Mobile operators have seen a significant increase in the number of companies purchasing reverse data billing packages.
Reverse billing services allow companies to pay for the data customers use when visiting their website or other online resources.
Companies can pay for the data used by visitors at a discounted rate, and those who visit one of these “data-free” websites are not billed for the data they use on the platform.
Following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, many organisations – including universities, government departments, and private companies – have purchased reverse data billing to improve accessibility for their customers, students, or employees.
Vodacom, MTN, Cell C, and Telkom all offer reverse data billing services, and MyBroadband spoke to these companies about its adoption.
“MTN Business has seen a significant uptake of reverse-billing products across various different verticals in the market, the most significant increase is in the education, health, insurance, finance, and entertainment verticals,” said MTN executive for corporate affairs Jacqui O’Sullivan.
“This increase can be attributed to the need for work-from-home initiatives and a drive to enable digital inclusion for consumers needing access to content without a data cost barrier.”
“The product that has seen the greatest uptake is our aggregated reverse billing product, where we offer reverse billing across all mobile operators in South Africa,” she said.
“This allows them to carry the costs for the consumers who may be accessing the company’s content through their mobile applications and websites,” O’Sullivan said.
“The common case is businesses allowing their staff to access work-critical applications on a reverse-billed data connection.”
MTN’s reverse billing rate for its network is based on a tiered structure which accounts for total data usage.
“Costs range from R0.25 to as low as R0.16 per MB, and recently we introduced a COVID-19 initiative where we offer a discount of up to 50% on these rates to qualifying enterprises during the national lockdown,” O’Sullivan said.
Cell C told MyBroadband it has seen an increase in reverse billing service enquiries across all sectors.
“Enquiries are definitely on the increase across all sectors where staff are able to work from home,” the operator said.
It added that is has seen the application of these services across consumer-facing products and companies who want to allow staff to work from home without the additional cost of data.
“The applications are determined by whether the company approaching us is a business-to-consumer service provider or a company ensuring business continuity for its operations,” Cell C said.
The operator noted that while customers with a zero data balance can still access these data-free websites, if the site links to anything external, this will not work unless it is part of the URL that has been zero-rated.
Cell C said the price of its reverse billing service is competitive information and therefore confidential.
Telkom said it has seen an increase in customers requesting its Reverse Bill URL service, which is typically being used for business continuity purposes.
“We have also seen the data usage for existing customers using the Reverse Bill URL service also increase,” Telkom said.
“There is a mix of educational and corporate customers requesting the Reverse Bill URL.”
“Although Telkom has zero-rated education content for public universities and TVET colleges, it was not feasible for Telkom to extend this to all institutions – hence we have seen some private institutions also take up the service.”
“Corporates naturally would like to ensure the business continues by allowing employees to access work application without any restrictions,” the company said.
Telkom added that corporate customers typically request specific domains or VPN IPs to be reverse billed, ensuring that only employees or registered students access key applications.
“The standard commercial Reverse Bill URL product is priced at R0.12 per MB. Telkom’s products are unique in that it is based on a pure pay-as-you-use data model,” Telkom said.
“Telkom does not charge any once-off configuration fees or monthly maintenance fees for this service.”
The company added that discounted rates have been applied in some instances, particularly for educational institutions.
Vodacom told MyBroadband it has seen increased adoption of its reverse billing services due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“There has been a significant increase in interest in reverse-billed data products following the lockdown,” Vodacom said.
“Educational institutions form the majority of companies with interest in reverse billing of data.”
The network added that many companies are also purchasing the product to ensure their employees are able to work from home during the lockdown.
“Companies are purchasing data packages and APN products to allow their employees to work from home.”
“Reverse billing is charged on a usage-based sliding scale,” the company added.
Vodacom note that it has also zero-rated many education websites and subsidised data pricing for schools and universities as part of its commitment to education.