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On Saving Data with Safaricom’s Swift Squad

By now you might have seen that Swift Squad Ad on TV, or at least seen a tweet or a Facebook post on the same. I’ll admit to not making sense of the whole thing when I saw it on TV. For a second there I thought it was a sitcom promo but that is a stretch even for Safaricom’s standards.

My assumption was that it was just another one of Safaricom’s “product innovation” since they’ve been on a roll since last year – first coming up Blaze and more recently, Flex Bundles. Well, I couldn’t be further from the truth as I came to find out the other day.

Swift Squad – Keeping watch on your data?

swift squad

The swift squad as I’ve come to learn is not exactly a product. It’s merely a service to give you tips on how to save your data bundles seeing that you’ve sold your soul to Safaricom Data Plans.

Looking at the way the service is being advertised it’s easy to tell who they’re targeting with this service. Clearly it’s the youth as they comprise the bulk of the heavy data consumer, as well as the major complainant of “mysteriously gobbled up” data.

In this squad, you might have noticed we have 5 superheroes of sort – let’s call them the “Guardians of the Bundle” or simply “GOTB”. The GOTB universe features three guys and two gals: each bestowed the impossible task to guard your “world of bundles” from the 5 worst data eating villains in the universe – WhatsApp, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

The noble heroes are namely:

Snappy Sasha
WhatsApp Willy
Insta Irene
Facebook Freddy
Trending Tweet Timo

By the look of their names it obvious which world each of these superheroes is guarding. Conspicuously missing in action in the troupe, and to keep up with the English names, is “Tubey Trudy“, who I take it threw in the towel ages ago on account of being terribly outmatched by the worst villain yet: YouTube. I truly salute her,  she clearly is the only one that smelt the bullshit that the “gods” are orchestrating here.

Analogies aside, the basic idea behind this whole service is quite simple: get to spend more time on that popular social networking site now that you stand to “save” more on data. In other words, use more data now that you’re clearly making “huge saves”.

Lame Powers? Investigating the Alleged Superpowers of the Swift Squad

The data saving tips Safaricom is trying to popularize with this campaign is quite old news for some. First, the wonderful My Data Manager (not to be confused with the app of the same name) which stops internet use from consuming your airtime when your bundle runs out has been there for quite a while now.

That one even had a campaign of its own if my memory serves me right; so anybody who really cares about saving their data badly should have ideally turned this service on ages ago. Same thing applies to not opting for autorenew for bundles which is clearly listed on the USSD menu when making the subscription.

On the other hand, if you use any of the social media apps that our squad is “guarding” and have taken your time to look in the settings, then you must have stumbled on the following options to save on mobile data:

  • WhatsApp allows you to restrict the automatic download of media files (pics, videos) using mobile data. It also has a low data usage setting for voice calls.
  • The Instagram app has an option to use less data under Cellular Data Use.
  • With Snapchat, you can save on data by selecting Travel Mode under Manage Additional Services.
  • With Facebook and Twitter, Safaricom’s idea for you to save your data is by disabling autoplay for videos which can be done in your Account settings:
    • Facebook: Profile >> Help and Settings >> AutoPlay >> Never Autoplay Videos
    • Twitter : Settings and Privacy >> Data Usage >> Set Video Autoplay to Never

This is actually a good idea, but for the majority of people on mobile it’s actually useless since they’re likely using a lite browser (e.g. the data saviour that is Opera Mini) that don’t even support autoplay, or streaming video for that matter (seems that has changed now with the New Opera Mini for Android) .

A better way to save data on Facebook is to use the Facebook Lite app which according to Facebook saves on data when on mobile or slow networks while not compromising so much on the experience.

Additionally, both Facebook and Twitter have gone to the extent to zero rate their sites (stripped down versions) by partnering with various carriers. In Kenya that’s Airtel and  Orange (now Telkom) on FB.

So the way I see it, if Safaricom actually wanted you to save data, especially for people that actually need it, I don’t see why they can’t enter on a similar partnership with these platforms. Forgive me, but that’s not exactly a good idea if quarter-year profit projections are to be met!

The “Truth” On Saving Data

While I’m all for saving data I can’t help but feel that all this is quite counter-intuitive. This situation reminds me of our aforementioned data saviour, which while in the noble quest to compress as much data as possible, often ends up messing up the look and feel of countless sites on the web (this one included) or even sometimes not loading some pages at all.

Truth of the matter is that most people want to ideally have the best experience when browsing the web and using their social media apps – and that means loading high quality images and watching all those funny videos in reasonable quality.

We simply don’t want a compromise and that’s why we’d rather crowd in one spot to use free Wi-Fi or even employ the services of “mwitu bundles”.

So the real issue here as I see it, is not on saving data as it’s the exorbitant prices charged on data by networks – and as it’s common knowledge, Safaricom is the worst offender in this.

A most interesting fact in all this is that Safaricom is the only network on Kenya to have rolled out the high speed 4G/LTE in most parts of the country, and while you may not know this, it costs networks much less to deliver 4G than 3G.

That should tell you a thing or two on why Safaricom badly wants you to upgrade to a 4G capable phone and, yes that 4G sim card. So ideally, the data prices should be much less on 4G, yet that’s far from reality.

Just next door in Tanzania the data prices are so cheap, actually the cheapest in Africa, due to the roll out of 4G by the government owned TTCL network. It costs Tanzanians just $0.89 for 1GB on that network compared to the average $5 in Kenya for the same amount on data – that is like just KES.89, which on Safaricom barely gets you 200MB on the 4G 7 day bundle @ KES.99.

To make matters interesting, Telkom (formerly Orange Kenya) and Airtel Kenya, both of which are on the slower 3G/3.75G, offer more competitive prices on their data plans compared to Safaricom which can clearly afford much lower prices owing to their significantly higher subscriber base.

So the way I see it, if Safaricom is truly committed to the idea of seeing their subscribers save data then the best route for that is actually to preclude the need to save data in the first place. And what better way to do that than by offering competitive data prices. Not this bandage, which as useful as it may be, does very little to contain the bleeding of the common mwananchi’s pockets.

I read that there’s a hashtag on this subject, so I’ll just leave it here for any of you that happen to be part of that vocal KOT gang. #DataMustFall

It’s been now over a year since I published this entry in my original blog. It would seem that over the course of that period, Safaricom “heard” the mwanachi’s cry enough to warrant them to do something about it.

That something goes by the name of Tunukiwa Data: a more effective tourniquet it would seem but one that only works with the condition that the injuries are minor enough to be serviced on an hourly basis. I take it for major incidents, either keep using the original bandage or better yet, change to a different hospital.

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Kelvin Kathia

Kelvin Kathia is the editor of Kenyan Fix, an informational blog that helps Kenyans with solutions to everyday questions on mobile networks, government services and banking.