Subscribers on pre-paid plans from South Africa’s mobile network operators may lose their airtime if they don’t use it within a certain period.
It’s also no secret that inactive SIMs are disconnected from mobile networks and their MSISDNs (phone numbers) recycled.
Of the networks asked for feedback, Virgin Mobile, MTN, and Vodacom responded. Information on 8ta and Cell C’s policies were obtained from their call centres.
Airtime windows and expiring pre-paid airtime
Virgin Mobile explained that they use an airtime window system.
Once that time window is over the airtime is “locked” and the customer needs to recharge with a new voucher which will unlock the locked voucher. A R10 voucher, for example, has a 30 day airtime window.
The Cell C call centre said that they use a similar system, with recharges of up to R25 getting a 14 day window and larger amounts allowing 120 days before being locked.
These windows are extended every time a subscriber reloads.
8ta uses a more granular scale than Cell C, but according to their call centre the airtime expires at the end of the window and doesn’t just get locked. The denominations are as follows:
- up to R5: 30 days
- R6 – R10: 60 days
- R11 – R20: 90 days
- R21 – R30: 120 days
- R31 – R50: 180 days
- R51 – R100: 210 days
- R101 – R250: 290 days
- R251 – R2000: 365 days
MTN said that recharges below R25 expire within 30 days of being loaded, while all recharges above this amount never expire.
Vodacom seemed to be the most lenient of all the networks, saying that pre-paid airtime will not expire once it has been loaded, provided the customer remains active on the network. They do have an airtime window system, however.
|Network||Airtime expiry||Inactivity / recycle period|
|8ta||30 – 365 days||180 days|
|Cell C||Never||90 days|
|MTN||30 days, or never||90 / 93 days|
|Virgin Mobile||Never||90 / 120 days|
|Vodacom||Never||7 months (~210 days)|
Another way pre-paid users could lose their airtime is by having their number recycled after a period of inactivity.
Virgin Mobile said that they consider a number inactive if no recharges, or incoming or outgoing calls have been made on it in 90 days. A number is recycled 30 days after the inactivity period (i.e. after 120 days of no activity).
MTN said that they consider a number inactive if it has not made or any received calls (including internet or SMS) for 90 days.
The number if disconnected from the network after this period, MTN said, with pre-paid numbers being recycled three days after getting disconnected.
Similar to Virgin and MTN, Cell C has a 90 day inactivity rule, after which a number is disconnected and recycled.
8ta waits for 180 days of inactivity before they recycle a number, while Vodacom only considers a number inactive after 7 months (around 210 days) of not being used.