Experiencing dropped calls and iffy 4G? Don’t blame your service provider. It’s probably your phone.

Experiencing dropped calls and iffy 4G?  Don’t blame your service provider.  It’s probably your phone.

Many times someone you know complains that their phone is unreliable. Calls just spontaneously drop and network connectivity just drops from 4G to 3G or even 2G without warning.

I remember in 2015 I bought an LG G4 and it was a 4G compatible device. However, when I put my NetOne Sim on it, it couldn’t connect to 4G even though it did with an Econet Sim.

I also had an LG G6 and it didn’t have wireless charging because that feature was only available on Korean models. But why is it not standard? To understand this, we need to understand the big picture. The world image.

market region

The world may be geographically divided into continents, but economically it is divided into different market regions. Each of these regions has slightly different features and legislation, so in the interest of being affordable and compliant, manufacturers will only add features to a device that align with that region’s features.

For example, Google services don’t work in China, which means all phones made for China won’t come with things like the Google Play store. In developed countries with good and stable economies, there is a presence of the device manufacturer that offers backup and support, but also insight into the characteristics of each market so that the devices they will stock in a particular market work as advertised. But Zimbabwe is not such a market anymore, is it?

The market is global

Some unique circumstances in Zimbabwe have meant that not many people buy their iPhones from Solution Center, an Apple Certified Reseller. Very few will buy their Xiaomi and Redmi smartphones from Mi Store Zimbabwe, a certified Xiaomi and Redmi reseller. This is because most Zimbabweans buy second-hand devices and most of these second-hand devices are imported from anywhere in the world.

The same goes for most Zimbabweans who buy new smartphones. They also buy them in the city malls where vendors get them from wherever they can get them at the cheapest price. Because the Zimbabwean market is a very price sensitive market, the only question we ask is if this is the lowest price I can get for this phone. But cheap is expensive. Let me show you something.

Same phone. Different prices. What’s the trick?

This is a Xiaomi Redmi Note 11 Pro. This is also a Xiaomi Redmi Note 11 Pro but made for China. They share the exact same name but have slightly different designs on the camera. Little things, right? Until you see what’s inside.

This is what the Global Redmi Note 11 Pro has that the China version does not have.

  • 18 4G bands supported instead of 12 in the Chinese version.
  • memory card support

And here’s what the Chinese version has that the global version doesn’t.

  • 5G
  • a more powerful processor
  • Video recording up to 4K
  • JBL tuned speakers
  • Wi-Fi 6 Compatibility
  • Bluetooth 5.2 latest
  • access to 5 more navigation satellites and more precise tri-band positioning
  • slightly larger battery

Yes, the global version may be a bit cheaper than the Chinese version, but look at how many additional features are available in the Chinese version. Features you won’t get through a software update. They almost seem like 2 different phones just reading the spec sheet and yet they are both called Xiaomi Redmi Note 11 Pro.

Penalty fee. Perhaps this is a convenient example. Let’s take a look at the Samsung Galaxy A53 5G. There are 2 variants of it. The SM-A536V and the SM-A536U.

The SM-A536U

  • support 5 more 4G bands
  • is compatible with Liquid home and Telone Sims

The SM-A536V

Both versions may or may not have NFC depending on the region they are sold in. And India is one of the regions where NFC is excluded from smartphones in case you were wondering.

And in an even more recent example. iPhones sold in China are dual sim accepting 2 physical SIM cards, while those sold elsewhere are single SIM cards. And in the iPhone 14 models, the ones sold in the The US will not come with a slot for a physical SIM card while iPhone 14 models everywhere else will have it.

If you look at the pattern, most of the differences you’ll find with these smartphones have to do with mobile network connectivity. Which is a big sore spot for many Zimbabweans. Their smartphones are simply not good at maintaining a stable connection to the network and one of the problems is that most of the smartphones used by Zimbabweans are not designed to operate efficiently in this region.

What’s the easiest way to ensure my phone doesn’t give me trouble?

It is very sad that in Zimbabwe smartphone manufacturers no longer have a direct presence apart from Tecno, Itel and Infinix. So for global brands we have to trust certified resellers who are:

These are the brands that will give you the least amount of trouble here and if they do, the stores have a direct link to the manufacturer so support is available. But this peace of mind won’t come cheap, so these stores won’t always offer the lowest price, either. However, if you feel that you are getting a more reliable communication tool and that reliability is of utmost importance to you, then you know that cheap is expensive. For those who are risk averse, these establishments are a very good place to start.

But to be fair. The quality of Zim’s mobile networks has deteriorated.

In 2017, I was running speed tests to get 72 Mbps download speeds on NetOne and 53 Mbps download speeds on Econet. These days the average is 20 to 30 Mbps at best. The day I was researching for this article, I was on a GSM call and the connection was so bad that we ended up switching to the WhatsApp call, which had much better call quality.

For quite some time now, the Zimbabwean smartphone space has been dominated by imports from places like China, Dubai and South Africa, but they still worked reasonably well with good compatibility with Zimbabwean networks. So it might be unfair to put all the blame on our imported smartphones.

What it looks like is that it’s a bit like a perfect storm. A combination of deteriorating network infrastructure and a majority of smartphones not designed for this region find their way to our borders. But one problem is easier to control than the other. And that’s just getting a device made for this region.

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