I had been ignoring the suspicious young man who hangs around the gates of my apartment complex and would look away when he tried to catch my eye. I did notice that he worked odd hours and would occasionally disappear around the corner with some individual or another, talking in conspiratorial tones.
But, it was time for action. I was tired of the sluggish behavior of my Internet provider and desperate for a speed fix. So, last week, when I saw him standing on his usual corner, I asked him what he was selling and he handed me a flyer from the company he was representing, Greatwall Internet. Yes, I did tell him that the name of the company didn't sound promising, but my Chinese wasn't up to explaining why.
In return he promised me the Earth, 4 mbps (megabits per second), which is double what I was getting from China Mobile, and for about the same cost per month. As I say, I was desperate, so I signed up, thinking I would check it out for three months and if it didn't work I could always go back to China Mobile.
In my defense, I did do some pre-trial research about the company and learned there are a number of "private operators" springing up across the country who resell Internet capacity that is left over from the major players. Opinion on their services is divided.
The guys who put in the Internet connection were nice enough and even tried to set up my Apple Time Capsule's WIFI, which, to the initiated, has the difficulty factor of Fermat's Last Theorem. They didn't succeed, but I don't think Pierre de Fermat would have either.
As soon as the connection was up I tested to see if it really was the advertised 4 mbps, which of course it wasn't. I wasn't too discouraged as my former 2 mbps connection rarely lived up to its name either. At peak hours it dribbled about 0.5 mbps, or less.
Opening Web pages took about the same time, so I called the company and told them so, adding they had promised me something speedier. They took my complaint in their stride, obviously practiced, and said while this was the case, downloading speeds would be twice as fast. Surprisingly, this was true and I congratulated myself on the improvement.
Then the connection went dead.
I called them, they asked me to unplug the connection, put it back in again, turn off the power, play with the settings and do the Hokey Cokey. I informed them I had already done this, at which point they said they were closed for business (it was 10 pm) and wouldn't be able to deal with the problem for another 12 hours.
Half a day later, I called again, and they explained that a competitor had cut their lines. "Wakao!" I said, registering my amazement, imagining ninjas cloaked in black going out on nighttime sorties, wielding spades and garden shears, digging up pipes and cutting wires.
Apparently, this is the price of doing Internet business for these upstart companies, who are muscling in on the bandwidth action of the China Mobile/China Unicom duopoly.
Normal service has been resumed and at the moment I'm on the side of the small guys because the faster downloading speeds are a fractional improvement and I'm hoping competition really is good for business and will bring further improvements.
We live in hope.