Legal Mobile Tech Telecoms

Unpacking MTN’s misleading “uncapped” data bundle

I just came across a bizarre story on EWN, “The terms of MTN’s uncapped data explained”, in which MTN’s Chief Customer Experience Officer, Eddie Moyce, explains MTN’s activation requirement for its time-based and misleading “uncapped” data bundle. Granted, I am not really familiar with MTN’s data bundles anymore but this sounds like a consumer trap. Here is the radio segment:

Terms of MTN uncapped data by Primedia Broadcasting

Basically, even though you have paid for the bundle, you still need to activate it by dialling a short-code which you receive by a SMS. If you don’t activate the bundle, you will use data at normal data rates and could wind up with a larger bill than you expected.

Two aspects of this story puzzle me:

1. Why offer this sort of “uncapped” bundle that the customer still needs to activate in order to use it, even after paying for it?

This is really misleading where most data bundles activate automatically when you have paid for them and the changes propagate across the network, don’t they?

It seems to me that MTN intentionally created this activation mechanism knowing that many customers won’t actually realise they need to do it and will wind up paying far more. I checked the terms and conditions that apply to this package (I think – the MTN site is not exactly designed to find information easily) and it says the following:

  1. Activation of the MTN 1 Day Uncapped Internet Bundles

5.1 Customers may purchase an MTN 1 Day Uncapped Internet Bundle by dialing 1412#.

5.2 Customers must activate the MTN 1 Day Uncapped Internet Bundle after purchase, by dialing 1415#. The MTN 1 Day Uncapped Internet Bundle does not automatically activate .

5.3 Customers may only activate the MTN 1 Day Uncapped Internet Bundle if they have sufficient airtime in their airtime account or using their usage limit (for My MTNChoice customers). This excludes MTN Loyalty 1–4–1 Loyalty Points and any promotional airtime.

Bear in mind that this seems to be a data bundle that is “valid for a period of 24 (twenty four) hours”, although only “after it is activated”. I also wonder how many people are aware of when the data bundle kicks in? How many people assume (and reasonably so) that the package kicks in automatically and they start using the data right away?

As far as the seemingly reasonable SMS from MTN with activation instructions goes, my experience handling mobile services complaints tells me that many people ignore SMS messages they receive for various reasons and may not notice the significance of an activation message until long after their bill has hit triple digits.

This activation mechanism looks a lot like the dodgy tactics mobile content providers used to use before they were banned: automatically subscribing consumers to expensive content (think R5 or R7 per day until cancelled) subscription services without clear double opt-in mechanisms and pricing information. Just because this is a major mobile network, doesn’t mean they should be allowed to use these deceptive tactics.

2. If the bundle is uncapped, why impose a “fair use value” cap of 150MB? That is tiny.

Then, to add to this, the notion that a bundle with a “fair use value” cap of 150MB is somehow an “uncapped” data bundle is ridiculous. That is a tiny amount of data when you consider that, as Eddie Moyce put it, people tend to buy these packages for specific reasons. One of those reasons would be that the customer needs to use a lot more data than his or her usual bundle allows (at least, cost effectively) in a short time period.

Here is an extract from the terms and conditions dealing with the “Fair Use Policy”:

9.1.4 Customers with an active MTN 1 Day Uncapped Internet Bundle shall be able to generate uncapped data usage, however, a fair use value/threshold as detailed in the table in clause 4 above will apply for the duration of the Validity Period.

9.1.5 Should the Customer exhaust the fair use value, as detailed in the table in clause 4 above, before the end of the Validity Period, the Customer’s data speeds will be reduced to 128kbps for the remainder of the Validity Period and the Fair Use Policy shall detailed in this clause 9 shall apply.

9.1.6 MTN further reserves the right to implement other measures and controls to ensure that the integrity of its systems is maintained, including but not limited to measures such as DPI (Deep Packet Inspection). DPI: allows MTN to monitor aspects including, but not limited to, non-compliance with its Fair Use Policy and restricted protocols, prevent attacks from computer viruses/worms and identify SPAM. Such usage may be blocked or re-routed; also allows MTN to throttle certain usage, such as peer to peer traffic; shall also allow MTN to prioritize/filter certain activities, such as VoIP traffic, over other activities which are burdensome on the MTN network (such as video streaming); in essence, this allows MTN to alleviate network congestion and improve service to all MTN customers.

9.1.7 This Fair Use Policy may be amended by MTN, whether by clarifying, modifying, adding to or deleting certain terms and conditions. This is subject to the Modification of Terms and Conditions, including notice being provided to you, as detailed in clause 16 below.

Not only does the available data speed slow to 128kbps when you hit that measly 150MB but MTN also imposes a series of restrictions on how you can use the data and when. The end result is that your “uncapped” data bundle is more like a “you can’t do much with this ISDN-like connection but thanks for paying anyway” bundle.

Oh, and the fact that MTN hides all these restrictions and qualifications in terms and conditions which few consumers will ever read, are couched in fairly dense language and presented in pale text on a white background that no-one over 45 can read without squinting says a lot too.

One more thing

Oh, by the way, this package isn’t available for “commercial use” so don’t think you are allowed to use this package to give your small business a little boost either:

9.2 The MTN 1 Day Uncapped Internet Bundles are intended for consumer use only. This means that the MTN 1 Day Uncapped Internet Bundles may not be used for commercial use (which includes, but is not limited to the intention of promoting, enabling, subscribing to, selling (directly or indirectly) the goods, services or image of any person pursuing a commercial, industrial, craft, religious, charitable or political activity or exercising a regulated profession).

9.3 The MTN 1 Day Uncapped Internet Bundles exclude use of the following services:

9.3.1 Least Call Routing (LCR);

9.3.2 Routing devices; and/or

9.3.3 Commercial use.

9.4 Use of the above services shall be deemed abuse and/or fraudulent use of the MTN 1 Day Uncapped Internet Bundles and shall entitle MTN to immediately suspend and/or deactivate the Customer’s access to the MTN 1 Day Uncapped Internet Bundles.

So if you are a small business owner and you happened to buy this bundle and use it as part of your business (you could have sent a data message to a client telling them about your services, for example), you would be committing a fraud in addition to breaching the terms and conditions of the bundle. Talk about hostile to small business!

Just more frustration

This was meant to be a quick post but the more I read the angrier I became. I’ve clearly been out of the country for too long and far too accustomed to my current mobile service which includes 5 000 minutes of calls, 5 000 SMS messages, 10GB of data a month and 500 minutes of calls to my family in SA (landlines in SA) for the equivalent of about R200 per month.

I’m sure the economics in SA are different to here in Israel but why couldn’t MTN offer a simpler option that just let’s people pay their R40 for either a fixed amount of data or a realistic “fair use value” cap? Drop this silly activation mechanism and the ridiculous fine print. In other words, give people what they think they are getting or, if that is more than you want to offer, offer them something you are comfortable with and that makes sense to consumers.

Featured image credit: Pixabay, released under a CC0 Dedication

Mindsets Mobile Tech

MTN's seemingly stupid LTE pricing strategy

Apparently MTN is charging its contract users an extra R39 each month for access to its LTE service. This access charge seems to be an add-on like data bundles and itemised billing and it is something Telkom executives would come up with as a Good Idea because it adds another convenient revenue stream. It doesn’t matter that it just insults its customers and ignores a much simpler and more effective option: reduce data charges and open access to the LTE service up to all users, at no extra cost.

This is a bit radical so I’ll explain my thinking (formed in the absence of any sense of MTN’s costs, margins or any possible insight into MTN’s economics). It’s a pretty simple idea, really. What MTN does is it reduces its data costs like its competitors have been doing, for starters. It then allows any device that can access the LTE service to do so at no extra cost. Consider what this offers customers: a fast data service that you can use anywhere and at lower prices that MTN currently offers. As the cost of mobile data moves closer to other broadband options it becomes worthwhile using mobile broadband more often.

We are already using 8ta’s mobile broadband at my office instead of Telkom’s ADSL access. I disabled ADSL access on my landline and reduced my Afrihost data bundle solely for home use (I had 120GB each month, capped, and shared between home and office). I may pay a little more each month for data access at my office but it is faster than Telkom and Afrihost ever offered us and is more reliable.

Our MTN coverage at the office is even better but there is no chance I can use MTN’s 3G for work data consumption because it is so expensive relative to its competitors. If MTN data cost what I pay 8ta or Cell C and I had LTE access available, it would be even better. Would probably spend even more on data with MTN each month and that is the point. A lot of other people probably would do and that extra cost would almost certainly be more than the stingy R39 MTN is charging just for access to its high priced data service. That probably sounds like an awesome idea but it is a short term gain at the expense of its customers who are probably also exploring competitors’ cheaper alternatives.

In other words, MTN’s pricing strategy is just stupid and is a metaphorical giant middle finger to its customers. Good job Telkom, sorry, I mean, MTN.

Mobile Tech

If MTN can do this here, why don't we see this more often elsewhere?

I do speed tests on my connections all the time. I don’t get out much and this, along with website terms and conditions, is a bit of an obsession for me. I see speeds like this in areas around Johannesburg on some days and really lousy speeds in most other areas and I wonder why we don’t see more consistently fast transfer rates on MTN’s network? Is it a topography thing? Equipment?

By the way, I did these tests using my new iPad. My iPhone 4s was getting just under half these transfer rates on MTN earlier.

Mobile Tech Web/Tech

My upload line speed on @MTNSouthAfrica is a beautiful thing this morning

I had to switch over to MTN 3G when I got to my office this morning because my Afrihost ADSL doesn’t seem to be working here at the moment. I ran the obligatory speed test and this beautiful set of readings was my result. The upload line speed is particularly beautiful this morning:

Now to figure out why my ADSL isn’t working …

Mobile Tech Telecoms

Dial up speeds on @MTNSouthAfrica

I’m at the Design Quarter this morning and the 3G data speeds are pretty lousy this morning. I was getting pretty excited about the speeds I was seeing in Rosebank and Melrose Arch but now I think MTN was just teasing me.

Mobile Tech

Driving through @melrosearch on @MTNSouthAfrica's network

I know I pot about MTN quite a bit lately but Melrose Arch has some pretty good transfer rates. This was taken driving through Melrose Arch but I’ve had even better transfer rates in the Piazza in particular.

I also post this stuff because high speeds, especially the upload rates, excite me.

Mobile Tech Travel and places Web/Tech

Wolves + MTN = a beautiful thing

We are at Wolves for a bit this morning (we had to escape the office smokers) and I can’t connect to the wifi so I am using my iPhone to connect to the MTN data network. As is required of any geek worth his or her smartphone, I ran a speed test and this was the result:

Its a beautiful thing …. Thank you MTN for this awesomeness. BFF!

I ran another test, for the kicks, and its even better. Fast upload speeds are porn for content creators!

Mobile Tech Web/Tech

Blazing broadband at Melrose Arch on @MTNSouthAfrica

Like any geek sitting down in a new location for more than 5 seconds, I ran a Speedtest on the MTN network here at Melrose Arch. The download rate is awesome but the upload rate is unusually slow for cellular data, in my limited experience.