Should Data Bundles Expire?

The conversation around expiring bundles has been a hot topic across the African continent. We’ve seen it include politicians, and regulators. And the main question has been why should bundles expire after you’ve paid for them?

Well, for one, whichever network you use, you have noticed that the bundles that expire fastest, are cheaper, and give you more data for less money. It is a way of making money. If you want bundles that won’t expire in a day, or a week, pay more. If you want more for less, get a bundle that expires in a day, and make sure you use it up before it expires.

In the past week, the Ghanaian government has directed Telcos in the country to stop expiry of voice and data bundles. According to the directive, all unused data must not expire and must be rolled over with the next recharge.

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In South Africa, we saw clear guidelines from the Independent Communications Authority (ICASA) which forced all Telcos in South Africa to change how bundles work.

Currently in South Africa, all Telcos must allow users option of rolling over their data before expiry. They must also allow users to transfer data to other users before expiry. The companies must also have proper notifications on data usage sending texts at 50%, 80% and 100% data depletion. All the companies must also explicitly ask users if they want to browse without data bundles after their bundle has been completed.

From this, what you can clearly see is the conversation is shifting from just plain bundles that don’t expire forever – because that’s not good business – to the option to extend bundle cycles without losing what you already bought.

In Kenya, only one company, Safaricom, seems to be doing something on bundle expiry. You may have noticed on some bundles, like with the Giga Bundle, you always get a notification that a certain amount of data has been recovered from the previous cycle that had expired. Something you don’t see with any other providers. It’s also Safaricom that debuted the data manager option that restricts you from accessing internet services without a data bundle.

When I used to be an Airtel Internet Customer, the one thing I really disliked was how bundles would just expire without any notification, and I’d find myself using up my airtime. To date, it’s only Airtel Kenya that still doesn’t have a data manager to restrict this.

Update: Airtel has a data manager. Confirmed.

I think the conversation around expiring data bundles in Kenya should shift from the plain argument that bundles shouldn’t expire, to

  1. Having concrete steps on extending expiry cycles. Where customers on all networks get the option to extend their cycles without losing what was already bought. This should be clear, and one should be notified before and after expiry. It shouldn’t be a game of what time did I buy the bundle, now I need to buy another one.
  2. Transferring of data – where customers can share their bundles at certain times before expiry with other people.
  3. Notifications of use – where customers get proper notifications on usage. And…
  4. Restriction of out-of-bundle internet access. This should be on by default to all customers on all networks. Someone should only opt in to out-of-bundle browsing if they want to.

What are your thoughts on data bundles expiry?


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