There’s a new mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) vying for the hard-earned (or purloined from their parents) rands of South Africa’s young folk. Called Trace Mobile, the SIM-only operator uses Cell C’s network to provide prepaid voice, SMS and data services and offers users bonus airtime with each recharge and free access to Facebook and WhatsApp, with a range of Ts&Cs, of course.
A Trace Mobile SIM costs R5 and is available from the company’s website, Cell C stores and retailer Pep. As with other operators, when users buy a starter pack they can either get a new mobile number or can port their existing mobile number to the new SIM.
The service is also punting its “News and Gossip” portal that subscribers can access for free. Chetty says the bulk of the content for this portal is created by Trace itself, “sourced from the various events that Trace covers, as well as from the exclusive interviews Trace carries out with local artists”. He says additional content comes from “media press releases” from “entertainment PR agencies”.
Trace is also offering new users one month trials of its music streaming service and its social network, called Trace Friends. Andersen Chetty, Trace Mobile MD, tells Stuff the music streaming service includes a library of “300 curated playlists and includes local and international artists”. Given Trace Mobile only lists Universal Music as a partner we fear these curated playlists may be limited to content coming out of that particular stable. We’ll let you know once we’ve tested the service out.
But perhaps the biggest boon for Trace users is the promise of free Facebook and WhatsApp. This, of course, includes its own caveats. “We will not issue you with data charges when chatting on WhatsApp with your Trace Mobile SIM card, provided you have an active bundle,” the company’s FAQ section on its website explains. “In addition, there are no data charges associated with accessing Facebook via http://internet.org using your Trace Mobile SIM card. All you need is a positive account balance and an active bundle.”
In other words, while you won’t be charged for Facebook or WhatsApp usage on a Trace Mobile SIM you need to have data and airtime loaded on that SIM. And therein lies one of the potential pitfalls for Trace Mobile: its call rates and data bundles are hellishly expensive.
Users can nominate five friends or family members and call them for R0.49/minute… assuming those friends or family members are also on Trace Mobile or Cell C. Meanwhile, calls to other (i.e. non-Cell C) networks or landlines cost R1.50/minute, calls to toll free numbers cost R2.50/minute and data costs R25 for 30MB (only valid for a week), R50 for 60MB (valid for 15 days) or R100 for 200MB (valid for 30 days).
Moreover, if you want to use Trace Mobile’s music streaming service without interruption you’ll need to spend at least R100 on data which gives you a month’s access. The R50 data bundle only gives you one day’s access to streaming and the R20 option a dismal seven hours of access. You can see the company’s full tariff and bundle validity breakdown here.
Trace Mobile would counter that every time a user recharge they get 200% of the value of the recharge as bonus airtime. So, if you recharge with R5 you get R15 of airtime in total, and if you recharge with R120 you get R360 of airtime in total. Which is fine and dandy until you read the fine print. Recharge an amount less than R120 and the bonus airtime you accrue is only valid for three days. Recharge with R120 or more and the bonus airtime is valid for five days.
So, if you recharged with R120 you’d have five days thereafter to use the bonus R240 of airtime or it falls away. And don’t forget, for most calls you’re paying R1.50/minute, which is pretty exorbitant considering Cell C offers its prepaid users per minute tariffs of either 99c or 66c to any network, depending on the package they choose.
Colour us underwhelmed, but then, perhaps we’re not the innumerate crowd Trace Mobile appears to be pursuing.