How your airtime and data disappears and what you can do to stop it

You take your phone to work and forget to connect to an available Wi-Fi network. You install a new app and don’t realise it automatically downloads large amounts of data in the background. You subscribed to a WASP without realising it.

These are just a few of the ways the out-of-bundle shark can bite South African smartphone users – many of whom complain their airtime “disappears”.

The sad truth is that short of the unlikely event of a billing systems glitch, airtime doesn’t disappear – it gets used.

Smartphones constantly consume data by default and if you are not on a Wi-Fi network or don’t have a data bundle loaded you will typically be billed out-of-bundle rates.

Here are a few ways you can avoid the OOB shark.

Solution 1: Switch to a network that doesn’t treat you like a milking cow

For users in the middle of a contract, this is difficult. For prepaid users and those at the end of their contracts, this is the time to assess your network’s coverage, reliability, support, and tariff and deal pricing.

Consider switching to an operator that does not let you go out of bundle automatically when your data runs out. Currently, Telkom is the only major mobile network that does this.

Some mobile virtual network operators, like Afrihost, also prevent you from accidentally racking up a massive data bill.

You can switch to Afrihost as your main mobile data provider and use your existing operator as a fallback, but this may require a portable Wi-Fi hotspot or dual-SIM device.

If you are an MTN subscriber, you can have your existing SIM enabled for Afrihost’s mobile services.

Solution 2: Set alerts

On Android 4.0 and later, you can set your phone to warn you after crossing a data usage threshold and cut your mobile data off entirely after hitting a limit.

If you’re on iOS, you’ll have to either manually track your data usage in Settings or install a third-party tracker like DataMan Next.

Android data usage tracking

Solution 3: Disable mobile data until you need it

Modern smartphones automatically avoid poor Wi-Fi networks and may automatically switch to your mobile data connection.

While it may look like you are connected to a Wi-Fi network, your phone could be running on mobile data.

To avoid the heartache caused by this feature, you can disable “avoid poor connections” found in your smartphone’s Wi-Fi assistant settings.

You can also disable mobile data on your smartphone to limit your 3G and LTE data usage.

iOS 9 turn of cellular data

Solution 4: Disable mobile data access on an app-by-app basis

iOS and a few Android manufacturers let you restrict mobile data usage on a per-app basis.

Even if you can’t set it per app on your Android device, you will be able to restrict background data usage across all apps.

Restricting background data usage on Android does not mean apps will not use mobile data at all, though. If you’re counting every megabyte, completely turning off mobile data is your only option.

iOS 9 app cellular data usage settings

Solution 5: Ensure you aren’t subscribed to a WASP service

Unfortunately this still happens – your airtime is disappearing because of a WASP and not because of OOB data charges.

Wireless Application Service Providers offer services such as network-based tracking, and ringtone and picture downloads for a monthly fee.

To ensure your airtime isn’t vanishing because of a subscription you may not be aware of, you should use whatever mechanism your network offers to unsubscribe from all WASPs.

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How your airtime and data disappears and what you can do to stop it