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Capital Business


To buy a Chinaware or not –the checks


July 5, 2010 – When asked why they sell cheap electronic products to Kenyans, a Chinese acquaintance answered, “We don’t sell cheap products. We sell products Kenyans can afford.” Hate or like them, the Chinese phones have changed the telecommunication industry.

Most pundits argue that introduction of cheap phones was the game changer in the mobile telecommunications sector. “Mobile phone got real penetration when the gadget cost came down to $35,” the Economist Magazine, September 2009.

The impact is immense. With as little as KSh. 2,000, one can afford a data-enabled phone with an FM radio. Add a little more and you have one with TV, dual SIM (can support two SIM cards), Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capable, camera and a bunch of other cool features.

At a time when disposable income is diminishing, chinaware is the preferred choice.  Even if it is for a short time. Even people who can afford non-chinaware have joined the bandwagon. “You feel less pain when a cheap phone is stolen,” said one user.

Most of the modem people use to surf the internet have a ‘made in China’ label. Their popularity is on an upward roar given the increase in demand for internet. It is no wonder one person commented, “Were Chinese to recall their products, most mobile phone companies would crumble.”

Why is chinaware cheap? Most people suggest that Chinese copy other well-established technologies to reduce the cost of designing the products’ blueprint. However, experts point out that China takes advantage of the highly available cheap labour for mass production. Economies of scale results ensuring cost reduction. 

To play the devils advocate, some Chinese phones are good while others are bad. Some checks will help separate the wheat from the chuff.   

The first rule is ‘trust, but verify’. Check with people who have used a similar item before and learn from their experience. Most will tell you that the phones function as claimed in marketing blurbs, but have an expiry date of less than one year.

Our learned friends’ ‘read the fine print’ warning still applies. Chinaware has been the excuse for selling fake products. Make sure you can get a manufacturer’s licence and some warranty agreement. Decent shops like supermarkets’ phone selling points have such agreements. Avoid some River Road phone vendors.

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Talking of fine print, make sure you get an English manual. Most manuals are available in Chinese. A Manual will save you a great deal since Chinese phones are somehow complex to operate. The complexity stem from lack of common standards in their production.

Chinese data enabled phones require manual activation by your preferred mobile service provider. Automatic internet activation requires knowledge of the IMEI number. Eight out of 16 digits of the IMEI number identify the type of a phone ( called Type Allocation Code or TAC)For example all Samsung phones have similar TAC. However, Chinese phone lacks specific TAC that uniquely identifies hence the IMEI has to keyed-in manually in services providers infrastructure. So, make sure your vendor activates the internet before opening your wallet. 

Looks can be deceiving. Most chinaware are cloned to have the same appearance with some higher end phones. However, the underlying technology is different. You might find the Operating System (the brain of a computing system) wanting in some aspects. Next time do not be surprised when Nokla E-series does not have similar gaming options as Nokia E-series.  

Of course you can thank us for these tips or take us to task. Will be happy to know what you think. Questions are also welcome.

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