A study by My Broadband reveals that Vodacom and Cell C SIMs were charged for out-of-bundle data, even when connected to Wi-Fi. Those using MTN and Telkom SIMs were not charged.

My Broadband used SIMs of the four major mobile networks to test for whether recent complaints that airtime is disappearing faster is true.

In a previous test, they discovered that airtime was decreasing even when mobile data usage was switched off. Since then, new regulations have been imposed that require networks to notify customers when out-of-bundle data is being used, with the option to block this from happening.

In their latest test, they placed newly RICA’d prepaid SIMs into four Nokia 5 smartphones and connected them to the same active Wi-Fi connection with identical applications installed. Each phone was registered to the same Google account as well.

Each SIM was loaded with R10 airtime on October 1, and all settings left on default. No actions were performed that would have consumed airtime or data, and the phones were left on while connected to Wi-Fi in the exact same location throughout the test.

The airtime balances were recorded regularly and data usage monitored through the My Data Manager app for Android.

On October 2, the Vodacom SIM had a balance of R9.32 while the other SIMs stayed at R10. A few days later on October 5, the Vodacom SIM was on R9.77 and the Cell C SIM on R9.87. Both MTN and Telkom remained unchanged at R10. That is a 23 cent drop for Vodacom and a 13 cent drop for Cell C.

In response to the study, Vodacom explained that the charge was likely due to a poor-quality Wi-Fi connection.

“What transpired with this specific Vodacom Prepaid SIM is that, whenever the device handed over to a cellular connection, OOB (out of bundle) rates applied on the SIM,” Vodacom told My Broadband.

“Our OOB block implementation is in line with the ICASA regulations. The regulation states that no OOB charges are to be applied by default once a data bundle is depleted,” the network added. “If this is a new prepaid SIM which attempts to use data without the purchase of a data bundle, OOB usage will be applied. We stop applying OOB by default after the depletion of an active data bundle.”

“Some of our customers prefer to manage OOB charges themselves and so Vodacom has also catered for this through the creation of the Data Limit lock service, which allows customers to set their limit to zero, should they not want to be charged any out of bundle rates or set a higher limit,” it added.

Cell C also confirmed that the airtime depletion was a result of out-of-bundle date usage, which they claim was due to background application from the device and the Wi-Fi dropping.

“The subscriber would not get any out of bundle notifications as these would be generated when a subscriber/SIM has a data bundle loaded and the bundle depletion reaches defined thresholds,” Cell C said in a statement.

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