MTC Data Fiasco: 15 questions you should be asking

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Has your airtime been disappearing a little faster than normal lately? Have you found yourself topping up a lot more? Or maybe your bill this month was exceptionally high? The good news is that you are not alone. In fact, you are one of thousands of Namibians that are experiencing the same thing. A couple of questions come to mind. What changed? Am I using more data than normal? Did MTC change something on their side? Is it only happening in Namibia? Is it my phone? Is it a virus? What exactly is going on? Unfortunately, there's no simple answer, but hopefully this article will shed some light on the issue and at least give you a few answers. More importantly, however, hopefully it will give you a couple of ideas on what you can do next to try and resolve this matter or at least find some peace of mind. Let's kick things off by looking at the technical side of things:

1. What are the different types of mobile phone connections found in Namibia?

Mobile phones typically have either 3G or 4G/LTE connections. 3G is probably the most common while 4G is starting to become more common. Some people also fall back to GPRS or EDGE when they turn off 3G, while some of the very old phones still only have EDGE or GPRS.

2. How fast are these connections?

It isn't possible to calculate an exact speed as there are several factors to take into account. Factors such as how busy the network is or how stable your connection is for example. Due to these factors, we are going to assume a typical average to try and get to an acceptable answer. According to speedguide.net, the following are realistic speeds to expect from a modern mobile network service provider:

GPRS 171 kbps 0.02 Megabytes per second
EDGE 384 kbps 0.048 Megabytes per second
3G 4 Mbps 0.5 Megabytes per second
4G 30 Mbps 3.75 Megabytes per second

3. How much can one single person download if they downloaded non-stop for a specified period of time?

1 Mbps is roughly 0.125 Megabytes per second. Based on the previous table, this works out to:

  GPRS EDGE 3G 4G
1 second 0.02 Megabytes 0.048 Megabytes 0.5 Megabytes 3.75 Megabytes
1 minute 1.2 Megabytes 2.88 Megabytes 30 Megabytes 225 Megabytes
1 hour 72 Megabytes 172.8 Megabytes 1.8 Gigabytes 13.5 Gigabytes

Please note that these are averages, and although expecting 3.75 Megabytes a second from 4G is realistic, here is an actual result of the MTC Netman 4G device taken from SpeedTest.net at 5PM, 24 July 2014: 4GSpeedTest And here is an actual result of a 3G device on the MTC network in Namibia, recorded just before 6PM, 24 July 2014: 3G Speed Test In other words, it isn't impossible to get twice the "average" speed in Namibia on 4G. In fact, it is quite realistic to expect your device to easily eat 500 Megabytes in 1 - 10 minutes on 4G, and between 2 and 20 minutes on 3G. However, switching to EDGE means 500 Megabytes will take as long as 3 hours and probably even longer. If you are using EDGE, and you can prove that you lost 500 Megabytes in anything less than 3 hours, then stop reading this and go speak to MTC right now. However, if you use 3G or 4G, it is very possible to lose a massive amount of data in a short period of time. -- Now that we've covered more of the technical questions and we have a better idea of what is realistic when it comes to the amount of data a single device can download in one go, let's get back to the the actual MTC Data Usage issue.  

4. When did this excessive data usage start?

There isn't an official date that anyone can confirm or somehow prove (yet), but based on the earliest reports, it seems to have started sometime in June or April. If you experienced excessive data usage prior to this, please leave a comment at the end of this article.

5. When recently were new Operating Systems released?

IOS 7 was released on 30 June 2014. Android 4.4.3 was released 2 June 2014. Android 4.4.4 was released 19 June 2014. (Source,  Source)

6. When did MTC upgrade their system?

Unfortunately we could not find anything official. We only know that it happened "recently" which leads us to believe it happened sometime in the last 2 months. If you have more information on this, please leave a comment at the end of this article.

7. Is this only happening in Namibia?

No, it does not seem to only be happening in Namibia. There are reports from people in South Africa, Uganda and other countries too.

8. Are only iPhones affected by this?

No. There have been reports of iPhones, Android phones and even Blackberries using excessive data. It does not seem to be isolated to a single type of phone and some of the reported cases from other countries are not only in the last couple of months, but date back as far as last year.

9. What is the leading cause?

MTC has blamed a variety of services and applications on cellphones, with "mapping services" being the biggest culprit. Here is a thread on Apple's website where people are trying to pinpoint the cause on IOS phones. Ultimately, it boils down to applications simply using too much data.

10. Is this only happening after upgrading software on mobile phones?

No. There are several reported cases where users haven't upgraded any software on their phones, but still experience a major decrease in data.

11. Why did my phone only start to use more data recently?

This is the mystery that can't be solved. Users have done tests where they can see that it is caused by Mapping Services and they can verify this. But there are still several cases where users still can't understand what is happening to their data despite having turned off mapping services.

12. Should MTC be held accountable in any way?

Data usage on your phone is entirely your responsibility. However, other providers, like Vodacom has been far more willing to help clients. Here is message a user received in South Africa after having used too much data:

Dear customer After a thorough investigation, it was confirmed that the data in question was indeed used and the billed amounts are true and correct. U still have 4.04GiG remaining. Notwithstanding the above, you are a valuable customer of ours, and therefore without admission of liability and purely as a ONCE-OFF GOODWILL GESTURE, Vodacom Service Provider is prepared to credit 1.5GiG data bundle. Going Forward - Please note, you will need to monitor all data activity on your device. Alternatively, please install Mydata manager App from the Itunes Store to help assist in monitoring the data activity on your Device. Kind regards, Vodacom Customer Care

MTC's attitude has been very different, with them simply saying it's not their responsibility and the user should simply find a way to use less data. Please see their official press release to see their point of view.

13. What are the strangest aspects of this entire story?

  • Most people started experiencing the massive increase in data usage recently.
  • Most people started experiencing it at more or less the same time.
  • There hasn't been one single report of this happening from a TN Mobile user (if you are a TN Mobile user and this happened to you, please leave a comment at the end of this article)
  • People are reporting excessive data usage even after turning off Mapping Services completely
  • People who didn't upgrade their operating system or making any changes on their phone have also reported increases in data usage.
  • Users who have complained on MTC's Facebook page has had their comments deleted on numerous occasions.

14. How has the media taken this?

Apart from the press release in the Informante. there was also a short notice in the Namibian. In other words, not much has been reported on this story.

15. What can I do to fix this?

This is probably the most important question of all. The first thing is to disable anything that requires data on your phone. See that as a preventative measure. Once you have done that, try to look at past usage. Most phones allow you to see where your data is going to. Pin-point what is causing the excessive use in your case and try to stop that service. If you find that data is disappearing for a strange reason or that it keeps disappearing even after you disabled a service, we urge you to contact MTC and tell them that your case is unique. Be sure to provide evidence to support your case. However, as many of you have probably been to a Mobile Home and experienced the speed at which queries are dealt with, combined with what is probably a major influx of complaints the last few weeks, it might be better to look at alternative places to post your complaints. We recommend the following:

  • Start by posting an official complaint on HelloNamibia.
  • Posting your complaint directly on their Facebook Page here (keep in mind they have deleted various complaints from their wall)
  • Join the MTC Data Issues Facebook group and posting your specific case there.

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