Consumers in a fix

April 5, 2020

As dependence on mobile phones and laptops grows in a lockdown, their users are worried about getting their hardware/software issues fixed because repair and service outlets are shut

As self-quarantine becomes the norm, many firms have asked their employees to work from home. This has resulted in a real-time test of the infrastructure of the Internet Service Providers (ISPs), causing surges in both home broadband Internet and, in many cases, cellular traffic, thanks to an increase in cell phone use as the preferred handheld communication device, leading more people to rely on the internet.

Many people are having longer workdays, and being at home the whole time, they are simultaneously engaged in a number of activities on their portable devices - switching between personal and purely work-related stuff. According to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), internet use has seen a surge of 15 percent. However, as Dr Irfan Zafar, an artificial intelligence, telecom/IT specialist and social activist puts it, “In Pakistan the statistics are not yet available, but it can be easily assumed that the percentage is higher than 15 percent as quoted by the PTA.”

He further says, “AT&T reported that consumers’ home voice calling minutes were up by 45 percent; and business, home broadband and wireless use was up by 27 percent as compared to the previous month.”

As the city was locked down, a greater load was experienced by the ISPs, and the otherwise less-used home systems came under stress because of increased use. As a result, some systems crashed both in terms of hardware and software. What is giving people a nightmare is the fact that repair and service outlets are all shut. These include two of Lahore’s busiest marketplaces, i.e. Hafeez Centre and Hall Road.

To get a feel of the degree of public consternation, and how those working from home are addressing their hardware/software related issues in a lockdown, TNS spoke to a variety of people. Ali Ahmed, an importer of computer electronic parts and consumables from China in one of Lahore’s main computer business hubs, with clients from south Punjab to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, said that China had suspended all exports in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan. This included orders that were ready to ship.

People using computers and peripherals like printer, external drive, mouse, Bluetooth transfer devices, and keyboard jamming generally have their preferred (read trusted) services and repair shops where they would get their work done.

Ahmed claimed that a “majority of importers work on minimum inventory basis. The stoppage [on exports] has created a supply chain break which will in the long run add to the poor supply of parts.”

He also said that the lockdown had resulted in a loss of millions in sales duties and related heads for the vendors and downstream consumers, and a loss of livelihood for workers.

Nida Chaudhry, a lawyer engaged with women, internet privacy and related issues, has been forced to work from home by the lockdown, the delisting of regular hearing cases in the courts, and the closure of lawyers’ chambers. She spoke about a recent electricity outage in her locality, which was preceded by a fluctuation in the voltage that hit most home appliances. As no repair shops were open, they had to resort to makeshift arrangements.

The lawyer added that as the laptop charger was fused, she wasn’t able to charge it, and once the battery ran out she couldn’t access her work. This was a major issue for her, and she had to make do with her older laptop, an outdated model. Turned out that her recent work was also not accessible.

TNS learnt that people using computers and peripherals like printer, external drive, mouse, Bluetooth transfer devices, and keyboard jamming generally had their preferred (read trusted) services and repair shops where they got their work done. Abid Pasha, a service engineer at one such outlet, said the lockdown had affected his customers having issues with their laptops/desktops, and peripherals. “While it may be a blessing in disguise for one’s family that one is home all the time, work has been hit hard,” he said, laughingly.

“My clients are upset. I’ve been getting calls on my personal number [from clients] asking me for quick-fix solutions and hacks. But just how far can you address hardware or software issues over the phone?”

Pasha said that some clients had even offered to visit his house for repairs, but that was not doable as he did not have all the tools, test equipment and the spares at home.

Worries mount as people face problems in getting their laptops, mobile phones fixed during lockdown