Oh Shitel! How Does This Happen?


I had a shitty smartphone that died. I decided to replace it with a shitty feature phone.

Shitty Telephone
Mission accomplished

I bought this from a small shop near my home in Antananarivo, Madagascar. Price: 55,000 Ariary, or about $12.42 US at the exchange rate as of this posting.

Walking home I started wondering how this happens. What series of events and decisions results in hundreds (thousands?) of mobile phones rolling off of an assembly line with “shitel” printed on the outside, and “shitel” appearing on the splash screen when the phone starts up?

First of all, I think this is a knock-off of the Chinese brand Itel. Americans and Europeans probably won’t recognize the brand, but Itel phones (according to Wikipedia) are sold in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, China, Pakistan and some parts of Africa, South Asia, Europe and Latin America.

I came up with two scenarios.

Scenario 1: Dick’s Sporting Goods

Maybe Shitel is a perfectly normal name somewhere, and I should just stop giggling and grow the fuck up. In the USA, we still have Dick’s Sporting Goods, and we’re mostly fine with that.

A web search on “Shitel” turns up a plastic surgeon and a lawyer, both of Indian descent (judging from their last names). The web search, however doesn’t turn up anything about Shitel phones. Unlike Dick’s Sporting Goods, the Shitel brand does not seem to have an official web presence.

However, when you look at the image search, you will see a bunch of Shitel phones for sale on Facebook in – you guessed it – Madagascar!

Shitel phones
Get ’em while they’re hot!

Which leads me to…

Scenario 2: Oops! Dump the Phones on Africa

Knockoff brands are common in the global South, from to “Abibas” shoes to “Barber King” fast food restaurants. I see these brands and storefronts, and I kind of admire the brazenness. I sense an attitude of, What are you going to do, Global Corporation? Sue us? In Madagascar?

But I have to think that Shitel slipped through the cracks, so to speak. Sure, they were trying to imitate Itel, but nobody caught the shit in Shitel before it was too late. By the time it was noticed by someone who knew a bit of English, there were thousands of units that had to go somewhere — discreetly. Cut their losses or break even at best. Send them where we they could forget the whoopsie ever happened.

Madagascar? Perfect.

Industries have a habit of dumping defective, substandard, products on the global South – electronics, expired medications, expired food, cars with known safety defects, electronic waste. And apparently they also dump their embarrassingly-named brand knockoffs.

When I turned it on, the default language for the user interface was, surprisingly, English. But not too surprisingly. The firmware was probably already on the phone’s mass-produced ROM before anyone thought to put Shitel on the outside.

True to Its Name

This 12-dollar phone didn’t work out. There was a low humming sound in my earpiece when I checked it out at home. I was able to exchange it for another phone with a less interesting name.

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