Sunday, August 30, 2009

Rape of the Sri Lankan consumer: Mobitel Google Apps

[There are many scenarios where various corporations rape local consumers in various ways. I'm going to start a series of blogs on such activities with the hope of helping Sri Lankan consumers be more smart and not pay extra for things they don't need to pay (extra) for!]

Recently Mobitel, the 2nd largest (I think) mobile operator in Sri Lanka, launch a commercial version of Google Apps with the brand Mobitel M3 Apps. From everything I have read and understand, Mobiletel M3 Apps is the same as the Google Apps that anyone with an address gets free, except: (a) you get a email address, (b) you get the ability to have subsidiary accounts, (c) you get to pay Rs. 50/month (which is apparently a special offer for this year) and (d) its all tied to your Mobitel account so if you cancel that you lose everything after 60 days. I got this info from their FAQ; if any of it is wrong I'm sure someone from Mobitel will correct it :-).

This is not full Google Apps. We (WSO2) are now paying customers of Google Apps (at $50/user/year .. roughly 10x what Mobitel is charging) and as long as we pay them the service will remain. Furthermore, most importantly, we own our domain and if Microsoft were to offer a better service (for example) and if we wanted to switch, we can do it without affecting our public face at all.

This is the importance of owning your own domain. That's why I set up this blog under my name - after moving twice (from Radio Userland to Bloglines and then to Blogger) I didn't want to be stuck with the same problem if I wanted to move again.

So any person who ties their email address to the ISP is IMO making a HUGE mistake. Email addresses, Web sites, blogs are all part of your personal or your organization's Internet personality. Why give that to an ISP as a hostage?? Makes no sense at all any more.

Its one reason to do it if its free. However, to pay money and do it? Absolutely not!

That brings me to my second rant about this service- unless I'm missing something crucial, the only advantage I get over simply using GMail and the other free Google Apps with an address is that I get to have "subsidiary" accounts under the same account. However, they too are under Huh? How are those subsidiary accounts different from random other accounts under They're not .. the only difference is a billing convenience for Mobitel: they get to charge for all the accounts under one Mobitel account.

So, here we have our #2 mobile company advertising away saying "Pay us Rs. 100 to sign up and Rs. 50/month" so you can get all this cool stuff. (That's approximately $1 and $0.50, respectively.) EXCEPT, all that cool stuff is TOTALLY free for all people on the Internet!!!! All you need to pay for is bandwidth.

So what Mobitel is doing is conning uninformed local subscribers that they need to pay for these services. This is utter crap and a total rape of the consumer.

From Google's point of view this is great I guess- all they need to do is support another domain (which is trivial) and they get some cash out of something they give away free. Its our stupidity for using that stuff; not Google's fault at all. I suspect there are lots of other greedy corporates in other relatively poor, developing countries where the execs see a way to sell free stuff to the uninformed masses too. Not exactly compatible with "do no evil" but I guess it is compatible with "see no evil, hear no evil."

Just say no.


isura said...

Hi Sanjiva,
I got the same feeling. As an ardent user of gmail, and its userbility, I immediately found they are selling free stuff with camouflage.

Thanks for the thorough information on the same.

Shabith Ishan Thennakone said...

great post sanjiva.
I believe they should give this service free for their customers.
If they want to expand their client base.

Ruwan Fernando said...

Great post Sanjiva - look forward to the rest of the series!

Thiru Cumaran said...

I had this same feeling when I first saw the ad on a newspaper...they are cheating the customer out of their money...besides, who would want to have a stupid mobitel account which they will lose when they leave the service when they can just get a gmail account whereby they can get all the features for free and, in addition to that, they will be able to keep the account wherever they go (even if they go to Samoa!).

Shame on you, Mobitel!

Unknown said...

every ISPs and GSM networks are raping their consumers either way... But Mobitel is SMART... they are SMART RAPERS... lol

Sanjiva Weerawarana said...

Just to be clear - I'm NOT at all against an ISP offering value added services to make some money. There's no future being a dumb bit pipe; they have to do more.

However, my problem is with Mobitel apparently trying to do so by selling a service that's available free to anyone on the net.

Scipio the 2nd said...

I completely agree. This is just like unscrupulous companies that repackage and sell freely available open source software for a profit.

Ruki said...

We already use Google Apps like Google Calender & still we are using it without paying any cents or register M3 apps with Mobitel. I put a blog article in July, & then Mobitel launch this M3 apps with Google in August.

Keerthi Bandara said...

100% agree. I can't imagine why people need to pay for such a stupid mail address i.e. with google app which is totally free.

The only thing they've done is registering a domain name under .lk domain and configured it with google apps.

Nothing significant. Useless....poor customers.

N said...

Fair enough Sanjiva. cheers for the note. I should agree its a case of free vs paying here.

But I presume you are closer to Dialog Telekom in terms of associating management on profesional terms of being on teams and panels and conferences. Is that affectig your bias here?

Kirigalpoththa said...


Sadly the public who have very limited knowledge about ICT facilities are the most vulnerable for this kind of plots by service providers.

Very good post and awaiting the next one :)

Sanjiva Weerawarana said...

@Natasha: Not sure why my being on a panel with Hans (CEO of Dialog, who yes I do know) has anything to do with this. If Dialog were re-selling freely available webapps for a fee to the local audience, I'd write the same.

ISPs have a tremendous opportunity to be part of the SaaS revolution and make tons of money doing so. However, selling free stuff to an ignorant audience is not the way to do it.

Unknown said...

It is certainly a rip off.Do not fall for it.Good work Sanjiva

K FLYER said...

@sanjiva -

And die hard Mobitel fans came finding my way to start a battle with me, for shaming their beloved network.

gama said...

gama said...

stupid post.
dont try to fool people. this is for proffesionals. not to e mail friends and girls. will gmail or yahoo will varify the person? can you give your yahoo or gmail address to any reputed institute? no one will accept. but mobitel will confirm the identity of the owner.

Nishadha said...

I agree 100% and I was wondering whether consumer protection or any other authority in Sri Lanka can do something about it , this is outright cheating uninformed customers

Unknown said...

is google offering this as a service for resale?

Google Advertisement said...

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Please Dont use Mobitel broadband

Click on this link and see my print screen . All Firefox tabs are loading check the upload and download Speed

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Manohan said...

Hi Sanjiva,

I read your blog for the first time when I Googled to check-out the Mobitel Google Apps service. When I originally looked at the advertisements I too felt that Mobitel may have been selling something that was available free to the average internet user. After going through the FAQ sheet available, and checking out the Google Apps page I did identify some value addition that separates the Mobitel offering from the free Google Apps offering. The items I identified were:

1. The amount of space offered for mail on the Mobitel package was about 3 times the amount offered by Gmail directly (7.5 GB versus 2.5 GB. Of course the 2.5 GB grows over time. Currently after about 3 years the space allocated by Gmail to my address is 3.5 GB.) This is of course less than the 25 GB limit provided by the premier version of Google Apps which costs US$50 per user.

2. The FAQ identifies the credibility factor of a Mobitel address, 24X7 customer support,SPAM control and lack of advertisements as being of benefit to the user.

3. The ability to forward SMS to email appears to have some value, particularly with the increased use of bundled packages with large allocation for SMS.

4. The Calendar to SMS feature also appears to have some value.

Ultimately the consumer has to decide whether these additional features are worth the US$ 6 payment per year. After all Google themselves charge US$ 50 for a Premier package based on differentiation. It is up to the customer to decide whether the $50 is money well spent. Surely nobody has accused Google of raping their customers -- or at least not to my knowledge?

I guess your characterization of Mobitel as rapists is a tad unfair. While the strong use of advocacy and polemic is attractive in generating an audience, given your excellent credentials a more objective analysis of the differences in the service, and a subjective assessment of whether such differences merited value, may have been somewhat more useful to your reader.

Just so as to get my independence credentials out there -- yes I do have accounts with both Dialog and Mobitel and love the service given by both companies. They are both wonderfully innovative companies and us Sri Lankan consumers are lucky that they fight each other tooth and nail to provide us with excellent value.

itsme-zam said...

Mobitel is selling free stuff with camouflage? They are cheating the customer?

You experts know about email2sms ri8! Each phone capable of text-messaging actually has an “email address” to which we can send a message. Unfortunately in Sri Lanka, other operators such as Dialog, Tigo etc. are not providing this service for free, but Mobitel is offering this service for free.

So what you say about this?

More info at my blog send free sms and mms

itsme-zam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

mobitel knows they are trying to con sri lanka ppl by charging for what is offered free. This is a big mistake by Mobitel.

NOTE: those who signed up are now asking the service to be discontinued. 5 of my colleuges are.

those who came up with this Mobitel Google App idea are real idiots and they know it. They are trying to tie their name with a global Giant. And this global giant had brains unlike Mobitel and are milking mobitel coz they should be charging Mobitel a bit for each customer sign up or use.

No brains Mobitel! Who came up with the idea?

Nish™ said...

Yes you are 100% correct on this. i am using Google apps since 2007 and i have integrated this to many clients for free.
but i am wonder what mobitel is doing now.

do you know domain has been purchased by a Sri Lankan?

Wonder Sri Lanka !

Chathuranga Chandrasekara said...

Now most of the service providers support calling to Skype and GTalk.

This is an example :

I don't see anything complex here other than "bridging" a Skype call with a "conventional" call. The user have to pay the air time charge to service provider + for the internet bandwidth, that is fair.

But the problem here lies with the tax. They charge all the IDD taxes applicable with the International Calls. I don't see any rationale behind that. This feature does not utilize any PSTN resources. And do all Skype users supposed to be in abroad? :P