The debate on whether telcos should really expire data bundles or not has been going on for a while now, especially in Africa, where it is clear that data bundles have become a pain-point for most mobile internet users. In 2017 South Africa, their communications regulator, Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), published draft regulations that would see to it that telcos were prevented from expiring user’s data for up to 24 months.
In Kenya, it is not the first time that users have complained that their data bundle expired before they could deplete it despite the fact that all telcos in the country allow users to extend their bundle by purchasing another bundle before the expiry date of the former bundle. One thing that telcos will not jump up and about shouting is that you can only extend your current bundle’s expiry date if you buy a bundle of the same price or one with a higher price. Well, the big question is, should your data bundles really expire?
Network capacity management
Most telcos, when questioned about why they set an expiry date for data, claim that they buy upstream bandwidth via undersea fibre cables per month and thus setting an expiry date on data bundle allows them to properly plan how much traffic they will need to carry in a specific month. A claim I cannot verify.
The telcos claim that knowing the amount of data their customers will use, allows them to provide quality service. The defence is that, if they (the telcos) purchase bandwidth and it is not used up, there’s no way for them to recoup the lost bandwidth. Apparently, data bought in August, cannot be delivered in September. A false claim, since some data bundles have 60 or 90-days expiry period, meaning the data I bought it August, will be delivered to me over a period of three months.
A major argument against this claim is the use of out-of-bundles data. For example, where you as a user are charged per MB or per second of usage. If telcos really required to pre-sell all available data bandwidth for proper network capacity management, then services like unlimited data and out-of-bundle browsing would not exist because they would make it impossible for the telcos to plan accordingly.
Longer Expiry Period, Higher Prices
If you have been paying attention, data bundles with a shorter expiry period are usually sold at what we can only term as a “throwaway price”. The perfect example is Safaricom’s Blaze power hour bundles, where subscribers can get 150MB for Ksh.19 with the catch being, the expiry time is within an hour after purchase. In comparison, for you to get 150MB for 24hours on Safaricom, one is charged Ksh.50.
“The shorter the expiry period, the greater the certainty there is in terms of when the data will be used,” says Byron Kennedy, Vodacom SA spokesperson. With such a revelation, it is easy to understand why telcos charge more for bundles with a longer expiry period. The theory is, you will avoid buying a 1GB data bundle from Airtel with an expiry of 7-days at Ksh.250 because you will most probably not use it up within that time, you are more likely to purchase the 1GB bundle with an expiry period of 30-days at Ksh.300. More money for the telco, for literally the same product.
But is it theft?
Data is a service, not a tangible product. In the defence of telcos, they need to be sure that when they purchase a certain amount of bandwidth. However, mobile telecommunications operators aggregate millions of data from their subscribers and with this data, they can predict how much data one uses every month and thus plan accordingly. They do not need to set an expiry date in order to know the amount of bandwidth they require.
The truth is, setting a time bomb on a data bundles in the name of an expiry date, pushes the consumer to spend more money on purchasing a data bundle with a longer usage period. Every month, telcos make millions from unused data bundles and they would like to maintain the status quo. Expired data bundles are pure profits for them because you paid for a service that they don’t need to deliver.
The writer is at Saruni Maina