By TATIRA ZWINOIRA
While smartphones do use background data, the number of affected mobile subscribers has begged a new look into the mystery of Econet and disappearing mobile data.
Last week, NewsDay did a poll on both its Twitter account and Facebook page asking whether anyone had experienced unexplained missing data.
In a few hours, more than 300 people had responded to experiencing this phenomenon, with some claiming to have received no joy from Econet’s customer care service.
On Twitter, more than 200 mobile subscribers complained about disappearing data, forcing the telecoms firm to respond to some of the complaints, and asking clients to visit their shops.
So bad were the complaints that NetOne, Econet’s distant but closest rival, tried to pitch to some of the affected Econet mobile subscribers to move on to their platform.
The issue of disappearing data has been topical for years and Econet’s explanations may no longer hold any weight.
Econet subscriber, Innocent Masedze said he bought a $1 WhatsApp weekly bundle that offers 90MB of WhatsApp and 45MB of Twitter data as well as another 90MB of WhatsApp data through WiFi, but says within two hours, the package had expired.
“What happened is that I bought that WhatsApp bundle with Twitter and that bundle usually does not view images or play videos. So in order to have that function as well, I bought the daily data bundle of 250 megabytes (MB) to also play videos and download images or even use YouTube.
“After, maybe, about two hours, I was sent a message saying my Twitter bundle had expired and when I went to Econet, I was told that these bundles were promotional,” he said. “They said that since these are promotional bundles, if I buy that WhatsApp weekly bundle and buy the 250MB afterwards, the first bundle is the one that will be used.”
Masedze said he was told to look at his data usage and when he checked on his Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime Plus handset, he found that there was a high data usage on Twitter, but dismissed that as the weekly WhatsApp bundle limits a subscriber’s usage.
Kudzai Murahwa said she bought the $1 WhatsApp weekly bundle, but it did not last three days.
She said she uses a Samsung Duos, which is not a heavy consumer of background data, and she uses WiFi during the day, hence, the disappearance of data was a mystery to her.
“I juiced up my bundle on Thursday night and on Saturday morning, I was sent message saying that my bundles expired,” Murahwa said.
“But, during the day, I am at work and use WiFi. I did not download anything and was only using those bundles for messages, only to be told that on Saturday morning they had expired.
“I contacted Econet customer care service . . . and I spoke to a lady, who told me that the guys who set up my internet settings are the ones with the problem and was asked what type of handset I used.
“She said on their (Econet’s) part, they were clean and that the fault in the data usage was with the guys who fixed internet setting on my phone.
Already, Econet offers the most expensive data bundles compared to its competitors, NetOne and Telecel.
A telecoms industry report in December 2017 found that Econet had the highest average revenue per user of $8,57 between July and September.
On their promotional bundles, the $1 weekly WhatsApp package translates to $0,004 per megabyte.
For daily bundles, Econet charges as low as 30 cents to $3, while the weekly ones range from $1 to $10.
The questions about disappearing data coincides with the Postal and Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) sector report for 2017 that found that the mobile operators had increased their revenues from the mobile data.
Experts claimed that while more advanced smartphones use more data, they usually relied on WiFi rather than cellular data.
In emailed responses to NewsDay on Friday about the issue, Econet said they were not aware of disappearing mobile data.
“We always take very seriously any cases relating to data or other credit balance changes that customers may not be aware of,” the company said.
“Where applicable, usage due to any actions by the customer that debits their account is explained, within the limits of the customer’s right to privacy relating to specific usage.
“In the unlikely event that a change in the customer’s balance was actually due to a system challenge, we do not hesitate to inform and refund the customer.
“We are not aware, at this time, of any such instances. In general, however, such anomalies have often pointed to background data consumption occurring particularly on smart phones, which can run many background applications that the customer may not be aware of.
“To prevent this, we introduced out-of-bundle blocking, which stops background data usage from occurring.”
Zimbabwe Information and Communication Technologies chairperson Jacob Mutisi said the issue of disappearing data had been raised.
“As long as a client cannot identify what is happening to their data bundles, it might be them who have got something that is active in the background, but it is very difficult to identify that, so it could be Econet’s fault or the client’s,” he said
“But, nine times out of 10, we do not have a structure that you go to the mobile networks and say what happened to my data bundle? If that provision was available, it would be easier to identify that.”
This comes as State-owned mobile telecoms company, NetOne, was forced by Potraz last month to reimburse about
180 000 subscribers with 150MB of data each after a glitch with its OneFusion platform last December.
ICT and Cyber Security minister Supa Mandiwanzira said the government had received numerous complaints from Econet mobile subscribers about disappearing airtime and it was now time for Potraz to act if the loss of data was the mobile phone company’s fault.
“We have asked Potraz to investigate,” he said.
“We have received complaints and have passed them on to Potraz, the regulator, to investigate and if there are some problems, they must take action. They recently fined NetOne for similar issues.
“We have spoken about it before, but it does not look like the issues are going away. So we want to implore the regulator to take action and protect the consumer.”
However, Potraz director-general Gift Machengete said they had not received complaints about the disappearing airtime by Econet subscribers, but encouraged anyone affected to report directly to them.
“When we then do our investigations on the operator and find there is something wrong, we write to the operator to correct the mistake and if they do not do that, we penalise them,” he said.