We live on a hilltop in Amman and usually cell phone reception is pretty good. I remember a few years ago people would actually park outside our house and make calls. This we thought was strange at first, until of course we discovered it was a hot spot for calling international and getting a clear signal.
Since 2005, our building had agreed to put an Xpress cell phone tower up on the roof in exchange for annual payments. This didn’t really affect my reception with Orange. I should mention now that I have a good (and brand spanking new) phone and that I’m a subscriber with Mobilecom, or what is now called Orange.
I came back to Jordan in January of this year and for several weeks, companies such as Mobilecom (orange), Fastlink (zain) and Umniah (umniah), were debating with the tenants to let them put another tower on top of our roof. Negotiations fell through, I think over a price they were unwilling to pay, which was actually quite average.
A few weeks later both Fastlink and Mobilecom discovered a better solution to the problem these stubborn and uncooperative neighbors posed.
They set up these trailer park boxcars with large antennas, just across the street from us, on the tip of the hip, just off the street.
So basically, within 100 meters of our apartment (if not less), there are two, yes two, giant cell phone antennas.
Now I’ll be the first to confess that what I know of cell phone technology is limited but it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that my sudden loss of signals (and by sudden I mean the moment after they began operating) has something to do with all these antennas.
I get messages often times an hour after they were sent. Phone calls are a constant struggle to not move my head because I’ve tilted it just in the right position to hear the other person barely talking to me on the other end. In my room, the far right corner, in the 40 centimeter gap between my closet and the wall, is the only place where I can get some sort of reception.
The same can be said of most of the house.
I’ve tried several phones to no avail.
Any one who comes over, experiences the same problem.
At first it was just a daily nuisance that I figured would resolve itself. Many of the neighbors stopped by to ask whoever they saw working near these boxcars, what the heck they were doing and when they’d be taking them down. They were typically told to mind their own business. At one point, a female neighbor of ours almost got into a fight with one of these workers. Essentially, we all concluded it was temporary; that they were testing out the area or something. But then months rolled by and the towers of Babel remain
So I call up Orange, because they’re my mobile carrier and land line operator after all. They tell me “we’ll get back to you”.
I hung up knowing they wouldn’t.
So I waited outside (in the bushes) until one of the technicians came by to check on the trailer. I ambushed him with several questions to see what information I could get. These are the following points from our conversation in the order of the discussion:
Are you aware of the problem?
1) Don’t worry about it. It will better in a little while (today).
Why is the reception so bad?
2) This area has become condensed with more building (obstructions) and more cell phone users. So that leads to bad reception and that’s why we need more of these towers in the area.
But I used to get great reception before you put these up a few months ago. Plus, I live across the street on the highest building around here.
3) Then it’s not from us. It’s probably from Fastlink (Zain).
Why have these towers here on the ground anyways?
4) No one is willing to rent out their rooftop so we were forced to put them here. How else are we supposed to serve our customers?
But I’m one of your customers and not only am I not being served, I’m being hurt!
5) There’s nothing we can do about that. Try and convince one of your neighbors to let us put it on their roof.
Do you have a license?
6) There is no license, we don’t need a license. It’s not your land.
Who do I call or who can I talk to?
7) The CEO of Orange.
So apparently, at Orange, you have to talk to their CEO if you’re having reception problems. Also, what they do is they hold a neighbourhood hostage, essentially allowing for bad reception to continue until someone caves and allows them to put it on their roof. This conclusion is drawn on the basis that some of our neighbors, specifically those who are not living above the towers on the third or fourth floor, have approached the Orange people over these past few months and gotten similar answers to the similar questions I posed.
We have all called and called them over and over again.
They’ll get back to us.
For the longest time I blamed the GAM and/or the Ministry of Telecommunications for giving these people some sort of license that allowed them to operate on the curbside. But apparently they didn’t do that. However, their reluctance to do anything despite the complaints they’ve received, indicates to me one of two things: either they don’t care or certain strings have been pulled to ensure the situation continues.
So what’s the solution?
In a country whose economy is witnessing the beginnings of a service-led industry, and in a country where that service industry believes that the customer is never ever right; what do you do?
I’m not trying to change the nature of democracy here.
I just want to make a decent telephone call without having to do a headstand.