Expiring mobile data is at the heart of ICASA’s updated End-User and Subscriber Services Charter.
Under ICASA’s new regulations, all Internet service providers – including mobile networks – must offer users the ability to roll over unused data.
The regulations are currently the subject of a court battle between ICASA and mobile operators, who have disagreed over the implementation of the regulations.
Mobile operators have argued in the past, however, that having expiry dates on data bundles allows them to sell packages for cheaper.
For example, a 1GB data bundle valid for 1 week costs R70, while a 1GB bundle from the same network which is valid for 30 days costs R149.
The reason for this is that the shorter lifespan of a bundle makes it easier for a mobile network to forecast the data usage of a subscriber.
The expiry of data bundles also allows mobile networks to make bigger bundles cheaper than smaller ones.
Users can buy a 30-day 1GB data bundle for R149, or a 30-day 10GB bundle for R499, for example, from the same network.
The 10GB bundle works out much cheaper per-GB than the 1GB bundle, as the networks know there will be breakage – users not finishing all the data before the bundle expires.
This means that if you buy a data bundle and don’t finish it before it expires, you are paying more for data on a per-MB basis than what is on the price tag.
Using an example of a 1GB bundle for R100, users pay 10 cents per MB if they use the whole bundle.
If they only use 500MB of the 1GB, however, they pay an effective rate of 20 cents per MB due to the breakage.
This fact has been the cornerstone of Rain Mobile’s data offering, which is a flat rate of 5 cents per MB. There are no bundles or data expiration, which means users only pay for the data they use at a constant rate.
The graph below shows how much you pay per MB for data the more of your 1GB data bundle you let expire, using the example above.
Click on the graph below to enlarge it.