Mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) Melon Mobile has explained its controversial short-lived hard caps on its uncapped calling plans were required because people were abusing the plans in call centres and call shops.

Melon Mobile launched its “Unlimited” calling and SMS packages in November 2023.

Each of the five plans comes bundled with a finite amount of mobile data, similar to MTN’s Superflex or Vodacom’s PowerFlex products.

Melon Mobile offers the cheapest option — a R199 package with unlimited all-network voice minutes and SMSs paired with 5GB monthly mobile data.

However, several customers soon discovered a caveat.

Each package had a certain threshold of minutes and SMSs, and customers had to manually request an extension of their allocations after reaching these limits.

For example, the entry-level package had a threshold of 750 minutes and 750 SMSs.

In January 2024, the MVNO told MyBroadband that it did not have a mechanism to automatically detect abuse of the plans, which are strictly for personal and private use and not for business or commercial applications.

As an interim measure, customers who exceeded these thresholds had to contact Melon Mobile support via WhatsApp to request further minute or SMS allocations.

However, around March 2024, Melon Mobile removed the option to extend allocations and relabelled the description of the voice minute and SMS allocations to “uncapped” instead of “unlimited.”

It argued that using “uncapped” to describe a high-allocation package with hard limits set out in a fair usage policy (FUP) was standard in the industry.

The Advertising Regulatory Board (ARB) was not satisfied with Melon Mobile using either unlimited or uncapped to describe finite allocations of minutes or SMSs.

It ruled that Melon Mobile’s claims of offering uncapped minutes and SMSes were false.

Melon Mobile’s submission in the matter argued that old Advertising Standards Authority rulings differentiated between the terms “uncapped” and “unlimited” and allowed using “uncapped” as long as the data connection is only throttled, not cut off completely.

The ARB said it was unaware of any way to throttle text messages and minute allocations, as was done with certain older “uncapped” data products.

While uncapped packages were allowed to throttle data, Internet access could not be cut off completely.

The ARB said in the case of voice minutes or SMSs, customers either received them or they did not.

“The word ‘uncapped’ must have some meaning in the context of the advertisement, and it cannot mean that it is throttled as this is not possible for voice calls and text messages,” the ARB said.

Melon Mobile resumes allocation extensions

Melon Mobile is not a member of the ARB and does not have to abide by its rulings.

However, it decided to accept requests for extensions again and relabelled the voice minutes and SMSs as “unlimited”.

“We are treating this on a case-by-case basis to ensure we are as lenient as possible toward customers who are not abusing the unlimited packages,” Melon Mobile said.

The company first confirmed this to MyBroadband on 8 May 2024, just two days after the ARB’s ruling.

It has maintained that this came after it re-evaluated its approach to better serving its customers and did not mention the ARB ruling’s as a motivating factor.

Melon Mobile said it was still seeing some fraudulent behaviour from call centres and people opening/owning call shops using its unlimited calling plans.

“We need to be able to detect this and prevent it so that our customers that are using unlimited packages for their intended purpose are not penalised,” the company said

It again told MyBroadband it was working on an automatic abuse detection system to enable automatic allocations, but this was not ready by the end of May as it had hoped.

“The automated allocation is currently in testing, but we want to ensure that the monitoring and allocation is seamless and does not jeopardise our customer experience or allow further abuse,” Melon Mobile said.

“We are deliberate in our approach in everything we do, and in order for us to get this right, we need to be able to test, adapt and make continuous improvements.”

The MVNO said that customer feedback on the product showed it delivered exceptional value.

“We do not want to remove the product for everyone just because of the small percentage of people not using it for its intended purpose,” Melon Mobile said.

It said it was increasing allocations daily, and its existing customers were satisfied with the service.

“We’ve always focused on the consumer, and for that reason, our unlimited packages are here to stay,” Melon Mobile said. “They offer great value and flexibility without locking consumers into long-term contracts.”

“At the same time, we will do everything we can to limit or eradicate the fraud that inevitably arises with these kind of products.”

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

Read More

Spread the love