South African mobile operator Vodacom has today announced it’s cutting out-of-bundle data prices from the middle of October 2017. The new rate for prepaid and top-up customers will be 99c/MB from 15 October, while contract customers have been paying 89c/MB since the beginning of October. You’ll have to forgive us for not getting too excited at this news on account of having a calculator to hand. While the price cut is certainly a vast improvement from the R2/MB previously levied, that still means a rate of R1,013.76/GB for prepaid users, and R911.36/GB for contract customers (going on 1,024MB per GB).
As usual, it’s the poor that get the worst deal here. Smaller data bundles work out more expensive per MB than big ones, and smaller bundles run out sooner, meaning those buying them are the most likely to incur out-of-bundle charges. Of course, Vodacom’s quick to point out that’s it’s taken steps of late to make it less likely consumers will incur these costs.
“Vodacom has recently introduced a series of measures to encourage in-bundle adoption and minimise out-of-bundle usage. These include sending in-bundle data usage notifications … and sending customers out-of-bundle data usage reminders which carry the actual rand value,” the company says in a press release announcing the rate cuts.
Again, these are laudable moves, but you’ve got to wonder why it took so long to implement these measures. Oh wait, you don’t have to wonder at all. It simply wasn’t in the operator’s interests to do so previously. Now, thanks to increasing pressure from civil society and the country’s communications regulator Icasa (the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa), it is in Vodacom’s best interests.
That’s not to say the regulator is without fault, of course. It continues to drag its heels freeing up spectrum so that companies like Vodacom can build better networks and better service outlying areas. “We need to expand 4G coverage still further, and keep pace with an increase of more than 45% in sustained data traffic demand,” says Shameel Joosub, Group CEO of Vodacom. “However, lack of access to spectrum is hampering our ability to drive down infrastructure costs and in turn, enable us to pass savings to the consumer.”
What’s the moral of the story? Keep an eye on your balance, or move to prepaid and keep your cash balance low so you can’t get hurt by out-of-bundle charges, or move to a service provider like Afrihost (which piggybacks on MTN’s network) that simply cuts you off when you run out of credit until you top up again. This also applies if you’re with MTN or Cell C, mind.