My relationship with Magti, best of Georgia’s cellphone service providers, goes back to my move here over 20 years ago. Seeing that, even back then, the company covered some 97% of the country’s populated areas with its signal, I signed up and got my first ever mobile phone and number. I have seldom looked back.
Even 13 years ago, when I lived in Ushguli, my cellphone became a modem when there was no other way to get internet access is such a remote place. I connected it first to my desktop computer, then a year later to a laptop, for Web-surfing and to run the blog I had back then. This led to being picked up on the morning news for the Rustavi 2 TV channel, reporting on avalanches returning immediately after the only road to Ushguli had been cleared of them, leaving us stranded (though not unprepared) for a month. And so on, with many other TV appearances since over the years, usually as a champion for the region of Svaneti and its people.
Magti has generally served me very well over the years, so this article is less a criticism and more a plea for backwards compatibility of technology. When I buy a car, and some small but significant part fails, say the steering wheel, I don’t expect to have to throw away the whole vehicle, do I? No: parts, either generic of specific to make, model and year, remain accessible to order for years or decades.
Internet has leapt through Gs (generations) in this small country with admirable speed, and we are now at about 4.5G, with internet bandwidth and quality zooming upward. Prices per megabit remain low, with “unlimited” plans at pretty good velocity remaining exactly as defined, uncapped. Currently, a week of endless internet from Magti can be had for 5 GEL. Amazing!
I used to have the little bright orange Magti modem, and it served my wife and me for years before simply being unable to handle the newer, much faster speeds and being dropped from support. Then we got a white one, and that too worked very well, nothing at all to complain about. Up to about 2.5 megabits per second was absolutely fast enough for me; I just don’t need anything faster.
However, after several years, I heard a “pop” from somewhere a month or so ago, and eventually internet stopped. The noise was unexpected enough that I couldn’t even realize where it has come from, until I discovered the lack of internet, and found that my modem’s rechargeable battery had exploded inside, turning into a little pillow instead of the usual perfectly flat-sided rectangle it was supposed to be. At least the damage was all interior, with no other harm done to the modem itself. But I would need a new battery before it would run again. In the meantime, back to my cellphone (several models newer by now) as stand-in modem.
Now, the nearest Magti office to us is about 110 km away, in Zugdidi, where my wife and I do most of our shopping in twice-monthly odysseys. I took the modem there and explained that I would like to buy a new battery for it.
Oh no, they said, sorry, that device is one we haven’t sold for more than a year now, replaced by something better and faster. And we certainly don’t sell batteries separately for any of our models, current or defunct, in any case. Have you tried looking around the cellphone service shops in the city?
After giving them the analogy of the throwaway car with the useless steering wheel, and other pieces of my mind, I set off in search of that elusive battery. More than 10 shops and kiosks later, nothing. Only the last place I tried had something which seemed to fit, and visibly to begin charging the modem, once the seller had literally gouged a small dint into it to force it to fit the modem. Success! Or…? I rejoiced at not having to shell out another 250 GEL for the newer modem, and returned home to Svaneti.
However, I hadn’t tested that new battery sufficiently when buying it. Yes, the recharge light on the modem came in, but only for about 30 seconds. Nothing I could do would induce it to stay on longer than that. My 30 GEL was wasted, and I would be forced to acquire the newer modem, faster, yes, but unnecessarily so for me.
The Zugdidi Magti office twice failed to have any of the new modem in stock on subsequent visits, so on my wife’s next trip to Tbilisi I had her pick me one up there, and am waiting patiently for her to return soon.
I get that G (generation) is a Thing with cellphone and internet service. I suppose that all I’m frustrated with, from a company which generally has offered very good service, is the lack of aforementioned backward compatibility. But then, I’m the perhaps rare customer who does not change his car, or phone, or camera, or anything else, tech or mech, more often than when absolutely necessary. No keeping up with the Jonsebi for me! For this reason, I can hardly expect such a large and progressive company as Magti to bow to my wishes and make its old devices serviceable and useable when much newer, better ones beckon. But then, my pockets aren’t infinitely deep either, and I refuse to get a bank loan for the latest bling. That’s just me. I’ll complain, but do what I have to to stay more or less connected.
Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer and photographer for GT since early 2011. He runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with nearly 2000 members, at www.facebook.com/groups/SvanetiRenaissance/
He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri: www.facebook.com/hanmer.house.svaneti
By Tony Hanmer