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MGG: The hassles of buying a mobile phone
By M.G.G. Pillai

22/10/2001 9:01 am Mon

[Ramai tidak sedar ujudnya sindiket pengimpotan selari (parallel import) yang berleluasa di Malaysia sehingga mereka kerap tertipu (dan ini termasuk pengedar aslinya juga!).
- Editor

The hassles of buying a mobile phone

My six-year-old Nokia mobile phone is on the skids; when its second-hand price is half the cost of a new battery, planned obsolescence is at hand. Since I have one for an emergency -- when you are my age, that is reason enough for one -- and to receive calls; I rarely call out, to, no doubt, Maxis' frustration. Given the deals one reads of in newspapers, it should have been a simple matter. It was anything but. I have always argued Malaysian business men are uninterested in service or keeping customers. You do them a favour to buy from them, and once you do, they do not want to know you anymore, especially if what you bought needs service or adjustment or is faulty. What should have taken me a couple of hours took ten times that over a week, and I did not buy the phone.

Tens of mobile phone dealers dot each shopping mall, with incredible offers with a catch: you have to register with an existing GSM mobile phone provider which in Malaysia is either Celcom or Maxis. If you already are, you get no concessions; in fact, you pay more. I telephoned Maxis to ask why. They did not know, but if I wanted to buy a phone at the special rate, I must re-register. I asked why existing customers could not exchange their outdated phones with new ones at the special prices. The young lady, trained to dispense idiotic and stupid answers to questions, was flummoxed. The Maxis executive I met at a dinner was even less helpful: that is the way modern commerce works, he said; without new registrations, Maxis would run at a loss. How he did not tell me, but I could guess.

But these explanations only make me angry. I asked him why, if this is so, I should register with Maxis, since I would have a new number, and I could as well Celcom. He said if I wanted to retain my Maxis number, that is not possible. Not so, of course. All you have to do is to use your Maxis SIM card instead. But you have this one extra number you do not need, and which can cause you endless trouble if it gets lost or into the wrong hands. I found a fellow who would sell me a mobile phone without registration in a deal that seemed, in the circumstances, fair. But the deal fell through when he would not give me an unopened Nokia box. He took a sealed mobile phone from a safe, and inserted a battery he took from among several in a bod. I mentioned my problems to a friend, who got me the phone I wanted for what I would pay. It was a parallel import, but with a network of dealers and service as good as Nokia's. I had a choice of one meant for the Taiwan market (with its Chinese only handbook) or the Philippines market, with its handbook in Tagalog and English. Since I had no insane desire to learn Chinese to buy a handphone, I took the other.

I found parallel imports a profitable line of business in Malaysia. Not only for mobile phones. They bypass the official network, sell their products cheaply, and a service network of some sophistication. It does not matter if what you want is a Mercedes Benz or a personal computer. There are agents in Malaysia who could give you what you want, and often a better deal than from the official agents. A friend recently bought an imported car, a Fiat: the local agents only want, it seems, to sell cars but not after-sales service. He takes the car for the free service to maintain the guarantee, but his regular workshop keeps it in good running order.

I had not realised, until I was in the market for one, how widespread this parallel import is, and not for mobile phones alone. You are warned of void guarantees if you did not follow what it instructs you, and have it serviced other than at its authorised workshop. Does it matter? My old Nokia phone is still in working condition. I expect my new phone too. If it develops a fault, I can get it repaired or service in quicker time than with the official agent. The Nokia official agent warned me of all this. But when I took what I bought to him, he was in no doubt that it was an official product, since I did not show him the giveaway handbook. When I told him it was a parallel import, he just shrugged his shoulders. He said it could not be traced, unless you check the registration numbers. And who has the time for that? But could either Maxis or Celcom tell me why I should be penalised if I buy a mobile phone for a number I had already registered?

M.G.G. Pillai