Many cellphone features have gone out of fashion, but there are perhaps none that evoke more nostalgia in South Africans than the Please Call Me.
Whether it’s because of the ongoing legal battle between its “inventor” and Vodacom over the revenue from the service, or the unique uses local users found for the free SMS service – Please Call Me was a ubiquitous tool among cellphone wielders in the 2000s.
The way it worked was simple: you dialed a USSD command which included the recipient’s number, and they then received an SMS alert with your number stating that you wanted them to call you.
The best part was that the service was free and the only limitation was the maximum number of messages you could send each day.
During the years the Please Call Me first became popular, the latest technologies available on cellphones included MMS and Infrared for file transfer, and Mxit for messaging.
A combination of factors eventually caused the Please Call Me to lose adoption, although it still has its proponents around the country.
The widespread uptake of WhatsApp, the launch of zero-rated services, and falling mobile data prices reduced South Africans’ reliance on SMS, voicemail, cellular phone calls, and eventually the Please Call Me service.
While the minuscule cost of a WhatsApp message makes sending a Please Call Me almost redundant today, we decided to try out the feature on each mobile network – both for the nostalgia and to check whether the service still works.
The service is definitely still going on all networks, although some operators offer a better experience than others. The results are shown below.
Vodacom – Please Call Me
Daily Limit: 10
Vodacom’s Please Call Me service was the one that coined the term that is widely used among South Africans.
By dialling *140*[number]#, you can send a Please Call Me to the recipient of your choice.
As can be seen in the screenshot below, the final message includes an advert which displays an embedded image on modern smartphones.
The advert we received when testing a Vodacom Please Call Me was for a mobile gaming service named “GameMine”.
MTN – CallBack
Daily Limit: 5
MTN’s CallBack service limits you to five messages per day and can be used by dialing *121*[number]#.
This message does not include any advertisement and simply delivers the message “Please Call [number]”.
Interestingly, MTN is the only mobile operator which does not include an advert in its Please Call Me messages.
Cell C – Call Me Back
Daily Limit: 5
Cell C’s Call Me Back service also limits you to five messages per day and can be accessed by dialling *111*[number]#.
This message includes an advertisement in text form which invites users to dial a USSD code.
The advertisement we received invited us to “WIN AIRTIME” with “WhatsApp Status!” for a subscription charge of R3 per day.
Telkom – Call Me
Daily Limit: 5
Telkom’s Call Me service limits you to five messages per day and can be accessed by dialing *140*[number]#.
This message includes an advertisement in text form which offers users a special deal on Telkom products.
The advertisement we received requested us to visit a Telkom store and take advantage of a Telkom LTE special offering 40GB of data for R249 per month.