30 July, 2010

Etisalat, eLife and unfair marketing practices

I called Etisalat this afternoon regarding their eLife services which I have posted about previously and have come to some interesting conclusions. Most of all the information provided on their website and the wording that they have chosen, as well as the unavailability of proper information appears to be unfair for consumers.

The information Etisalat offers is as follows:
  • There will be a 100 GB LIMIT on the UNLIMITED eLife packages
  • They claim that it is under test and have no idea when it will be implemented
  • They have no idea how it will be implemented (i.e. what happens after bandwidth limit)
  • They have no idea of what the costs associated with such a limit would be
How are consumers meant to make informed decisions with their purchases when Etisalat is holding back information in such a way? Especially when eLife is offered with a 12 month contract.

Technically speaking Etisalat is offering an unlimited connection at this moment, however they have already previously mentioned things like fair usage policies and such on their website which they have since removed which is a little bit more than suspicious (in that it seems they are trying to make customers purchase an 'unlimited' connection on a 12 month contract that is going to be limited in the near future while making no solid information available).

At the moment there is no actual mention of any limitations at all on their website and this information is only available via phone; there is one webpage regarding the FUP (fair usage policy) however it is no longer linked to anywhere on the site and it makes no mentions of prices or any technical or solid information whatsoever.

I particularly find it interesting that the TRA is always so adamant about 'protecting consumers' when it comes to Skype or security threats on BlackBerry Messenger, but don't seem to do much of anything when it comes to actual consumers. Their policies make for interesting reading...
"2.1 Price Transparency Before Service Offering
2.1.1 Prior to offering service to consumers, licensees shall disclose the
(a) all prices that may apply, including deposits and pre-payments;

Etisalat had no idea when I called what the prices of additional bandwidth would be. Which means they are offering a service to customers without being able to inform customers of what pricing will actually be. This means that Etisalat is not being transparent in their pricing.
"2.2.2 When a Licensee offers a service which is priced per a certain number of usage units or in another similar manner, that Licensee shall provide the functionality for consumers to know their available units."

Etisalat does not currently offer any method for tracking bandwidth usage. To be fair they do not actually have a bandwidth limit yet, however if they are offering people a service that will be limited in the near future it would be considered fair to provide consumers with this service right now so they may ascertain the accuracy and functionality of such a service and also tailor their internet usage to fit any future limits.

"2.3 General Publication Requirements
2.3.1 Licensees shall publish, in a form easily available to consumers,
the prices for its services offered to consumers.
2.3.2 The information shall be published in a manner that is up-to-date
and easy to understand.
2.3.3 Where Licensees make more than one service offer for the same
service, they shall make available the prices in a manner that enables
consumers to compare the various offers.
2.3.4 Licensees shall provide a means for consumers to contact licensees
for further price information."
"2.1 No marketing communication or practice shall, or be likely, to mislead, confuse or deceive consumers by inaccuracy, ambiguity, exaggeration, omission or otherwise."

Etisalat's elife packages are displayed on their website as UNLIMITED yet are going to be LIMITED.

I ask you, is it "easy to understand" or "accurate" when a service is offered as unlimited when it is actually going to be limited?

The dictionary definition of unlimited for those of you who are interested:


not limited; unrestricted; unconfined: unlimited trade.
boundless; infinite; vast: the unlimited skies.
without any qualification or exception; unconditional."

The usage of the term 'unlimited' in telecommunications marketing has already proven contentious in other countries, yet the TRA has taken no action against Etisalat for it.

"11.1 References to prices, services, terms and conditions, or comparisons thereof, shall be clear and transparent and shall not mislead or deceive or be likely to mislead or deceive consumers."
(Taken from TRA Marketing and Communications Policy)

Obviously when Etisalat uses the language 'unlimited' consumers are going to be mislead into believing they are paying for an internet connection without limits when it will in fact have limits. 
"2.3 Any footnotes or disclaimers in marketing communications or practices
shall be readily visible and legible, audibly apparent and understandable
and shall not contradict, materially qualify or otherwise alter the basis of
the communication or practice.
This limit is mentioned nowhere on their website. The only specific terms and conditions that I could find was a simple "terms and conditions apply" which appeared to be in reference a special offer, Etisalat did not expand upon the terms and conditions for that promotion on their website. Etisalat's terms and conditions PDF makes absolutely no mention of any future bandwidth limitations or fair usage policy and does not fairly warn consumers of what they may end up paying.

"8.1 Marketing communications and practices shall not exploit the credulity,
lack of knowledge or inexperience of consumers."

This last part is what it all comes down to. Etisalat is offering a service which will be limited in the future and is not making adequate information available to consumers, furthermore, consumers who are not technically savvy will not understand the implementation of a fair usage policy on a connection that is described as "unlimited", especially when Etisalat has made little effort to inform customers of what the actual fair usage policy is and provide any solid information. Their usage of the term "UNLIMITED" is a sham and is deceiving and taking advantage of consumers who will be caught unaware when the fair usage policy is introduced. (Etisalat has already previously written on their site that the fair usage applies which would mean some customers believe the FUP is in effect when it currently isn't and this would be detrimental to people wanting to use their connection freely without fear of incurring extra costs)

Etisalat also refuses to offer telephone and internet services under seperate billing with eLife. I have read reports online of Etisalat forcing customers to abandon their Al Shamil internet service (which is just an internet service and does not include telephone connections) and this in itself is alarming. I have also been told by Etisalat's 101 number that some Etisalat business centers are no longer offering Al Shamil at all.
6.2.5 Anti-competitive bundling or tying – bundling or tying products or services offered in Relevant Markets, and which by doing so does or may restrict, prevent, or distort competition in one or more of those Relevant Markets or another Relevant Market;

This means, hypothetically, if you moved house and only had eLife and no traditional copper services you would have to purchase phone and internet from your ISP (in a bundle) and would have no method to subscribe to each individually. Given the upcoming interconnection between Etisalat and Du this would mean a very anti-competitive situation in which you may have to purchase two phone lines to get better offers from different providers.

EDIT: It appears based upon information on du's website and their customer support line they are doing the same forced phone/internet bundling with their 'real broadband' packages.
du said on the phone that they have no information about what would be available (i.e. whether seperate telephone/internet connections would be offered) when the interconnection starts.

This potentially means (as a worst case scenario) at the start of the upcoming interconnection (apparently in a few weeks?) will leave customers already in 12 month contracts unable to usefully purchase individual services from other providers without doubling up on services they already have, although lets see what happens.

du and Etisalat's "real broadband" / eLife packages both come with 12 month contracts. For me as an Etisalat customer this is a problem. If I were to hypothetically sign up for eLife tomorrow, and then du made phone lines available in my area in 6 months time I would be disadvantaged for wanting to use the competitors services because I am in a 12 month contract that forcefully bundles both phone and internet services.

Additionally, du also said on the customer support line that there is no bandwidth limit on their 'real broadband' packages, they have also stated on twitter that there is no fair usage policy.

"6.2.9 Anti-competitive customer lock-in - locking-in customers through unduly long-term contracts, and which by doing so does or may restrict, prevent, or distort competition in a Relevant Market;"

(Taken from TRA Competition Safeguards Policy)

"2.1.2 Where a service is packaged with another service and/or product, licensees shall inform consumers of the price they would pay if they obtained that service and/or product from licensees separately and of any additional conditions or restrictions that apply."
What can you do? There are other TRA policies that do hopefully protect the consumer;
2.2.4 Licensees shall notify consumers individually, at least twenty-eight (28) calendar days prior to any price increase or any change that has the effect of a price increase.
2.2.5 Licensees shall offer consumers the opportunity to terminate their contracts without penalties before an increase in prices takes effect.

This means that when Etisalat changes their price they must announce it to consumers and you have the right to discontinue services without incurring any penalty for terminating your contract. However, as Etisalat seems intent on preventing people from making separate subscriptions to telephone/internet/etc you may find yourselves out of options in a country that supposedly doesn't have a telecommunications monopoly anymore.


Anonymous said...

Have you reported this to the TRA? They have an effective consumer complaints process. Alternatively, you could raise these issues directly with the TRA's legal affairs department and regulatory affairs departments through the TRA's "complaints and suggestions" link on the website: http://www.tra.gov.ae/complaints_system.php.

Proud Emirati said...

Well researched samuraisam, hope someone can address this to the TRA.

I called Etisalat few weeks back and one of them had no idea what fair usage policy is while the other said that they might implement it before the end of the year and now its under the IT department.

I asked him about the contract and he said that there is no mentioning about this policy; however; it still has an article where it says that Etisalat can change the tariff without prior notice.

samuraisam said...

anonymous: No I haven't. If someone else wants feel free.

Proud Emirati: I found an Etisalat blog that says implementation is in September 2010 and the price per GB over the cap is going to be 25 AED. But this is the same price for the lowest package so I'm not 100% confident this is the actual price/date. In any case, their phone operators still don't know about it.

And Etisalat cannot change the price without prior notice, they must inform you 28 days prior, this is written in Etisalat's own eLife/etc terms and conditions policy. What they don't point out is that you have the right to cancel your contract without penalty during this time (at least according to TRA)

Anonymous said...

It is very unfair from the part of etisalat to call its customers and say that your monthly charges are going to be changed from Dhs.150 Dhs. / month to Dhs. 299/month...How a customer can accept doubling the charge suddenly, when he do not want any other facilities from Etisalat,except an internet connection...?

I think the other telecom companies in any country will not increase their price and behave like this...It is too much shame on them..

Anonymous said...

does this bandwidth cap apply to any of the ordinary al shamil package or just the elife pacakges

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine is working in Etisalat E-life (Sales Dept) and he told me that the sales staff is asked to call individual customers and tell them that Etisalat will be migrating them from Shamil to E-life package immediately. Normally a customer will have no option and will be fooled by the staff and will migrate. Whereas, if you object, the sales staff will not force you because they can't do it without your approval.

I got a call a call recently and the guy was like 'Sir, we will be migrating your Shamil to E-life service as this is compulsory'. And I told him that I work for Etisalat and I know that this is not compulsory. To which the guy apologized and hung up.

Mohammad said...

100 GB per month = 40.45 KBps

40.45 KBps = 323.63 kbps

KBps: Kilo Bytes per second
kbps: kilo bits per second.

Etisalat's 512 kbps Al-Shamil costs 189 per month allowing about 60 KBps.

Anonymous said...

Today Etisalat ppl called me and said they are upgrading from Alshamil to elife , so these are having this much advantage and its better u can avail now otherwise it will be automatically converted into Elife by the end of Dec. 2010. Is it true.?????? If i dont want to take elife (as it cost more for one person usage), can anybudy know better than tell here. Also i need landline in home, can they give separtely????

s.ahmed said...

To anonymous from anonymous ;)

Don't fall for what the Customer Service guy tells you. Someone I know received a similar call stating it is compulsory and when the person at the receiving end was not heeding to the persuasion, the customer services gal asked him for his license number stating that she needs to update it in the system. He was naive to share the license number. Next day it was found that the account was converted to e-life without permission. It was later understood that the reason for taking the License number (or some personal information) was a proof the etisalat call person will hold (in their system) that you have confirmed to convert. So everyone please don't share any details [in my case she (very arrogant)asked for my flat number which I didnt share]

Anonymous said...


wow! im confused!
whats the difference between
KBps and kbps aside from the capital letters and the spelling of bits and bytes?

Anonymous said...

They sent me a bill of 900 aed instead of 149 shamel, claiming that i upgraded my package then after 7 month of follow up, plus they cut my service for 4 month because i was not paying the frauded bill, while still charging me, finally they admited its a problem with their billing system

Anonymous said...

I had al shamil connection and seperate e-vision connection & my life was smooth. One day a sales man came telling about benefits of elife. Looking at charges I refused to have elife. Then he said Alshamil is going to stop. The 1st forcible imposition of elife by etisalat. No othe roption. Then I got connection of e life double pay and seperate e-vision. I had additional e-vision for bedroom. My total billing was 299+e-vision 80. Then they started calling for triple pay connection. They said same basic channels I will continue to get. But for my surprise what was there in earlier e-vision basic was not there in elife tripple tv basic. So many cartoon channels, movie channels were missing. To get I have to pay 20 AED more. Plus for additional connection (tv only) in bed room I will have to pay AED 40 more. So total monthly billing will be 339+20+40= 399. Almost AED400. All these without actually without willing out of compulsion. Etisalat is squeezing customers pockets like anything.

Anonymous said...

I got a call from their sales agents too about al shamil being stopped & compulsory conversion to e-life at that time I didn't know why she wanted my passport no but I wasn't interested. All of a sudden I started getting these SMS saying my e life request us being processed so I complained on 101. They told me some sales people are forcing e life on customers just to meet their sales targets. This happened both in feb & march & still I keep getting calls. I have stopped picking up my phone for unknown numbers... This is such a hassle. I just hope someone can stop this harassment.

s.ahmed said...

The modus-operandi looks like same and the reference you have made is to a 'she'. Perhaps it is the same person. The best would be to take your reference number for the complaint and lodge a complaint through TRA website and so far (in two cases), they are seen quite effective. Good luck

Anonymous said...

Add the fact that yet after about 2 years, Etisalat has still not availed the eLife service in many of Dubai's major areas including Warqa where I think Mirdif as well. Why does Etisalat keep coming up with promotions on eLife when they cannot even provide the service after all these months of waiting?

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