Slash those telecoms costs

Every month we throw away hundreds of rands in unused airtime and internet data. But by being savvier about how we purchase our telecommunication data we can control our costs and put less money into the pockets of telecommunication companies.

Airtime tips:
1. Opt for per second billing.
Arthur Goldstuck, MD of World Wide Worx and author of How to buy a cellphone in South Africa, estimates that around 40% of airtime is forfeited because calls are charged per full minute even if you have only used a portion of that minute. From personal experience my cellphone bill dropped by R200 when I switched to per second billing.

2. Choose your bundle carefully. Bundled options can save you money. For example, Telkom’s Closer plan reduced my phone bill by R300 a month. But you need to ensure that you select the right plan for your usage so that you are not giving away services you have paid for. Study your bill over a few months to calculate how much you spend on average. If you want to change contracts, give your provider three months notice before the contract expires to avoid any penalty fees.

3. Airtime that rolls over. MTN’s MyChoice packages have unlimited carry-over. In other words the airtime you have paid for in the package does not expire. These contracts are based on value rather than minutes so you can use your pre-paid time for SMS, data and ringtone downloads. They also offer a MyChoice top-up package which allows you to control your monthly expenses by requiring you to top up with airtime once your contract amount has been used

4. Watch your accumulated airtime. Dot Field, chief communications officer for Vodacom, says it allows a six month roll-over of unused airtime. She recommends that if in month four or five you realise that you are accumulating too much airtime, you can downgrade your package. There may be a cost involved to cover the initial cost of the phone but, over the longer term it will save you money.

5. Select the package, not the phone. Field says many customers choose their contracts based on the phone offered rather than monthly usage. This might result in customers not using all the airtime they have paid for. Field says you should select the right package and rather pay in the extra money for the phone of your choice.

6. Overcome inertia. Rather than complaining about your phone bill, spend an hour or two making sure you are on the right package. It will save you a lot of money in the long run. You can go to the local store of your network provider or give them a call to discuss the best plan for your needs.

Internet tips:
1. Pre-paid data: If you are already on an ADSL line you can opt for pre-paid data from ISP WebAfrica. It sells 1G of data for R70, which carries over to the next month. It also provides hybrid products where you receive 1G of data for R199 a month, which includes line rental. You can then top up with pre-paid data. Unlike the cellphone network offerings you are warned when you’ve used up 80% and you actively have to top up, allowing you to control your internet costs. This could be critical for a small business where, for example, a virus attacks the email software, sending out random emails and using up bandwidth.

2. Contracts with data rollover: Internet services provider Iburst allows purchased data to roll over into the following month. But this applies only to its wireless and ADSL options. Bandwidth can be topped up at the same rate as the contract price.

3. Don’t get tied to your ISP. Use Gmail as your domain for your emails so you don’t get locked into your service provider account. This allows you to move more easily between providers and take advantage of better offers.

Neotel’s new offering
Neotel, the second land-line operator, has come to market with very aggressive data packages. Their starter package for R399 a month provides 2,5G of data, personalised emails as well as 50 free SMSs. This includes all line rentals as well as the wireless phone. It provides a single telephone number to connect to both voice and internet.

The actual phone is wireless so you can use it to connect or make calls while travelling. Unlike Telkom, connectivity is instant as it is set up through wireless hubs, as opposed to a fixed line that needs to be brought into your home or office.

The downsides: you would need to be a fairly high-end user to use up 2,5G, you are tied into a 24 month contract and, as with other network operators, you lose unused data. They do throw in 1 000 free minutes of talk time, but this is only to another Neotel telephone number. Considering that they are newcomers and that number portability is not fully in place, you may be hard pressed to use all 1 000 free minutes. Coverage at this stage is limited to Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Cape Town.

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