Cell C and Vodacom have told MyBroadband they do not charge subscribers for the data used by LTE devices to connect to their respective networks.
This follows an investigation by MyBroadband which revealed that airtime was “disappearing” from two MTN prepaid SIMs installed in LTE-capable smartphones.
Airtime was consumed by out-of-bundle data usage, despite mobile data on the devices being switched off. The devices were also connected to a Wi-Fi connection with Internet access.
MTN said the airtime usage was a result of LTE being a data-only technology.
As LTE is an all Internet Protocol network, this results in LTE devices using data packets to establish a connection to the network – even if the mobile data usage option in a device’s operating system is disabled.
Telkom said it does not view this “LTE connection data” in the same way as mobile data used for websites or apps.
“Packets are transmitted to the network to authenticate the device so it can attach to the network, this is different to Internet traffic,” said Telkom.
“We classify that as control plane traffic, whereas data from the handset when a subscriber is browsing is user plane traffic.”
No charge for subscribers
Vodacom and Cell C confirmed they, like Telkom, do not charge for this “control plane” data.
The data is effectively zero-rated, as it is not billed. Vodacom said that as a result of the data not being billed, it doesn’t measure how much is consumed to set up an LTE session between devices and the network.
“We only charge for data used to do Internet activities. Setting up the connection to be able to do this is considered non-billable,” said Vodacom.
Cell C said it doesn’t charge for control plane data as it believes it is a network cost and it has set up its systems to reflect this.
Both networks said this has been their method of operation since the launch of LTE in South Africa.