Reverse billed mobile data?

A surprising solution to help workers and consumers get online.

Johannesburg, 14 Apr 2022
Read time 4min 20sec
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Brent Wantenaar, Operations Manager, Cellfind.
Brent Wantenaar, Operations Manager, Cellfind.

In South Africa, mobile data is expensive. Despite reduced data tariffs and increased coverage and connectivity options, getting online can still be a challenge for many, and one of the ways businesses are getting around these high costs is by turning to reverse billed mobile data.

Brent Wantenaar, operations manager at Cellfind, explains that reversible data is a solution that provides a customer with the ability to zero rate the data consumption on their mobile for consumers visiting a website. “If you log into a website via your cellular telephone and you’re using one of the four major network operators, you will not consume data on your cellphone when you visit that website,” he says. This solution is ideal for corporates that want consumers to be able to fill in surveys, purchase items or simply surf the web at zero cost. “It’s basically the same as giving the user the ability to walk to a mall and do window shopping,” adds Wantenaar, “and the bonus is that zero rated websites grow your footprint and build loyalty.”

While setting up a zero-rated website may sound costly, the added benefits that come with providing users free access to a website (even more so when you consider the number of mobile internet users in South Africa) is incomparable. “It’s an ideal way to stretch your website and your brand,” he adds. “You’ll be surprised how many people are cautious when it comes to the amount of data they utilise.” How does reversible data work? Cellfind works with a technical partner to set up a range of IPs across the board with the major mobile networks – MTN, Vodacom, Cell C and Telkom. "When a mobile user visits a website, the requests are directed via our data free website to the corporate client’s website. The end-user is able to visit the corporate website even if they have no data on their phone. The cost is completely reversible and the consumer has the ease of mind to surf the website at leisure."

While the concept of zero rating a website, certain URLs or applications isn’t necessarily new, there have been interesting use cases for reverse billed mobile data – one being hybrid work. When the pandemic sent everyone home, access became an issue, especially for HR departments that were tasked with finding a solution for getting their staff online. Managing dongles and mobile data for workers who don’t have access to fibre, for example, can become complicated. “But if you reverse bill your website and some of your applications, those users who need to access work and company applications can easily do so with their personal devices without the need for a corporate to sponsor data cards,” explains Wantenaar. “It empowers those corporates that have staff working from home and, at the same time, it lessens the load on HR and IT to manage VPNs, APNs and data costs."

Wantenaar adds that there are no security concerns with reverse billed mobile data. “Because it is IP-based, we use layer 4 forwarding, which means we can’t read any personal data and it’s completely encrypted from end-to-end. There is a billing engine that sits on the IP and reads the number of megabytes,” he says. “We can’t see the actual data or the authentication details, it’s purely just a case of recording the megabytes and reporting on the data usage.

“How a company chooses to use reverse billing is flexible. You can physically reverse bill everything or only reverse bill certain URLs and/or apps. There’s also the option of putting all the zero-rated applications that a person is allowed to use into one app,” says Wantenaar. “In this way, you’re setting up a VPN on the person’s mobile phone and when he connects via a reverse billed app, everything is zero-rated and then when work is over, it can be toggled off.

There’s no question that paying for mobile data can be prohibitively expensive for anyone who experiences the internet through their phone. Reverse billed mobile data lends itself to any industry, from insurance companies who need their customers to submit claims forms to tertiary institutions looking to make it easier for learners to remain online, "and for those lecturers to provide a decent training solution to their students, and corporates that have staff working remotely”, adds Wantenaar. “As long as a device makes use of one of the four major mobile operators in South Africa, the data can be reversible.” 

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13 Aug
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