Fighting for laptops to be repaired in South Africa

NCE Staff Writer
NCE Staff Writter / June 29, 2021 - 16:45
5 min read––– views
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The electronic repairs industry has been under attack for some time now. A decade ago you could take your under-warranty electronic device to the store where you bought it from and they would send it to a local repair/service plant and you would usually get your device fixed and returned to you within a month. Today if you send in your faulty electronic device to be repaired you're guaranteed to get a new device as replacement instead of having the fault fixed on the original item. This is the new customer-satisfaction orientated approach of the consumer-electronics industry. Focus is no longer on the product or cultivating a culture of technical expertise outside the design and manufacturing plants. A decade ago you could order repair parts from Apple or Samsung as an outsider and you would receive them without hassle after payment (which was usually affordable provided the product was still in rotation). Today you cannot request parts from these manufacturers unless you're a licensed/accredited service provider (which requires a lot of hoop-jumping to obtain) and some parts are not even given to accredited service providers simply just to coerce customers into paying nearly full prices for replacements on damages that were not included in warranty clauses.

But this is not a solely South African issue. The "right to repair" debate has been going on globally since the mid-2010s when Apple US began restricting which of their products third-party technicians can open and repair. Other tech companies (such as Tesla automobiles) have introduced similar policies on many of their products that prohibit the right to repair, further polarising the debate.

South Africa, being a third-world country trying to improve its economic strength and challenge in the technologies sector, is suffering heavily under these new industry practices. With many manufacturers (e.g. Sony) moving their plants and repair centres away from the country and continent altogether, this means getting spares and technical support locally is becoming harder for both South African consumers and technicians. The hardest sub-category suffering due to this is the laptop repairs industry. The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted work life away from offices to homes, resulting in a exponential increase in notebook demands from large and small companies. Due to their sophisticated designs (and fragile form factors) laptops are prone to being damaged. Replacement is almost always the only "fix" for a broken laptop under warranty. This wouldn't be an issue if these devices did not contain valuable and sensitive data that their owners (individuals and organisations) can't risk losing or landing on the hands of unauthorised personel. So, the alternative to full unit replacement is asking third-party technicians to fix the laptops. With broken laptops, the biggest culprit is internal component failure and that usually requires that faulty component to be replaced. If South Africa had laptop manufacturing plants and manufacturers allowed anyone to order replacement parts from them then repairs would be a swift process. Unfortunately this isn't the case. Laptop parts are rare in South Africa and those that are usually available are sold at exorbitant prices forcing technicians to source the replacement components from aboard at cheaper prices with the trade-off being lengthy delivering times (ranging from 2 weeks up to 12 weeks-- in some not-so-rare cases orders never arrive). So customers of third-party technicians are forced to wait literally weeks for their devices to be repaired and this may cause a halt in their productivity (both in their professional and private lives). Another obstacle to laptop repairs (and similar computer repairs and assessment) is the requirement for specialist tools to diagnose and repair electronic problems. For example, a bad graphics card causing the scren not to turn on indefinitely can only be fixed by either replacing the graphics card (which can easily cost thousands of rands) or "reflowing" the card using a BGA Rework station or a hot air soldering station (both of which cost over R5,000 on average and are currently not sold locally). For a technician to cover costs of these equipment they have to charge their clients more for their services before even charging the price of replaced components. These levels of inconvinience to customers can hinder easily business.

So, what can be done to improve the state of consumer electronic repairs industry?

For a problem as global and political as this one, government intervention is essential. Manufacturers need to be incentivised to build plants and support centres for local technicians and customers across the 6 habitable continents on the planet. Technicians need to band together as well and commit themselves creating a national community that trades resources and expertise.

Native Circuit Elements prides itself in working continually with local technicians as a means to build a network of expertise, especially in the Johannesburg area. We have the equipment adequate for most of the electronics assessment and repair work we have to carry out, and we source most parts from fellow local technicians, which allows for some of the quickest repair times in the industry.

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