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Have you had a sudden increase in mobile data usage on SA networks
Posted by on Sep 3rd, 2015

Ok so this article has been in the pipeline for ages now and i’ve finally got around to posting it. About a month ago i asked on Twitter and Facebook if anyone else was experiencing abnormally high mobile data usage on South African cellular networks and the response was overwhelming. Enough so that radio stations got involved and even the National Complaints Commission said they would launch a full-scale investigation. Initially i thought it was just me doing something wrong, but it quickly became apparent that i wasn’t alone and others were experiencing unexplained data loss or astoundingly high phone bills over the last few months (in my case since July). So i did some investigation, got a call from Vodacom senior management and spoke to some tech people to see if i could find out why there was a sudden increase in mobile data usage.

Here’s a sample of the comments from my Facebook page on the 13 August after asking if others had experienced the same issue.

high mobile data usage SA

Obviously something is happening. The response on Twitter was pretty much the same.

Now in my case the problem started in July. I’m on the Vodacom network and for the past few years have bought a pre-paid R99 data bundle that gives me 500MB. It was sufficient to last pretty much the entire month and during heavier use i’d have to buy a new bundle around the 22 day mark. I can’t ever remember having to top up in less than 20 days..well until July this year. It got worse in August when i recieved an alert notification after just 12 days that my bundle was almost finished. And this was with normal usage patterns.

Now several people threw out explanations including the following:

Auto-updates: apps are constantly updated and the size of updates has progressively increased. If you have auto-updates enabled they will obviously consume mobile data in the background assuming you don’t do it over wi-fi. I do not have auto-updates enabled.

Data heavy apps: Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat etc. all chow data given their media rich content. Lots of talk around autoplay video options on Facebook being recently introduced and that Instagram increased the resolution of pics in July to nearly triple. Instagram did release a statement though that the increase in photo resolution didn’t affect photo size and data consumption. I don’t have Snapchat, follow nobody on Instagram and hardly use Facebook at all.

New mobile devices: newer models are capable of running higher resolution videos and using LTE or 4G. Youtube for example will automatically adjust the quality of the video given your connection speed and device capabililty and if you are on a new device with fast connection it will consume more data. I have not changed my device for the past 2 years and still use 3G or H+.

Windows 10: the new version of Windows was launched at the end of July and came in at a hefty 3GB. If for example you were on 1GB a month data contract and opted to update to Windows 10 you would have used 2GB out-of-bundle and ended up with a huge bill. I did not update to Windows 10.

Auto-switch between wi-fi and mobile network: there is an option on most devices to auto-switch between the strongest signal so if your mobile network signal is stronger than the wi-fi it will use mobile data instead. I do not have this option enabled.

Out-of-bundle rates: if you deplete your bundle and don’t top up your data you will be charged the much higher out-of-bundle rates which at 99c per MB will basically set you back R1000 a gig. I have my device set to alert me when i get near the 500MB limit so never go out of bundle.

So if it wasn’t any of those that consumed my data then what was it.

I did a quick check of my data usage and the Android breakdown shows that most of my data is used by Twitter and my browser which is currently Chrome. Whatsapp and Uber are next, but nothing out of the ordinary so i decided to do some testing on my device to see if i could identify where the data was going and started with a fresh 500MB bundle on the 20th August.

At around the same time i recieved a call from Vodacom wanting to explain a few things. Wasn’t much i didn’t already know, but they did mention one thing which caught my interest. I asked how i can be sure that mobile data isn’t being consumed even though i’m in a wi-fi zone and was told that to be absolutely sure that you don’t use any mobile data you can switch it off while using wi-fi. So i did just that. Manually turned off mobile data every time i was on wi-fi and in the past 14 days i’ve used 322MB. Compared to 596MB in the previous 2 weeks. That’s nearly half the usage.

Mmmmmmmmm. So what does that mean now. Was mobile data being consumed while i was both on wi-fi and mobile data? Can’t be right? I have auto-switch disabled so when i enable wi-fi use it shouldn’t be using any mobile data.

I have installed a data tracking app called My Data Manager and it’s been running since the 20th August when i loaded that 500MB. When the bundle is used up i will add another bundle and go back to leaving the mobile data on while in a wi-fi zone to see if increases again.

In the mean time please leave a comment if you’ve experienced a recent increase in mobile data usage. Please state what network you are on, how much your data consumption has increased compared to previous months or if you’ve had an abnormally high bill.

CJ says:
September 09, 2015 at 2:57 pm

Well MTN cut off my step mother’s line after the first week in August because she was over her credit limit (her line caps at 2gb and then she tops up), so what credit limit?
Bill arrived from MTN for R16 000 for “roaming” (between Joburg and…Joburg?) during the week she was battling to get them to connect her again. Then as they connected her they charged her and depleted a 1gb in less than a day(this shows on the bill, but they don’t have any records of what could have used that 1gb or why they loaded it with her reconnection).

I have 1gb for 12am to 6am usage (which I never use), in 7 days that 1gb night usage is GONE.

MTN merely respond that you must pay the account before they’ll “look into the matter”.

bradley says:
September 09, 2015 at 2:57 pm

Oh yeah…I’ve already spend R90 on 850MB from Saturday 29 August until today 4 September. Barely a Week. That’s MTN. On Vodacon I can Blast through a 1GB(R12) every night just on Downloading. I can spend from R800-R2000 a month on Prepaid Data. I dont use WiFi cause we dont have Hotspots in our area.

Lloyd says:
September 09, 2015 at 2:57 pm

So at the end of 2014 / beginning of 2015 most of the major networks started implementing billing changes on their networks (I believe it started with CellC). The change involved increasing the minimum data increments you’re billed for (also called unitisation).

Quite simply this means that when your phone establishes a data session and that session uses only 4KB of data, you’ll actually be charged for 25KB of data usage (If you’re on CellC). Think of it as putting in 4 liters of petrol and when you swipe, you get charged for 25 liters.

There is no regulation of the minimum data increments (unitisation charges) so different networks will “steal” your data at different rates (Vodacom’s minimum increment is 5KB). The official reason networks gave for increasing their unitisation charges was that “It reduces the load on our billing systems”. They’ve also issued public statements blaming auto-updates and Windows 10 and the public are none the wiser.

Mick says:
September 09, 2015 at 2:57 pm

I have found unusually high usage on my PC.
Suddenly my data use has skyrocketed – and where previously I never reached my monthly soft-cap, now I get there by about 23rd of a month.
Any suggestions?.

Caroline says:
September 09, 2015 at 2:57 pm

I have been having a fight with MTN for 6 months and discovered the same thing! They even told me I needed to turn data off when on wifi. Horrific as if I’m not properly connected to wifi i can’t use internet services but yet apparently still charged for data?

KARIN says:
September 09, 2015 at 2:57 pm

This was my complaint to ICASA. Telkom came back still saying I used 10 gigs in 12 days.

COMPLAINANT: xxxxxxx
ID NR: xxxxxxxx
CONTRACT NR: xxxxxxxxx– INTERNET 5 PROMO
COMPLAINT: AGAINST TELKOM SA

THEY SAYS I USED 10GIGS IN 12DAYS AND I SAY I DID NOT USE 10 GIGS IN 12 DAYS AND I WANT IT PROPERLY INVESTIGATED AND MY DATA RESTORED AND I WANT PROPER INFORMATION AS TO WHAT I USE MY DATA ON
14.08.2015 WENT TO N1 CITY TELKOM
LOGGED A COMPLAINT – CASE NR 17060561
18.08.2015 PHONED TO FOLLOW UP ON COMPLAINT. AKHONA ANSWER MY CALL
AND WHEN I ASK HER TO GIVE ME FEEDBACK ON MY CASE NR SHE PUT
ME ON HOLD AND DROPPED THE CALL. MICHEAL HAKEE TOOK
MY NEXT CALL TO TELKOM AND ASSIST ME. THEY HAD NO ANSWER TO MY
COMPLAINT JUST SAID I DID USE 10 GIGS IN 12 DAYS AND CLOSED THE
CASE.
I BOUGHT AN ADDITIONAL 2G FOR R139 ON THIS DAY.
I STOP ALL AUTOMATIC UPDATES ON MY INTERNET MOBILES AND
STARTED TO MONITOR HOW MUCH DATA I USE ON EACH APPLICATION.
22.08.2015 THE 2G WHERE FINISHED WITHIN 3 DAYS.
ACCORDING TO MY NOTES THE DATA I USED IN THE PERIOD BETWEEN
THE 18TH AND THE 22ND WAS ONLY 491MB.
IF THERE WAS STILL STUFF RUNNING IN THE BACKGROUND IT COULD NOT
HAVE BEEN MORE THAN 1509MB WHICH WILL MAKE UP THE 2000MB THAT
I HAD.
24.08.2015 I LOGGED ANOTHER CASE TO INVESTIGATE THE 2 GIGS THAT WAS
FINISHED WITHIN 3 DAYS. CASE NR 17060561
26.08.2015 I PHONED TO FOLLOW UP ON THE SECOND CASE NR WHICH NO ONE HAS
BOTHERED TO COME BACK TO ME ABOUT AND SPOKE TO SIHELE SITHOLE
WHICH THEY SAID WAS THE SUPERVISOR. HE ALSO SAID I USED UP ALL MY
DATA AND CAN’T TELL ME ON WHAT I HAVE USED IT.
I HAVE HAD THIS CONTRACT FOR MORE THAN 4 YEARS AND HAVE NEVER
USED UP 10 GIGS IN A MONTH AND I DO THE SAME THING EVERY MONTH
AND NEVER HAD TO BUY MORE DATA.
THE CONTRACT IS 10G FOR R199 AND I GET AN ADDITIONAL 10GIGS FOR
NIGHT TIME ROAMING.
I WANT THIS TO BE INVESTIGATED PROPERLY AND IF I DID USED THE
10GIGS AND THE ADDITIONAL 2GIGS UP I WANT TO KNOW ON WHAT I HAVE
USED IT.
TELKOM IS NOT GIVING ME ANSWERS AND I WANT TO KNOW WHAT I AM
PAYING FOR AND WHERE I SPENT THAT 12GIGS ALL TOGETHER.

I HAVE MADE A PRINT SCREEN OF MY DATA USAGE ACCORDING TO MY MOBILE DEVICE TO SHOW YOU WHO MUCH DATA I HAVE USED SINCE THE 18TH TILL THE 22ND. (482 MB) I DO UNDERSTAND THAT THIS IS NOT ALWAYS TOTALLY CORRECT BY 482 MB IS A FAR CALL FROM 2000 MB.
I WOULD GREATLY APPRECIATE IT IF YOU COULD PLEASE LOOK INTO THIS FOR ME

KARIN MARAIS

My story is very much like yours and I did everything you did. what the!!!!!!

Deena Naicker says:
September 09, 2015 at 2:57 pm

I have 2gb data on my iPad. Have had my contracts for 6 years now. The 2gb used to last me for the month. I am now using this 2gb in 7 days and my surfing habits have not changed. Also, we have Telkom wifi at home and get 20gb a month. We had the contract for almost 2years now but since July, the 20 gb only last between 10 to 18 days and our normal surfing habits have not changed. I’m at my wits end with having to pay more every month on my contracts. I get the sense there is something untoward happening between the networks and they are holding us consumers to ransom. Further, my 2 data contracts signed with MtN in July 2015 for at R119 per month for each has been billed from inception at R139pm. They keep telling me that all contracts went up by R10 in April 2015. I Don’t understand though as to why my contracts went up by R20 each and I signed in July. What’s more, the deal I signed for at R119 is still being advertised by them. I feel we are all just being taken for a ride by the networks and we really do not have any recourse. This just makes me sick to my stomach. Would appreciate any help.

Sharon says:
September 09, 2015 at 2:57 pm

Over the last five months my data bill on 3G has gone from R150/2Gigs to R1700 , The guys that answer the phones say it looks wrong but after many phone calls and requesting a usage report that will at least explain something I am yet to receive any positive feed back ,my cell phone data usage has also gone way above regular average
I have had an expert look at my computer and all is in order ,after daily calling mweb they said it’s an Mtn problem ,I really don’t know what to do next ,!!!!

Tanuja says:
September 09, 2015 at 2:57 pm

I’m on an MTN Top up Contract. 2 month ago I upgraded my phone to an Samsung S6. My bill for May was 4000.00 and in June it was 8000.00 I usually pay 500.000. Spoken to mtn and received a report saying that this is valid and I have to pay. please is there anybody that can assist as this is not within my affordability.

Guy Bester says:
September 09, 2015 at 2:57 pm

I spend vast amounts of time in many countries including South Africa, where my charged mobile data usage is notably much higher than normal when in other countries, although Im using the same phone and use the same websites doing nothing different in SA.
Therefore I can only deduce that it has nothing to do with “backround app refreshing, nor phone settings!”
I have tried using Telkom, MTN and Vodacom – all with the same results. It’s like the Data Meter in South Africa is rigged to count more mb than normal.

Mary-Ann says:
September 09, 2015 at 2:57 pm

Hi

This response is a bit late… but I feel gives us a new perspective, with a twist on the theory that we are consuming more data as being the reason we are being charged more.
So the jist of most of the comments that you’ve received are about people wondering how they used so much data. Here’s the answer….. They didn’t.
They are still using the same amount of data.
The reason their bundles are being depleted is because their carrier is measuring the data usage as much higher than they are actually using.
Let me explain…
I am a cell c customer. I put a setting on my phone to warn me when I get close to my data usage limit.
I purchased 400mb of data from cell c. I received an sms from cell c about 10 days later saying my bundle has depleted.
However my phone shows that I have only used just over 100mb in total.
So essentially, Cell C are measuring data at 4 times as much as what your device measures.
Now, there is the argument that what your device measures and what your carrier measures may vary… But measuring 4 times as much?1!!!!! That’s just ludicrous. And I’m pretty sure, illegal.

Gerda Pieterse says:
September 09, 2015 at 2:57 pm

It happened to me. Historically I use about an eight of my vodacom data, this last month I used 5gb in the first half of the month and my wifi usage also spiked straight up from almost 0 to 5gb. Everything is turned off and nothing is allowed to sync or run in the background. I do go on facebook and read two or three newspapers (none is allowed to run in the background) Automatic updates are also disabled and I have a licenced ant- virus program.

Wendy Louw says:
September 09, 2015 at 2:57 pm

Hi. Googling and found this. Hubby never goes over his 1gb a month. When the sms comes thru he switches data off. Last month no sms. Avcount R745 extra. This month no sms. R2200 ekstra. Ridiculious.

Ntuntu says:
September 09, 2015 at 2:57 pm

It’s happened to me as well, I load airtime and data, and it vanishes on its own, so sad because Vodacom says this is not possible and it is happening to a lot of people, do you think all these people are lying

lvh says:
September 09, 2015 at 2:57 pm

I’m MTN, I use to load 1g every month ( since it lasted me a month). Then suddenly 1g only lasted me 2 days. I phoned MTN to find out what’s going on…. They told me its background usage.,which I have disabled since I have gotten my new phone. I told customer care of this and still she tells me that I must switch it off. I got frustrated and started to use my old blackberry phone again and only go to free wifi spots if I want to use my new data sponge phone which is now used by my nephew to play games on.

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