Vodacom stole my airtime

South African mobile operators recently implemented new out-of-bundle (OOB) data depletion systems to comply with ICASA’s new regulations, which require that customers opt-in to OOB data usage.

These new systems are still prone to error, however, as I discovered when my data bundle recently ran out and my airtime was automatically depleted.

Vodacom is meant to block OOB data usage by default, sending users a prompt when their data bundle is depleted to purchase a small bundle or activate “Data Refill”.

This Data Refill option automatically tops up your data balance when your mobile data bundle has been depleted.

After signing up for this service, customers who run out of data will be refilled with 10MB of mobile data at a cost of R3 – effectively charging them for data consumption at a rate of R0.30 per MB.

Out-of-bundle settings

When Vodacom implemented its new OOB data systems, I accessed the USSD menu and ensured that I had not opted-in to the Data Refill service and that OOB data depletion was blocked on my SIM.

I spend most of my data-intensive hours connected to a Wi-Fi connection, with the majority of my mobile data usage occurring while driving, thanks to Spotify and Google Maps.

Therefore, I opted for the safe option of disabling all OOB data depletion on my SIM; if I ever did run out of data, I would rather spend a few minutes driving without music then have my airtime vanish on the way home.

Vodacom also allows you to implement an out-of-bundle data limit lock, which prevents you from exceeding a certain amount of airtime depletion due to out-of-bundle data usage.

I ensured that this was set to R0.00 – meaning that I would be blocked from incurring any out-of-bundle data charges.

Below are screenshots from the Vodacom USSD menu which reflect that my SIM’s OOB limit lock is set to R0.00 and I have not opted-in to Data Refill.

Vodacom OOB 1

Airtime depletion

To my unpleasant surprise, however, when driving into work on Friday I received an SMS from Vodacom stating the following:

“You’ve used R1.29 out-of-bundle data on [number redacted] so far this month. Dial *124# to 100MB data [sic] to use today at R10. Offer valid today until 23:59.”

Thinking that this was some sort of isolated error, I continued about my day and drove home in the evening, after which I received the same message, with the amount of airtime depleted now sitting at R5.00.

I received another message after going out on Saturday, and I immediately purchased a data bundle to save my bleeding airtime balance.

I had used a total of R10.30 in out-of-bundle data over Friday and Saturday, despite ensuring that OOB billing was blocked on my SIM.

Upon checking my Data Refill and OOB limit lock settings, I found that they were exactly the same, meaning I should not have been able to incur any OOB data usage at all.

Below is a screenshot of the out-of-bundle data depletion SMSs sent by Vodacom.

Vodacom OOB 2

Vodacom responds

After contacting Vodacom regarding the issue, a customer support representative called me and apologised for the airtime depletion.

She said that she had fixed the problem by “resetting” the data limit lock on Vodacom’s system. My USSD menu stated that my limit was set to R0.00, but it seems that Vodacom’s systems did not share the same property.

When asked if this was an error with Vodacom’s data limit lock system, the agent said that she thought it might be, as another customer had called with the same problem earlier that day.

MyBroadband contacted Vodacom for comment on this issue, but the company did not respond by the time of publication.

Now read: Check your smartphone contract now – You could be paying more than you signed up for

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Vodacom stole my airtime