Know your network technology to save data

Michael Abdinor said MTN were charging him internet access for wi-fi from his pay-as-you-go air time.

“My iPhone 5 has had cellular data turned off from day one as I only use wi-fi. The phone has been checked by the iStore for faults and they did not detect any problems,” the Woodbridge Island man told me.

“No less than five different MTN outlets confirmed that this charge should not happen and it is most likely a MTN data problem. Despite six communications with their call centres, including supervisors, reference numbers and a SIM swap neither the MTN stores nor the call centres will accept responsibility to resolve this problem. They are deducting charges daily from my airtime for using my wi-fi.”

So what’s going on? MTN’s reply was short and didn’t say why data was being deducted from Mr Abdinor’s phone even though he was using wi-fi.

“Thank you for taking my call and I really appreciate your cooperation and understanding regarding your data issue. With regards to your query, we credited your account with R100 airtime for all the data charges incurred while you were connected to wi-fi,” MTN’s customer experience officer said.

When I conveyed MTN’s response to Mr Abdinor, he said that while he appreciates their feedback and refund, they have still not solved the problem.

“I monitor it closely but MTN is still debiting my airtime when I use wi-fi. They have had screen shots of my phone settings sent to their technical personnel to confirm that all is correct. Although it is a small amount of money it is the principle and I may have to change my number and service provider when I get to a zero balance as it appears that this problem is unsolvable,” Mr Abdinor said.

With a bit of prodding and a few reminders, Graham de Vries, Corporate Services Executive, MTN SA, said: “As a result of the fact that LTE (Long Term Evolution) is an “always on” technology, some LTE compatible handsets have an LTE default bearer which renders the handset connected even when the cellular data application is not active.

“This means that when customers are connected to the LTE network, the handset is still able to receive uplink and downlink packets from the internet, which in turn consumes their data bundles even in circumstances where the subscriber is actively using wi-fi. This is more prevalent with the Samsung and iPhones.

“MTN urges its customers to physically switch to 3G before they switch usage to wi-fi. MTN has invited the customer to visit its office in order for a device specialists to look at the device but unfortunately, the customer was unable to do so.”

Mr Abdinor said he managed to change from LTE to 3G on the settings and he “experimented by using wi-fi liberally”.

“So far I have not had any funds deducted from my airtime. I also received a call from Jay Govender of MTN explaining the same process. If only someone had mentioned this in the beginning it would have saved a lot of time and trouble but then others blissfully on LTE are contributing funds unnecessary to the service provider. I will still visit MTN to make doubly sure,” Mr Abdinor said.

When describing smartphone data networks, you often hear the words 3G, 4G, and LTE (Long Term Evolution).

It refers to the generation of network technology. The third generation network, known as 3G, is the oldest technology of the group; 4G is the fourth generation data network.

Ivan Booth of the Wireless Application Service Providers’ Association of SA (WASPA), said that mobile users feeling the pinch could have 30% more data available if they better managed how it is drained by apps such as Google Drive, Facebook Messenger and Gmail when their phone screens are off.

“Things are getting fairly tough this year and data charges are ridiculously high in South Africa,” he said.

A recent study based on app usage with data-saving app Opera Max indicated that 30% of all data is used by apps running in the background when they’re not actively being used.

Waspa says a common consumer query it receives is about allegedly “disappearing” airtime.

“Unmanaged data usage can easily deplete airtime balances when apps are automatically updating and fetching new content users haven’t requested. Our advice to mobile users is to disable automatic app updates in settings,” said Waspa general manager, Ilonka Badenhorst.

“There are many apps available for download that manage other apps’ background data usage. One example is Opera Max, a free data-savings and data-management Android app, but there are others to help users get more out of mobile data plans,” she said.

Ms Badenhorst explained that navigating to your smartphone’s settings’ icon and opening the “data usage” tab will reveal a list of applications downloaded and the amount of data each has consumed, usually over the last month.

“The list makes for interesting reading. The top offender is usually your operating system’s App Store, followed by such applications such as internet banking, VoIP apps such as Skype, and other applications you probably don’t really need to access on the go,” she said.

A 2014 study by examined the state of global internet connectivity and found that only half of Africans could afford more than 20MB of internet data a month.

With Africans continuing to adopt smartphones that are data hungry, compression technology is becoming increasingly relevant.

* Waspa, a non-profit organisation, was founded in 2004 with the full support of the three SA mobile network operators (MNOs): Cell C, MTN and Vodacom.

Waspa has a detailed code of conduct which all members must adhere to and a well-established formal complaints process.

Fostering consumer confidence in the wireless application service provider (Wasp) industry through responsible self-regulation is a key focus of the association.

Visit for more information and to see how to lodge a complaint or compliment.