Wednesday, January 19, 2011

In Search of a Cell Phone

Yesterday, Brian and I decided to get our personal cell phones and headed off to one of the two cell phone providers in UAE, Etisalat. Yes, you read that correctly, there are only two cell phone providers in UAE and actually, they're both owned by the same parent company. You can buy phones in many different locations, but service is provided only through Etisalat or Du Telecom. Another fun tidbit, Etisalat has 3 plans to choose from and then you can add-on additional local, international, texts or data minutes to each of the standard plans. Even I could figure out just from their brochures what I needed (at US Cellular, I had to have the sales rep spell it out for me because there were so many different options). Unfortunately, the wireless industry's clarity stops there, as we experienced when trying to set up phone service. I was quickly reminded of my worst trip to the DMV in the states.

We wanted to do 4 things while at Etisalat: 1) get me an iPhone and plan; 2) change Brian's current pay as you go to a regular plan; 3) activate 2 Epic phones; and 4) recharge the cards for 2 more Epic phones.

1) get me an iPhone: We were told to wait in line at the equipment counter and did, although, "line" is a loose term here. We stood in what we thought looked like a reasonable line only to watch one gentleman step in front of all of us and start his business at the desk (I was vindicated when I saw him still there almost a full hour later!)  When we finally did get to the counter we were told they are out of iPhones, have no idea when they'll get more in, do not have any kind of waiting list, and that when they do get in, they typically sell out within 2 hours. Okay, strike one. I picked up a few brochures so I could compare prices with other phones available and decide if the iPhone was worth waiting for.

2) change Brian's plan: For this transaction, we had to go to the 3rd floor and take a number. We were number 298 ... and they just called 270 (sigh). Okay, let's see if we can take care of the other items while we're waiting.

3) activate 2 Epic phones & 4) recharge the cards: Off to the 4th floor to take another number and wait.

We waited ... and waited ... and ran out of time. Another Epic employee was with us and he had to get back to the hotel for an 8pm call to the States with the moving company, so we had to bail on both lines and start again the next morning.

On the way out, we saw an automated machine that allows you to buy a recharge card for your phones. We thought, great, we'll at least get one of the fours things done from our list! Brian worked through the prompts and got to the payment screen - we owed 50 AED. We tried to feed in our 20 AED note and couldn't ... the machine would only take a 50 AED note (ugh!!) So, back home we went zero for four!!

The next morning, Brian went by himself to Etisalat and the lines were much shorter. He did get his plan partway changed - they have to change one piece of the plan, activate the phone again and then he has to return in a few hours to finish the process. Still no iPhones and I hadn't yet decided on another option, so 1) still isn't finished, and he did get the other Epic phones straightened out. Whew!!

While we still don't have our phone project complete, we're getting closer ... and learned a valuable lesson about doing business in UAE ... patience!!

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