Vodacom’s uncapped experiment

Vodacom has recently started offering uncapped LTE products again through Internet service provider Axxess despite running into capacity problems with similar services last year.

However, the company has said it has no plans to relaunch its own uncapped fixed wireless plans.

Axxess launched its Vodacom fixed-LTE uncapped plans in March at incredibly aggressive prices, starting at R299 per month for a 20Mbps service.

As is typical for uncapped services on cellular networks, these plans have a strict fair usage policy.

If subscribers exceed certain monthly data usage thresholds, their package’s speed is throttled for the remainder of the month.

Crucially, they cannot be cut off from the Internet on an uncapped package — only their speeds are temporarily impeded.

The launch of these new uncapped packages on Axxess was a reversal of Vodacom’s move last year to pull all of its uncapped products from the market.

Vodacom had introduced uncapped LTE and 5G services in 2022, then tried to attach an underhanded concept it called “hard locks” to its fair usage policies a year later.

While the thresholds for these “hard locks” were very high — starting at 600GB — it was just another name for caps.

If you hit your hard lock limit, you would be cut off from the Internet. Precisely the opposite of what an uncapped connection is supposed to be.

Despite this, Vodacom didn’t change the names of these significantly altered products. It continued to market them as uncapped.

While Vodacom initially got away with implementing hard locks on its uncapped 5G products in October 2022, it faced heavy backlash when it tried the same thing on its uncapped LTE services at the start of 2023.

Within a week of announcing the hard lock limits, it had dropped the term “uncapped” from the product names.

It also offered subscribers who had taken out uncapped contracts and whose terms of service were now changing the opportunity to cancel without penalty.

Vodacom said at the time that it had changed its uncapped services into large-cap products to tackle increased network congestion caused by Eskom load-shedding.

Shameel Joosub
Shameel Joosub, Vodacom CEO

Interestingly, Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub had warned in 2021 that providing affordable uncapped LTE on Vodacom’s network would be to the detriment of the larger customer base.

“Trying to provide an unlimited wireless service on a 4G network is not very economical and doesn’t really make sense,” he said.

“It will not be long before all your customers will start suffering from those unlimited services because you can’t keep up with the capacity.”

Joosub also said that getting additional radio frequency spectrum would enable them to offer uncapped services.

Spectrum is the raw wireless capacity operators like Vodacom use to communicate between mobile devices and their cellular towers.

Vodacom acquired a substantial amount of additional spectrum at auction in March 2022.

Industry regulator Icasa had also temporarily granted all operators access to some extra spectrum to help alleviate network congestion during the pandemic lockdown.

However, regardless of the additional spectrum Vodacom had access to at that point, its network soon started to suffer from high-end users consuming large amounts of data using its new uncapped products.

As a result, it cracked down on its uncapped services with hard caps, albeit extremely large ones.

Asked if it would consider uncapped mobile 4G and 5G packages, Vodacom said it has no immediate plans to do so.

“Vodacom believes in providing customers with an excellent network experience, hence the manner in which we have structured our capped tariffs,” a spokesperson for the company told MyBroadband.

“The massive increase in data volumes from uncapped mobile 4G and 5G plans would have a significant impact on our network.”

The company also said it wouldn’t offer uncapped fixed wireless access (FWA) packages like Axxess is offering.

“Uncapped FWA packages often have fair usage policies, which ultimately results in a poor customer experience,” Vodacom said.

“While Vodacom’s FWA packages are capped, we have ensured that customers get a great experience by having a higher cap as compared to the soft-caps competitors have in their uncapped plans,” it added.

“This is in some cases double the unthrottled data volume available compared to other uncapped plans in the market.”

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Vodacom’s uncapped experiment