want to be known by a different title where you’re living now. Or what if you are LBGT and you don’t self identity with your birth name?

Check out this illuminating article over at the Washington post by Jade Sylvan, and her real world experience with pseudonyms. She does a fantastic job explaining the personal side effects of Facebook’s decision.

Jade Sylvan

 

Will Facebook Change its mind?

Well, that remains to be seen. But it’s not looking good.

Drag queens and transgender activists started a protest campaign against Facebook for forcing them to either register with their real name or get off the site. Facebook did agree to meet with them, but it didn’t really change anything.

After the meeting, Sister Roma posted the following statement on her Facebook page.

Shortly after the meeting Facebook announced that they would reinstate profiles of members of the LGBT community that had recently been targeted, suspended or removed. The statement further goes on to say that Facebook hopes that within 2 weeks time the users will either confirm their real identity, change to their legal names, or move to a fan page. While at first glance this seems like a grand show of support for our community it is actually a completely hollow gesture. Basically they offered to give us our profiles back so that two weeks later they could suspend them, demand we comply to their unfair and discriminatory policy, and if not, take them away again. This is completely unacceptable.

Saying you have two weeks to comply is not much of a compromise.

Money, Drag Queens and Social media aside, it seems that Facebook may be forcing us to reassess our sense of self, and what is truly in a name.

It will be interesting to see what happens as this story develops.

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Job Tips

#JobTips: Doing a telephone interview? Make sure you have zero distractions. Dress as if you’re meeting in person.

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10 Simple Tips to remember as you prepare for your Interview

Sometimes it’s the simple things in life that can make a difference.  You can practice the answers to your interview questions until you can say them without a pause.  You can research the company so that you know everything there is to know about them.  And life throws you a curve ball.  As you get ready to sit down you notice your fly is open.  You go to shake hands and you drop your purse on the interviewer’s foot.  All that great preparation flies out the door as your try to calm yourself down and relax.

These are my 10 simple tips to get you through the door and sitting down feeling comfortable, relaxed and as confident as the person in your resume says you are:

Keep your dress professional – seems pretty basic but you would be amazed how many people show up for interviews realizing they had forgot to pick up their shirts at the cleaners.   Look your outfit out the night before and make sure it is:

  • clean and crisp
  • a suit for the guys and a skirt and blouse or basic business dress for the gals.  No sundresses or shorts
  • This is an interview not a date – don’t overdo the makeup or wear too much jewelry.  Guys shirt buttons done up, no gold chains hanging out.
  • Polish or at least dust your shoes off.

No Perfume or Cologne - have a shower, put on some deodorant, nothing else is necessary, why?:

  • A lot of companies/businesses are “no scent” zones.
  • Imagine what would happen if the person who is interviewing you is sensitive to scents and has a reaction to your latest Hugo Boss cologne.  Reschedule if  you are lucky.

How do you get to the Interview

  •  Google it, do a test run if you aren’t sure
  • If you are driving make sure there is parking nearby
  • 9 am and 5 pm interviews mean rush hour.  Be prepared for it taking 30 minutes longer to get there
  • Check the weather – rain and snow can add extra time to your trip.  Be prepared

Never be late for the Interview

  • It goes without saying that being late for an interview starts you off on the wrong foot.
  • And yes there can be extenuating circumstances, but you better be able to prove them.  “The dog ate the directions” won’t work in the business world.
  • And yes, you’d better have called to at least let the interviewer know.

Be Polite to everyone

  • That older lady in the elevator might be “mom” going to visit her son the interviewer.  You don’t want her saying anything negative about pushy people in the elevator.
  • The person blocking your way into the bathroom might be one of the interviewers.
  • Be polite to everyone all the time.  It is a good road to travel down.

Verify how to pronounce the Interviewer’s name

  • We live in a very multicultural country, let’s try our best to pronounce names properly.
  • Ask the recruiter or phone the company
  • Write it down phonetically and practice

Keep your right hand free

  • Your right hand is needed for shaking hands as you enter the interview
  • Move your portfolio, purse, extra copies of your resume to your left hand before you enter the office

Just before you get to the Interview

  •  Turn off your phone and tablet.

Chemistry is a very important part of the interview

  • It starts as soon as you enter the room.
  • Smile, firm handshake, speak clearly
  • Relax and take part in the conversation

Tell me about yourself

  •  This question is totally about relaxing you.  Take your elevator pitch and expand it “a bit”.  The Coles Notes version versus the Game of Thrones.
  • Keep it professional.

 

Check out my slideshare for some more pointers on these tips.

 

Don’t let a little thing muck up your interview.  Be prepared for every aspect of the interview process.  Remember they liked your resume – you look good on paper – now is the time to shine in person.

happyfacehanddrawn Good luck job hunting

guestpostintroduction

Lynne Carlson started her career off in administration, moved to Cobol Programming and for the last 14 years worked in all things recruitment.  Absolutely loves social media and excited about all the new innovations appearing every day!

 

 

 

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#JobTips: Invest in your profession. Take a course to keep your skills up to date and current.

 

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Cell Phones in Africa

The second in our series of Technology in Africa by our Anonymous blogger!


My favourite subject so far.  At least one I can understand.  Somewhat.

I am everyday absolutely AMAZED at the cell phone use in this country, and in West Africa in general.  OK, I derived my comment about West Africa from my two years in Senegal and my three years in Burkina but frankly, I have no information to believe that it is different in the other countries in West Africa.  Quite the contrary.

Let’s start with basic information.  In Burkina, there are three main cell phone providers: Telmob, which is the cell phone leg of the only land line telephone company, Onatel.

Once a government owned shop, it was privatised about five years ago and bought by Maroc Telecom.  They bought the company and the infrastructure.  We’ll get back to that point at a later date.  Disclosure: I am a Telmob client.  It works just fine.  Nothing exotic, but very fine.  Some dropped calls, some SMS don’t reach their destination and I don`t receive some, but overall, decent enough. Telmob has the largest market share with 41.3%.

Then comes Airtel, the company everyone loves to hate.

Well, OK, the company I love to hate… and my many friends here who use it.  It was founded by Sunil Bharti Mittal, an Indian businessman.  It has 39.64% of the market share in Burkina.  Outside India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, Airtel is present in 17 West and Central African countries and in the Seychelles (not sure where to put them… Southern Africa? East Africa? South-East Africa? It’s there in the Pacific Ocean, barely an African country).

Finally the last and only Burkinabè company is Telecel.

It is privately owned.  Internal wars resulted in a steadily decreasing market share over the past few years, and it now stands at 19.05% of the market share.  I really cannot comment on the quality of their service as I don’t know anyone who uses it.  But from all accounts, it ain’t the greatest.

A fourth license is being negotiated by Orange, the French multinational telecommunication company.  To be fair, Orange is already present in many African countries.  It was one of the most important companies in Senegal when I lived there.  The interesting element here is that Orange is also negotiating the use of the fiber optic wiring.

Now, some fascinating, at least from my perspective, statistics.  As of December 2013, cell phone penetration was at 65% for the country as a whole.  Obviously, it is higher in the cities than in the country side.  But more fascinating yet is that between 2008 and 2013 what is referred to here as the cell phone density increased from 21.57% to 64,89%.  Not bad for a country that is dirt poor.

This means that there are over 11 million phone numbers in action in a country of 17 million people.  I jokingly said to this chap who is helping me find my way through information to write these articles that only those below 5 years of age don’t have a cell phone.  He looked at me seriously and said, yes, just about.  He was also joking.

In fact, the truth is that many Burkinabès have two cell phones.  Or one cell that takes two cards.  We’ll get back to that.

Airtel is the company that sees its part of the market increasing the fastest.  Indeed, in 2012 the Airtel card was the most sought after.  The other interesting fact is that the government requires that all cell phone companies operating on its territory increase cell phone density every year.  And they do follow with each company to ensure that this requirement is respected.

In a country as poor as Burkina where the installation of a land line can take up to 6 months, unless you are willing to do what is needed to speed up the process (read bribe), it is no wonder that cell phones are selling like hot cakes.  Cell phones are not expensive either.

Cell phone kiosks, or shacks, are a dime a dozen.  Add to this a large number of street vendors that will assault you when you walk out of a store or restaurant to sell you a cell phone.  And honestly, these cell phones, aside from the ‘chinoiserie’, a French play on word referring to products made in China but that have little quality, are decent and solid.  A bona fide Nokia cell phone, really basic (call and text) will cost you about 15,000FCFA or about $31.50 Canadian dollars.  On the other hand, you can get a BlackBerry for less than 50$.

But it is a ‘chinoiserie’ and as my grand-mother used to say, you get what you pay for.  My poor friend Lydia saw her ‘BlackBerry’ die on her less than 24 hours after she bought it.  Evidently, there is no use going back to the kiosk where she bought it to exchange it.  Guarantees do not exist here for most goods bought in stores or in the streets, or are not respected.  Unless you buy at the brand name store.  Then you are covered. Sometimes.  Not always.