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MTN: Silicon valley in US consuming your data

MTN boss Wim Vanhelleputte. File Photo

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | It is common for Ugandan mobile internet users to exclaim at how fast their internet bundles run out, saying the company has (eaten) stolen it!

That is the common conclusion. This happens when a user fails to account for the data they have used within a period when it runs out faster than the previous top-up of a similar value, and yet the two top ups have been used to carry out the same tasks.

MTN Chief Executive Officer, Wim Vanhelleputte says your “data has not come to us, It has gone to Silicon Valley in the US,” referring to the home of the most popular apps.

Ugandans today mainly apply their data to chat with family, friends and workmates, especially on messaging apps like WhatsApp and Facebook, to a lesser extent Twitter and of recent, TikTok. But there also many others who use it to surf the internet, shoot videos and play music, among many other uses.

But sometimes, one will buy a 1,000 shilling-bundle top-up and use it for a day chatting on WhatsApp, and then another day it gets used up in few hours, and they can only remember having used it on WhatsApp.

MTN Uganda, which currently has about 5 million mobile internet users, is one of those service providers who have always faced endured accusations that they ‘steal’ their customers’ data.

To start with, Wim Vanhelleputte says when one is using a fast network, the time used to take to download something will be shorter than when you would use a slow network. So the bundle will run faster, only that it will have accomplished the same task in shorter time. “That is the disadvantage of being on a fast-quality network, but that doesn’t change the amount of MBs that you consume,” he explains.

However, what is difficult to explain is when using the same phone and same network but the MBs go faster. Vanhelleputte says it is because many Uganda do not know how to use their smartphones especially regarding the apps on them. The apps consume data bundles even when they are not in use, because they are configured to update automatically, hence the need to disable them.

However, while the telecom companies can suggest solutions to the users, like disabling automatic upgrades, some phones unfortunately are differently configured and there is little that the company can do to help.

Vanhelleputte says for example, the iPhone can only be set to postpone the upgrades to midnight when the upgrades are zero-rated, otherwise, it cannot be disabled.

Chief Marketing Officer Somdev Sen, advised that every user should shut down their windows every time they are not using their phones if they want to use their MBs sparingly. He says this is more important especially as use of voice, (which is disabled every time a call ends), is declining in favour of data.

The company was unveiling new internet costs for one-day bundles. Users will now get a price cut of up to 65 percent, meaning when they spend 1,000 shillings to get 100 MBs for a day, they will get 165 MBs.

MTN says 90 percent of their mobile data customers (about 4.5 million) buy daily bundles, and stresses that this is not a promotion, but a permanent adjustment in their prices for daily bundles.

According to Vanhelleputte, they are correcting an anomaly in the pricing because buyers of smaller bundles have been paying much more than the buyers of bigger bundles.

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