Many SA govt employees are to get completely unlimited data on their phones from 1 April

Business Insider SA
A firehose.
  • The South African government is looking for a new cellphone service provider, in a master contract worth billions.
  • It still wants strict capping of voice calls and SMS, in order to keep spending low.
  • But it will not even consider proposals that do not feature uncapped data – without any fair-use limits – for all its users.
  • That means state employees who fall under the contract may have to buy their own voice and SMS minutes for personal use, but will have all the data they can use.
  • The new contract is due to be active from 1 April.
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If all goes according to plan, a large number of South African government employees will have true unlimited mobile data at their disposal from 1 April 2021, courtesy of the state.

The National Treasury has issued the conditions for RT15, a transversal contract for the provision of mobile communication services to the state, which it hopes to close on 27 November. And the conditions are clear: there will be no usage-based billing or measurement on data.

"The state requires uncapped data without applying a fair usage policy," reads the top mandatory requirement bidders must confirm they comply with to be considered for the contract.

Fair use or acceptable use policies are typically intended to prevent outright abuse on uncapped services, setting relatively high ceilings for users, after which their connections may be slowed down, or eventually blocked.

Potential bidders have been told to make provision for government employees to buy personal voice and SMS bundles at a flat rate. But with their data use unmetered, and genuinely uncapped, there is no provision for personal payments for personal data use.

Government's current master contract with Vodacom, the RT15-2016 contract, had been due to end on 31 August, but was extended until the end of March, with an extra 200 megabytes of data allocated to users. The contract used enterprise-style bundling, with entire departments sharing allocations of voice minutes and data, so that heavier users would in effect be subsidised by those who needed to spend less time on their phones. But example limits from some participating units of government show they typically considered 3GB per person to be enough data.

In the new version of the contract, there will be a R500 limit per user per month, tender documents show – not counting the unlimited data.

"Due to the diversity of different day-to-day work responsibilities, to avoid fruitless and wasteful expenditure, each mobile user will choose how they utilise voice minutes and SMS within the allocated rand-value," reads one pricing document. "This means the voice minutes and SMSs should be on usage based payment model."

Providers have also been advised to include proposals on unlimited voice and SMSes within closed user groups.

The winning bidder will have to show 3G coverage of at least 80% of South Africa, with the ability to provide connectivity anywhere the state may require it. 

The master contract is due to run until 31 March 2026. Though government departments and organs of state are not directly forced to use it, they face significant trouble for failing to subscribe to the master agreement and don't get their cellphone use cheaper than they would have under its terms.

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