Cell phones so cheap!

Footpath techies meet demand of the poor
Do you know what happens to your old and broken mobile phones after you have tossed them in the bin? Or traded them off for some shiny aluminium pots for the kitchen? What happens to your phone after it is stolen?

Many of them actually find their way into display cases waiting for their next owner.

You can find that out if you take a stroll on the pavement just across the street from Nagar Bhaban of Dhaka South City Corporation in the capital. There goes on a thriving trade in mobile phones of well recognised brands: Nokia, Samsung, hTC, Sony, Micromax, Symphony, and even iPhone.

Hawkers with no formal training whatsoever give the often broken and heavily used phones another life with quick fixes, cannibalising parts from another phone.

They then sell them on the nearly half-a-kilometre stretch of the footpath. You will also find mobile phone accessories — batteries, chargers, headphones, covers and flip cases — in abundance.

Anyone could also sell their used mobile phones or other items there. A large number of stolen phones end up there too, said the hawkers.

Mobile phones and other electronic goods are displayed at a makeshift market on the footpath opposite the office of Dhaka South City Corporation. A very wide range of old, new and stolen products are available there at cheaper prices drawing in customers from lower-income groups.

The cheap prices attract people of the low-income group.

The prices of mobile phones start from Tk 100 and rise depending on quality. Some new smart phones are also there but they cost more.

The traders said they mostly buy old phones in bulk from Begum Bazar where all electronic goods and junk are available. The traders in Begum Bazar get the phones from several sources, like hawkers who sell kitchen utensils in exchange for old phones. “Basically we buy the old phones, which still have a chance of working,” said phone trader Yunus, who lives in Old Dhaka with his wife and a child.

Hailing from Munshiganj, Yunus, 33, started this business more than a year ago. He said the display panel, battery, mic, speakers and bezels of old and broken phones could often be reused.

“In some cases, we just replace the parts that are broken with parts of another phone and sell them.

“Sometimes, we just change the bezel of a phone with one in good condition,” he said, adding, “I don’t have any training.”

Even the phones that are written off have value. Their circuit boards are sold in bulks in Nimtoli area, said Yunus.

Another hawker, Shimul said customers are allowed to check the phones or any other goods before buying. “Once bought, there is no guarantee and no refund,” he said.

He said he sold two mobile phones for Tk 300 each and each of the phones fetched a profit of Tk 75.

A few feet away, Anwar Hossain was hawking phones. Some new smart phones were put on display on a tiny table, all for sale.

“An iPhone [fake] will cost Tk 8,000 while the hTC One [fake] will be [Tk] 7,500,” he replied promptly when asked. “These are Chinese sets. I have bought these from a wholesale market,” he said.

After some haggling, a customer bought a phone for Tk 2,000. “The set looks good and it has the features I need,” the customer said.

Phones and their accessories are, however, not the only products sold there.

A dazzling array of old and a few new electronic goods like VCD players, cassette players, cameras, radios, small TV sets, computer parts, irons, table fans, rechargeable emergency lights, torches, stereo speakers, woofers, and hairdryers are also there on sale.

A cassette player could be bought for Tk 150 to Tk 500, speakers for Tk 400 to Tk 600, while a small fan costs just Tk 200. A table fan for Tk 800 to Tk 1,000, a food blender for Tk 350, all in good condition, more or less.

Abdus Sattar was seen haggling over a cassette player with a couple running the shop. At one point, it was sold for Tk 100.

Sattar seemed happy. “The cassette player is broken but I can still use it as a radio. A new radio will cost me more than Tk 1,000,” he said.

The seller, who was hesitant to tell his name after knowing the identity of this correspondent, said, “I sold a blender for Tk 350, two rechargeable lights for Tk 400 and a fan for Tk 200. From the sale, I had a profit of about Tk 400.”

The trade has been the main source of livelihood of around 200 hawkers.

The traders said they pay Tk 70 as rent every day and Tk 20 for electricity. “A designated officer from the administration takes the money,” said one of them, declining to mention the name of the officer or where he works.

Wasim Bin Habib

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