The data expiry rules are likely to cause some consumer confusion and a hike in service complaints, however, because if you don’t opt in for the out-of-bundle (OOB) charges, the networks have to, by law, cut your service. But they can’t charge OOB rates without your buy-in and your data can’t simply vanish.
Customers who opt out of OOB rates or set their OOB spend rate at zero might not be able to access data - whether or not they have available airtime - once they reach their limit.
Some of the networks rolled out the changes last year, but not all their pricing structures were revealed.
This past week, Vodacom was forced to backtrack after it was revealed that it had planned to charge a whopping R49 per GB for data rolled over. This is on top of the R149 per GB it already charges.
The new regulations are long overdue - consumers have complained bitterly for years about issues related to disappearing data and OOB costs.
In November, Icasa announced it had reached a settlement with Cell C and MTN over the regulations’ implementation to allow for a six-month extension. The two networks had asked for more time to put systems in place.
The new regulations require that network operators must send customers usage notifications once they’ve reached 50%, 80% and 100% of their bundles; that OOB data is opt-in only and not a default option; and that customers be given the option to transfer unused data to other users on the same network.
Cell C announced it had already rolled out a number of changes to comply with the end-user and subscriber service charter amendment regulations. These changes relate to data transfer and roll-over, OOB and depletion notifications.
Some networks have already introduced changes.
In November, Telkom became the first mobile operator to allow for data transfer and the roll-over of unused data. Its customers - on all plans - have since been able to transfer data to other Telkom mobiles and data is valid for longer. Telkom pre-paid customers who buy smaller bundles, from 25MB to 500MB, can keep their data for six months after purchase.
Cell C introduced Spend Control in November, which allows its customers to control their OOB costs. Its customers can access the self-service option on the Cell C app, website or via USSD *147#, which will allow them to set their OOB voice, data or SMS threshold to any rand value amount - or unlimited. Customers can also change their OOB threshold whenever they choose. While the Icasa regulations only require OOB control for data, Cell C offers this service across data, voice and SMS. Cell C also sends out notifications at 20%, 50%, 80% and 100% depletion intervals.
Its data roll-over service will give customers the option to extend the validity date of their data, by one, seven or 30 days at a time.
Customers with 100MB or less can roll over data for free for an additional one and seven days, while customers that roll over between 101MB and 500MB of data can roll over free for an additional day.
But for larger bundle balances and extensions, you will pay a “nominal” fee to roll over the data. This means that if it’s set at R10, you can continue using R10 data at OOB rates only once your bundle runs out.
On Wednesday, Vodacom announced its tariff changes after an outcry, which included a reduction in out-of-bundle rates by up to 70%, and an update on initiatives linked to the new rules.
It said OOB rates would drop from R0.99c per MB for prepaid customers and R0.89c for hybrid and contract customers, to R0.49c per MB tariff across the board, which is 50% reduction. Customers that choose its “worry-free” Data Refill feature can save 70% on out-of-bundle prices, which cost 30c per MB.
Vodacom contract and hybrid will continue to have data rolled over automatically for a month at no charge, but only if a customer buys a bundle priced the same as the original one.
MTN’s offered data roll-over for a while. Its contract customers can roll over data automatically for two months after purchase. Prepaid data bundles will be rolled over - but only if the customer buys another bundle before the existing one expires.