I was reading an article on MyBroadband this morning about how the three main mobile networks in South Africa are exploiting the vagaries of their mobile data products and how those products are billed at the expense of their customers. I have complained about Telkom’s profiteering in the past and the mobile networks are no better.

Here is the scenario: As a mobile data user you probably have a data bundle which specifies a certain amount of data you can use for a reduced price per MB. You may even be using an HSDPA doohickey or even a newer HSUPA device (are these available yet?) having bought into the fast mobile data transfer race MTN and Vodacom seem to be engaged in. So you are out there on the road/in a coffee shop surfing the Web, downloading stuff or doing other things as speeds that make Telkom’s ADSL seem like dial-up, life is good.

One problem though: do you know how much data you are using? The networks don’t provide a service in terms of which you can monitor your data usage in realtime (Vodacom apparently sms’s you to let you know how close you’re getting). To make matters worse, unlike ADSL, your connectivity does not end when you reach the limit of your data package. Your rate per MB just increases to around R2.00 or whatever your out of bundle rate is and on you go, cruising at light speed on the Web until you get your bill at the end of the month and experience a minor coronary. Sorry for you! The networks just don’t seem to have the capacity to tell you how much data you are using although you can be pretty sure the MDs of each network have a casino style counter showing them how much money the network is making in realtime on their office walls!

The next problem is the cost of mobile data. It is hideous. I used to think that this is really Telkom’s fault because their pricing is off the charts and to an extent that is true. It isn’t the whole picture though. Virgin Mobile charges its customers 50c per MB for data. Neotel charges its customers 8c per MB for out of bundle data. While this may well not be a simple case of comparing apples with apples, there must be a fair amount of wiggle room in there to cut prices for mobile data, both in bundle and out of bundle.

The networks do say that they can charge less for data but then users need to “commit to higher volumes of bandwidth” … right! So the main thing is to use higher volumes to compensate for the lower prices and to ensure that the networks keep making the massive amounts of money they are making and you pay pretty much the same anyway (use less for more per MB = use more for less per MB = works out pretty much the same?).

Here is an marketing idea from me, for free: sell a small jar of vaseline with every data package, just to ease the pain a little. You could even see about labelling the jar with your own stickers.

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