Why I prefer Zain to MTN

Zain Africa CEO Mr Chris Gabriel selling a sim card to a new Zain Ghana customer at the flagship store in Osu on Oxford Street in Accra on the day the 3.5G network was launched.
Zain Africa CEO Mr Chris Gabriel selling a sim card to a new Zain Ghana customer at the flagship store in Osu on Oxford Street in Accra on the day the 3.5G network was launched. Photo courtesy: Zain.com

I listened to Philip Sowah, the Country Manager of Zain Communications Ghana Limited, being interviewed on Joy FM‘s Super Morning show one morning in the last quarter of 2008. It was at the eve of Zain’s network launch in Ghana. One thing I remember clearly was him saying Zain Ghana has so much network capacity, they are scared in a positive way. I wondered to myself: “What is he talking about? Why this much confidence? Is this a marketing gimmick?”  Zain eventually launched and I bought a Zain SIM card, just to experience Ghana’s first 3.5G network not that I was ready to ditch my MTN that had served me quite well for more than 5 years.

I recently bought a Nokia 5800 XpressMusic – a 3.5G high-capacity multimedia device from Alireta Mobile – and decided to give my Zain SIM a spin with the mind that should it serve me better, it would replace my MTN eventually. I have been blown away in the past few days and thus I feel compelled to document the positive difference I have experienced.

For well over a decade, MTN (hitherto known as Spacefon, then Areeba) has been the market leader in Ghana in terms of running the most sophisticated cellular network, and offering more useful value added services than its competitors. Not anymore. For the first time, MTN has a tougher competitor to contend with.

3.5G network coverage
MTN Ghana scrambled to unleash their 3.5G network on the Ghanaian airwaves after Zain’s loud entry into the telecom market. Zain’s 3.5G network has a wider coverage than that of MTN, in Accra. I have tested the two from Tete Quarshie interchange to McCarthy hill. From McCarthy hill to Osu. Zain even went a step further to publish their 3.5G network coverage on their website and the publication reveals that 3.5G is available in much of Accra and parts of Kumasi (Ghana’s 2nd commercial hub). Whilst at work, I make sure my phone is permanently on 3G network mode so I can experience the superior call quality and make/receive video calls on Zain. Neither of them has a perfect 3.5G coverage but Zain is ahead, from my checks.

Mobile Internet ‘Activation Fee’
Unlike MTN, Zain does not ask for a 5 Ghana Cedi “activation fee” for internet connectivity to be enabled on one’s SIM. Slot your Zain SIM into a capable GPRS/EDGE/3G/3.5G phone and the settings come tumbling in within minutes. Zain even sends you an MMS welcoming you to “A Wonderful World”.

Call cost summary
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I get the total cost of a call I make, after the call is over. A message displays on my phone informing me of the amount deducted from my account for that call and the account balance I have left. Now, that is transperancy at its best. There is nothing like that on MTN.

I can update my Twitter account via SMS using Zain. MTN could not deliver SMS to the UK mobile number used by Twitter.com
Zain delivered to the same number, in 2 seconds.

I do not have to retry sending SMS multiple times and pray it goes through each time, on Zain. On the other hand, the little tricks I used on MTN are even begining to fail as I have a hard time sending international SMS from MTN.

Still on SMS, Zain has a neat online service called Zain Web2SMS. I can compose and send SMS from Zain’s website with the added convenience of typing on a computer keyboard. It is faster and better for me. Zain bills my prepaid account for each SMS sent. What is more exciting? Zain offers 5 free Zain to Zain SMS daily. MTN hardly ever gives anything for free. Hardly.

Zain’s MMS really works. I can zap photos and audio to loved ones’ phones or email accounts. MTN’s MMS has been epileptic for months now.

Missed call notification
Whenever my phone is switched off or out of cellular coverage area, I receive SMS notification from Zain when my phone is back online, informing me of the missed calls. I know MTN has been offering the same service for several years but I could not access it because they restricted it to post-paid subscribers only. I had been attracted to MTN’s post-paid offering for so long but I stayed away because of the $1,500 security deposit they required for international roaming. I am fine with prepaid roaming – thank you very much. I would rather leave my money in a fixed deposit account than hand it to MTN if I have no use for it.

Talking about roaming, MTN quickly launched their “Seamless Roaming” service some weeks before Zain launched in Ghana. MTN’s Seamless Roaming is a very similar concept to Zain’s One Network. They both allow local subscribers to access the network of other subsidiaries, outside the home network. Example: Zain subscribers in Kenya can roam into the Zain networks in Tanzania, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Niger without hassles. Traveling subscribers can receive calls/SMS for free, and make calls at the same rate subscribers on the host network pay. MTN’s Seamless Roaming currently works in Cameroon, Nigeria, Benin Republic and Ghana.

Call Divert
You have no idea how useful this service is to me. I can divert calls all my calls unconditionally, or if I am busy, or if I do not answer the calls within a stipulated number of seconds, or if I am out of network coverage area. These settings come with even the most basic GSM phone but MTN has restricted its prepaid subscribers to “Call divert – if out of reach” and even that can only be diverted to their default Voicemail number only. On Zain, there is no single restriction and so I can divert my calls as I deem fit!

Zain Phone number Pre-registration
I was able to search for and book a phone number of my choice, even before the commercial launch. MTN doesn’t offer that convenience.

Over all, I am enjoying the Zain experience so far. What about you? What has been your experience with Zain in Ghana? Share your thoughts by leaving your comments now.

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Oluniyi D. Ajao
Oluniyi D. Ajao is an Internet Entrepreneur and Tech Enthusiast based in South Africa. Follow him on twitter @niyyie for more tech updates.


  1. Dave, here in Nigeria, I am loving Zain too over MTN.

    My reasons?

    1. More stable and reliable voice service than MTN Nigeria
    2. Far more stable and reliable interneet service than MTN Nigeria
    3. Lower SMS costs
    4. More flexible internet plans

    A few niggles:
    1. 3.5G coverage not as widespread as MTN’s, but there’s almost total GPRS coverage
    2. Internet activation niggles

    Overall, I’m happy with Zain for now.

  2. I suspect MTN’s problem is caused by the huge number of people on their networks. MTN is the biggest in Nigeria and Ghana respectively. That also translates into: they have the highest revenue.

    Competition is indeed a good thing. I can see that Zain is really putting them on their toes in Ghana.

  3. David,I have also experienced the zain magic,their internet bundle is the best in town.My only worry is that the 3g is not in koforidua where my wife is

  4. MTN is completely crappy i use a 24hr,30days at (10,000 Naira) internet service by MTN and my experience is very frustrating to say the least.The first 15days after paying the in the past 3months is so frustrating you are unable to connect to the network ,when u do it logs you out every few minutes ,but the next 15days gets so fast that you are often tempted to pay again,since noticing this now i know this will be the last time i will be paying MTN for their crappy service.
    As far as i am concerned MTN makes so much noise advertising and the subscribers pay for this advert with their crappy service,interestingly they never give rebates for their crappy service.

    • @ Kase, you are referring to MTN Nigeria while my article was about MTN Ghana. The quality of service for the respective operations cannot be the same. Definitely, MTN Ghana is not that bad. :rolleyes:

  5. Hello,
    you say you bought a nokia 5800 xpressmusic from alireta mobile. Where is this and how well does the phone perform? Thanks

  6. Good post.Seems Zain have you down as a customer for life, well maybe until Glo comes and blows your mind.

    Not to be negative but experience of Zain outside of Accra has not been so swell, at least for a friend who is in Sunyani, it sucks!

    I think Zain has a great marketing strategy but may have diluted their brand by launching countrywide too quickly. That said if they play to their strength (superior data products) they will take market share from one of the other networks.

    MTN is just too big to be beaten easily, unfortunately.

  7. My co-workers call me MR ZAIN,the reason being that I”m always wooing them to join the WONDERFUL WORLD of ZAIN.Apart from operating on the latest platform of technology in the telecom industry,it has the cheapest rates in GHANA.ZAIN aiso charges ONLY THE CALLER in its ONE NETWORK. MTN CHARGES BOTH THE CALLER & THE RECIPIENT (this is SAKAWA PLAIN STEALING)ON IT”S SEAMLESS BORDER NETWORK.

  8. You can get the Noika 5800 xpress music in any zain shop in Ghana.

    And kobby Owusu, how long did it take MTN to acuire 1 million customers and zain has done that in just six months, DAMN, THAT IS SCARY.

  9. I went for zain 3.5G for ma laptop and by God it was bad. I was hardly able to open ma mail. well i live in Aburi so i thought that was the problem; therefore i took it to the ma office in Accra to use and it was still the same.

    I returned the modem i bought and now i’m using Vodafone 3.5G XXL bundle, and i think it’s the best.

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