Telecommunications in Malawi is very different to what I’m used to in UK and also Hong Kong.
After 2 weeks here, I think I’ve finally made some sense of how it works…
There are 2 main operators: Airtel and TNM.
Hardly anybody goes on subscription contracts, which is the norm in UK and HK. Instead, it’s all pay-as-you-go (PAYG). Though strangely, they do actively market BlackBerrys on contract. So you’ll find top-up vouchers being sold by the ubiquitous men in red Airtel or green TNM jackets, usually at a coordinated, equally brightly coloured table and sombrero.
As a group of new “azungu”s (foreigner/white person), 2 things my group of VSO volunteers wanted and enquired about upon arrival, was a mobile phone sim card and a USB dongle to connect our laptops to the Internet. Both of which, will be Airtel or TNM of course.
Cross network calls are expensive. So the locals usually carry 2 phones. 1 on each network: numbers beginning 099 for Airtel, 088 for TNM. The relatively well-off office workers also carry 2 dongles. Apparently Airtel is better for overall geographical coverage (and marketing) but TNM is faster in cities. Confused.com!
Anyway, all of our group went for Airtel but bought our sim cards at a couple of different places, which was a blessing in disguise because: A. The sim cards aren’t sold at a set price (albeit, it was cheap – MWK 250) B. We didn’t all have sequential phone numbers!
P.S. On Saturday, my house-mate and I were doing some food shopping in ShopRite, which is one of the main supermarkets in Lilongwe city centre (Old Town). For those in the UK, ShopRite is basically Asda but more chaotic. We were in the drinks aisle when there was a power cut and we descended into total darkness! That was a first for me. For a second, I thought I was in an episode of The Walking Dead!