Now that most of us are officially addicted to being online 80% of the day, this has been one of the most top compliant for us who want ‘all you can eat data’ aka Unlimited data. These are the hardcore internet users who don’t have time to load UGX 1,000 worth of data on a daily basis, who can afford to apportion a sizable percentage of their monthly budget dedicated to purchase unlimited internet bundles.

Unlimited data is mainly tailored for those who want to stream songs or watch lots of video on the go. In full disclosure, this post is as a result from a tweet rant we received on our twitter account see below.

Perhaps one should ask the question, What is unlimited internet? Or to be specific, What kind of unlimited internet are you getting when your carrier will do all that it takes to hide some clauses in their Friendly User Policies (FUP) that includes a restriction in speed or volume? As Ugandans, do we even bother to read the fine print in these terms and conditions? Or the word UNLIMITED is good enough for us to throw in our hard-earned dimes to these telcos? So who is fooling who? Are Ugandans really getting Unlimited mobile internet? Is it the mobile data user who can’t read the terms and conditions for unlimited data? Or, is it the telecos who don’t tell their subscribers up front, so that they get the full picture before they buy?

The Theory of Unlimited data

We won’t dive much into the cost of these unlimited data plans because our friends at Dignited have you covered with a great comparison on who offers ‘all you can eat’ mobile internet. In a nutshell, Africell, Smart Telecom , UTL and Vodafone Uganda are the carriers that have so far come out to advertise their unlimited mobile data offers at different price tiers. But, it’s perhaps good to start with understanding what Unlimited data really is, we’ve already given an example of the Internet being treated as a Utility in a post about net neutrality in Uganda and we will use a common utility to explain the theory of Unlimited data and why some carriers really don’t offer Unlimited internet as advertised. Three neighbors John, Peter and Jane share one tank of water, which has a capacity of 100,000 cubic centimeters (100 litres), with water pipes which are equidistant from the tank to their homes. Let’s also assume John, Peter and Jane’s pipes from the tank are 40 mm,  50 mm and 200mm bore diameter respectively. So, supposing all the three are asked to simultaneously open their taps to fill a 5 litre container at their premises, we can all agree that Jane will fill hers’ faster than her neighbors because her pipe will draw more water in cubic centimeters per second  than others. For those who have done some advanced mathematics, it’s safe to say that the diameter of the pipe is a huge contributing factor to the rate of flow of water out of the pipe. This means that if uncontrolled, Jane could easily draw out all the water in the tank leaving her neighbors with less or nothing. Are Ugandans really getting Unlimited mobile internet pipe analogy In this analogy since both the 3G and 4G wireless technology are a shared service, our water tank will act as that ‘pool of unlimited internet ‘ or can we say the mobile Base Station that serves these three clients. The water in this analogy is the actual data. Jane has subscribed for a higher speed unlimited plan unlike Peter or John. The rate at which water comes of these pipes to the respective neighbors in cubic centimeters per second is equivalent to the rate at which we download information from the internet in mbps. So, the mobile operator will assign you a separate ‘pipe diameter’ based on the throughput service you want to subscribe to. In Uganda, Africell, Smart Telecom and UTL offer only one speed for unlimited data at 512 kbps, 2mbps and 2 mbps respectively. Vodafone Uganda has gone out of its way to offer unlimited mobile internet in different speed tiers, hence shaking up the data market in Uganda. From our water utility example, it is clear that if you have several users like Jane on the same Base station, they can easily deteriorate the service. This is what telecos want to avoid, and that’s why they will put in place some Friendly User Policies by either giving you unlimited data, but throttle your speed when you exceed a certain volume, or give everyone the same unlimited low speeds. To so solve this, Jane will be given a fixed volume of water per month to use say 20 liters per month the way the telcos will give you 30GB per month after which they throttle your speeds.

An Unlimited mobile internet data plan is one that has no restriction in volume, at the speeds the mobile internet technology (3G or 4G) can offer.

Are we back to the 3.5 G and 3.75 G network marketing gimmicks?

From our definition above, it leaves a lot of interpretation from both the consumer and the telecom companies. The carrier who is unapologetically pricey with their 2 mbps unlimited data plan at UGX 479,000 is Smart telecom — they will not limit your volume — unlike Vodafone Uganda that will offer you 35 GB for the same 2 mbps speeds at UGX 149,900 within 30 days. We would prefer the former; give us something at whatever price and don’t limit our volume.  One of the guys in the tweet thread expressed his concern that we have gone back to the time when 3G technology has just come into the country and carriers were throwing around buzzwords like 3.5 G and 3.75 G network in their marketing slogans. Yet, at the time, they had the same slow 3G networks. And, now it seems the new buzzword will be Unlimited internet to lure customers into their snare.

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“There is no clear definition of unlimited internet from our regulatory authorities”

People will buy into buy anything as long as it comes at the right price, only to find out that they have depleted their 35GB data bundle within two weeks and then they have to be throttled to slower speeds and the rage begins. Does UCC have to intervene to keep the telcos in check ? Or do we have to lower our expectations and limit our data usage? Early this year in the US, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) fined TracFone — the largest prepaid mobile provider in the U.S. — $40 million for telling customers that they have “unlimited” data service, then throttling speeds when they’ve reached their fixed 30-day limit. Now that the regulator, UCC has begun fining telcos for not being compliant with some of it’s regulations, will this be the next war to fight ? Unfortunately, there is no clear definition of unlimited internet from our regulatory authorities hence the carriers will continue to do what they do best to remain competitive in Uganda’s data market. So over to you UCC.

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Do you feel you are getting true unlimited mobile Internet from your carrier? Vote below

Special Thanks to the tweet freaks, Patrick Tumusiime initiating this topic and @Sourced for the great responses in the thread that contributed to this post.

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  • Derrick

    You surely have a point. These service providers should tell us before hand the size of the pipe they are giving us in whatever data plan we sign up for. I remember purchasing the 1gb Orange offered at 5k for an hour and I barely even used 100mbs. I will commend Vodafone for they say, here is an unlimited plan and this is the pipe size and if you do a speed test, they are surely true to their word. Also speaking of pipe sizes, it will help us know how to plan our data needs. We know that Uganda is surely moving to cloud computing so if my internet needs require that I upload huge files, the unlimited plan offered by Vodafone won’t meet my needs since the 6mbps are for downloads and not uploads

    • Roger Bambino

      Thanks for detailed response Derrick, so u think. With Vodafone your are getting a purely unlimited Internet deal?