I’m convinced, i now know how this nicely well oiled machine called Orange works. And if you think its theft, and arm twisting, i beg to differ. Its more like the shrewdness Jesus feared from Matthew the tax collector.
30th Oct, i loaded credit worth 25k, on my data sim, did not activate a bundle, went on line duly and from 3pm, to 9am the following day (not continuous usage), it was all wiped! 2 Weeks of exchanges between me and customer care yield a number of failed explanations and 2 interesting documents. The first, comes in 3 days after my credit disappears – a time stamped record of all urls accessed from 3pm on 30th, to 9am on 31st October. Total amount of data used: 0.0298 MB.
When you do not activate a data bundle, the system defaults to charging you as a mobile data user – See Cost Here – 0.9 UGX per KB. So you can understand why i had a hard time understanding that 0.0298 MB multiplied by 0.9 UGX per KB would result in 25000 UGX.
Which explains how the second document comes in. My former classmate and personal friend reacts to a damning pledge of my absence at all Orange Events till my problems are sorted, and works some internal magic to get me to meet a gentleman (from Billing) and a fine lady (from Customer Care). He is calm, and actually nice. He takes me through document 2. Unfortunately, the lady insists i cant carry that document over, so i cant give you snippets, but stay with me as i break it down. Orange-Style.
Basically, when a prepaid mobile data user tries to get online, a data reserve is initiated by the system, say X KBs. The system then waits for you to use that up before another reserve is allocated to you. As pages load, if the system anticipates that a page is larger than the current reserve, it will go ahead to queue a reserve of the same (or larger) size. And so reserves get costed as they get used up, and that cost becomes deducted from yo credit. All this happens in a matter of seconds – sometimes, 2 seconds, sometimes 10 seconds, sometimes 17 seconds (as the document showed).
Well, that’s it. You keep browsing, Orange keeps reserving and costing, until such a time when the credit is used up.
Unfortunately for me, that particular curtain falls at about 9am, the following morning. Which is when i initiate contact with customer care (you guys do a good job, keep it up!) . AND…unfortunately for Orange, according to document #2, at 9am, for about the next 1.5 – 2 hours, there are all these reserves and costings being made, enough to fill up 2 pages on the print out. How could the system be making reserves and costing them, at the time i have reported my credit to be gone? Gentleman from Billing is brilliant, but he too didn’t quite have an explanation for why, a customer would report loss of credit, and still have data being reserved and costed against the same sim.
Have i told you the unit cost of each reserve? Not yet? Here we go – 176, 181, 193, 205 – even 5. There is no unit cost – it depends on some intelligence being exercised by the system. But overall, on my document, 176 stood out. It stood out in both columns – the reserve column and the cost column. So i took that to mean 176 UGX. Which translates into – 195.5 KB, at a rate of 0.9/- per KB.
So you must be wondering, exactly what URLs did i visit that would cause this to happen, in a matter of hours? Well, document #1 fixed that – time stamped visit to a specific url, and the amount of data in MB that resulted in that. Here is one sample line:
790****** 30/10/2012 21:47 http://www.facebook.com:80/IHSU.IMG?sk=messages_inbox&action=read….. 0.0005 0.002 0.0024
The Columns are: My Number, Date, Time, URL, Upload (in MB), Download (in MB) Total (MB). In total, according to document #1, between 3pm on 30th October 2012 and about 1052am on 31st October 2012, 0.0298 MB has been used.
BUT…according to document #2, the same time frame is not adhered to. In fact, there is not typical time-stamp between document #1 and #2 that matches.
AND…document #2 fails at one more step – There is NO WAY, whatsoever, that the system used to generate Document #2 can be used to show that indeed a costed reserve was used up by this URL. So, there is a 2 second gap between 2 costings of 176 UGX, that happen at a time stamp earlier than the first url indicates, on document #1. How that happens, is still a mystery.
AND…document #2 unearths something else, that is quite interesting. Between 9am when i report the disappearance of my credit, and about 10am, there are reserves being costed, against my sim. Now this is the real mystery! On paper, I am being costed as a browsing client, but i already have a recorded complaint that i cannot browse, and this goes on for over 90 minutes…
Ok, here is a plausible explanation – that a prepaid mobile data user, who tries to get online is in fact NOT CHARGED at 0.9/= per KB, rather at one of those system-determined rates (like 176). In which case, regardless of the size of the web page being downloaded, the very initiation of an HTTP request results into a charge. This is already true with Voice – 3 second calls get charged the same as 48 second calls – unless you are on a per second tarrif.
This would make the whole 0.9/- per KB, claimed to be charged by Orange Uganda, a fallacy. Or is it?
Which is why i asked my good friend, the lady, that we re-run this mishap of an experiment, where i forego another 5K UGX, load it onto the modem, and at exactly time X, i begin to browse, and then have the 2 documents i was looking at regenerated. This would either CONFIRM an error in the billing, or perhaps, confirm that indeed 0.9/- per KB is what is charged. Predictably, she declined, and i do not blame her in any way. She has already pulled enough strings for me.
We agreed that this leaves many questions, but she insists Orange did not breach in anyway, and i was rightfully charged.
So I wonder if we asked everyone who has experienced this sudden disappearance of credit, to see if we can all get the 2 documents generated for all of them, and we compare notes, do you think we might have a class action on our hands? Can we actually run a controlled experiment on this, and see where it leads us?
Did Orange really charge me, at a rate of 0.9/- per KB? Was (Or Is) there a problem with the billing?
Whereas its ok, for an intelligent system to anticipate my usage, and make a data reserve for that session (however long it is), Why cant the system that generates the print out showing data reserves and costings, match actual urls (and their actual sizes) to the costings it lists. Is this a system failure or perhaps, its how the system ‘survives’?
Over to my friends at Orange Uganda Limited.