We have so many things to thank Rehman Malik for, from his ability to be the first to reach the site of any major disaster, to his incredible collection of ties. He has made us laugh and cry, sometimes at the same time, and there are several indentations in my desk that can be credited to him for the amount of times his insightful analyses have caused me to repeatedly bash my head.
But what we will always love him for is his single greatest achievement: making the entire country suffer from Nomophobia. Before you start googling, let me explain: Nomophobia is the abbreviated form of “No-mobile-Phone-Phobia” and is defined as the fear of being out of mobile phone contact. Yes, we’re talking about the effects of Mr. Malik’s favourite counter-terrorism technique. Today, even the hint of a closure sends Pakistan’s mobile users (120 million and counting) into a fear-fuelled frenzy. So, to calm your frayed nerves, and to prove that Pakistanis are the undisputed masters of jugaar, we present you with ways to keep communicating even when the ‘lines’ are down.
Love of the land
Come on people, come on people! Reconnect your landline link! Because if you don’t the One Pound Fish guy will come to your house and sing his song at you until you curl up into a foetal position and beg for mercy while sobbing uncontrollably. Seriously though, the mobile phone bans have made us all once again treasure our long lost landlines. But what do you do if you’re on the move? Will we have to wait until PTCL turns into PPCL (Pakistan Pigeon Communication Limited)? The answer is NO!
Talk the talk, walk the walk
First up are Walkie Talkies. While long range Walkie Talkies are illegal to operate without a proper license, short range ones are not. They can be found for around Rs. 4500-5000 at your local gun shop. They are extremely handy and you can use them anywhere (unless you’re at an airport or other radio sensitive environment). The major drawbacks are that short range walkie- talkies are only effective for about 460-920 meters, which makes then only slightly more effective than the classic cup-and-string phones we made as kids. Also, try explaining to the police why you are carrying a walkie talkie in your car. It won’t be fun.
Next we have satellite phones. Thuraya’s satellite phones range from Rs62,000 to Rs106,000 and both postpaid and prepaid packages are available. These phones operate as a standard GSM phone when they are in reach of local networks, and when they cannot locate the network they become satellite phones supported by Thuraya’s network.
Thuraya Prepay SIM cards come with ten units of credit and are for Rs8,900. The subscription can be renewed annually for Rs3,980. and there is no monthly line rent. Scratch cards start at Rs1,050 (for 10 units) and go up to Rs47,800 (for 500 units)
The Thuraya Postpaid SIM is free and there is no annual renewal fee. The monthly line rent is Rs1,700 and customers are billed for the units they use.
Satellite phones may prove to be an expensive alternative as both parties would have to own the phones to keep in touch if the cellular network is down.
On Cloud 9
This is the most cost effective and practical way to keep in touch. PTCL offers numerous pocketable devices which can create mobile internet hotspots. You can then use your smartphone to connect to these hotspots, and with a variety of applications, keep in touch with your loved ones.
The PTCL EVO Wi-Fi Cloud retails at Rs8,000 and offers speeds of up to 3.1Mbps with four months free internet. Monthly Charges: Rs2,100 (Applicable from the 5th month onwards)
The PTCL EVO Nitro Wi-Fi Cloud retails at Rs12,000 and offers speeds of up to 9.3Mbps with 4 months free internet. Monthly Charges: Rs3,000 (Applicable from the 5th month onwards)
The PTCL EVO Wingle USB retails at Rs7,500 and offers speeds of up to 9.3Mbps with 3 months free internet. Monthly Charges: Rs1,500-Rs2,500 (Applicable from the 3rd month onwards)
While the EVO Clouds have their own built-in battery, the EVO Wingle does not. It requires an external power source. That means you will either need to connect it to a laptop, car stereo system, car cigarette lighter or a power socket to power the device.
If you already purchased a USB internet dongle from Worldcall, PTCL or WiTribe, then you can convert it into a mobile hotspot by purchasing a portable wireless router to power and operate your USB on the go. These devices have a built in battery and by attaching your UMTS/HSPA/EVDO USB modem, this pocket router will create a portable WiFi hotspot which will allow you to have access to the internet anywhere. These devices cost between Rs2,500 to Rs5,500.
Now that you’re connected to your very own portable hotspot, you can communicate via email, Twitter and Facebook chat. There are also a bunch of applications that you can use. While the BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) only allows you to communicate with other Blackberry users, there are other apps that you can use to keep in touch. Whatsapp, Skype, Viber and Voxer are all viable alternatives. These are free applications that work on almost all phones.
Whatsapp and Voxer are messaging apps. Both can send and receive messages, pictures, location coordinates and voice messages. Voxer also has a unique “push-to-talk” system which lets users listen to messages at their convenience and talk one-to-one with other users.
Skype and Viber, while also messaging apps, also allow the user to make phone calls over the internet.
Remember: All these apps require both the sender and receiver to have the respective app installed on their phones.
But that’s not all folks…
Apart from plunging you into a communications blackhole, the mobile phone bans have a more serious effect as well: most home security systems are connected to telephone lines but some of them may be connected through GSM. That means if the cellular networks are blocked then the security company will not be alerted if there is an emergency during that period. Contact your home security service to ensure you are protected at all times.
Anti-theft car tracking devices mostly operate through the cellular network. When the cellular networks are shutdown, your tracking company loses the ability to keep track of your car and your car is vulnerable to theft. Some people have experienced car shutdowns during the cellular ban, this is due to the anti-jamming devices installed in their cars. Some car tracking devices are fitted with an anti-jamming device. When the cellular network is down, these anti-jamming devices assume that a thief is jamming cellular signals to steal the car, so the car is shut down. The only way to restart the car is to either tow it to your car tracking company or to wait till the cellular network comes back online. You can contact your tracking company to have the anti-jamming device removed/modified but it may invalidate your car insurance. Contact your car tracking company for more details.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, March 24th, 2013.
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