Why should air time, data expire? And data mysteriously vanishes in Malawi

Have you ever wondered why airtime and data should expire? Expiry date is one of the worst conditions subscribers get from telecommunication companies.

Buying airtime or dat should be treated like nonperishable items

Once subscribers buy airtime or data, companies should have nothing do with it. They have sold the data or airtime and recouped their money.  What else do they need?  People buy airtime or data so that they can use it. Even without expiry date customers will still use it anyway.  It is exploitative and atrocious to impose a negative condition on consumers such as expiry date.

Food products have an expiry date because chemicals (preservatives and colourants) become poisonous after a certain period. Certain food is meant to be consumed within a short period, and so expiry date is important. Otherwise they will rot. This is understandable, but this is different with air time or data.

Buying air time or data should be treated like nonperishable items such that once you buy a product, you should be free to use it as you wish. Any condition attached should be to the benefit of the consumer. For example, customers who buy appliances from shops like Game, Shoprite, Checkers etcusually get a one-year guarantee from the manufacturers. If the product is perfect, they have nothing to do it. You paid for it; you decide how to use it.

Telecommunication companies are involved in unfair trade practices.  They “force” customers to use airtime or data within a specific period. It would make sense if the data or air time was free and not paid for. Because of the unfair business practices, telecommunication companies are making huge profits. For example, many people who buy 500MB of whatsapp data bundles are unable to finish the data within 30 days. So they lose the data upon expiry. Hence, they are forced to buy another bundle when they could have used the data for a long period. And this is expensive.

In Malawi, the segmentation of data bundlesis an added problem. There is a separate data bundle for whatsapp, internet, Facebook etc. Even for internet, there are different categories (e.g. smart social, smart surf bundle, smart standard bundle etc).

On the face of it, this may seem to give customers a wide range of options to choose from. But the reality is that the options are costly to consumers. Since many people communicate on several platforms (e.g. Facebook, whatsapp) and read online publications, it means they have to buy specific data bundle for each of these platforms.

Why not remove segmentation and have data bundles that can be used for all communication platforms as they do in other countries? For example, data bundles for MTN, FNB, Vodacom, Telkom, Cell C can be used for all platforms. Whether you buy a 20MB or 50MB, 100MB or 500MB data bundle you can use it for internet, whatsapp, email, Facebook etc. This is cheap and convenient to customers. It is also adds value to communication.  Can TNM and Airtel do away with segmentation of data?

As if segmentation of data bundles is not enough rip off, many times data disappears without customers knowing even when they have taken precautions to close other applications to save data. Sometimes you load a 500MB data bundle, but it disappears in a few minutes.

And you know there is cheating. Sometimes air time is chewed while browsing the internet, meaning you are charged twice because you are using an internet bundle. Many Malawians are aware of this data “theft”.  But there is nothing they can do about it. Even when they complain, officials are very unhelpful, often giving  evasive responses.

There are just too many problems with Malawian telecommunication companies (ranging from poor network, exorbitant tariffs to data theft) that need to be sorted out.  When will Malawi Regulatory Authority start working? Can Consumer Association of Malawi and Parliamentary Committee on Media and Communications assist as well?

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Phonegate, please ACB investigate, these people are stealing from poor Malawians.


CAM = consumer association of Malawi i think


you have not given us their side of the story….., even govt side, or CAM, TRADING STDS etc


what did the networks mentioned in the article reply when the writer of this article asked them to comment ?
investigate from the consumers with references , report what the networks replies and then go to the government authorities get their answers. bring your findings to the CAM, compare with the govt acts eg laws on trading standards, policies, if there is fraud, corruption, exploitation, theft, cheating? we will sue them even going to international courts

Mwakamwerethi Munyapa
Mwakamwerethi Munyapa

Just protest and boycott from using their products, asiya mchitidwe umenewo.Mavuto a pa Malawi sadzatha ngati ife eni sitikutengapo gawo poonesa kuyiidwa halo vutolo .
All these so called communication companies,must be fined forthwith because what they are doing ndi kuba-period!!!

Chigumula 2

MACRA, CAMA arise and shine. Please help us. These mobile companies are indeed stealing from us!

This is an important article written by an intelligent person, you can say all this again and again, MACRA or those in authority in protecting consumer rights are in deep slumber. We are being scammed. As you rightly put it poor network service is another way these providers are using to steal from us. For example Airtel is the worst provider whose network has been so poor lately… its always like we are trying our best to fix it and its been like this for half a year now, Lilongwe is worse compared to Blantyre in terms of their network… Read more »

This is very right? the telecommunication companies akutibela kwambiri, its high time they must rework their tariff system. A macra sakuona kodi, this is theft, especially when you have data bundle and airtime used simultaneously.

Nox Nthambi
Thanks very much Lowani for critical analysis. However, does the country have a vibrant Consumer Association of Malawi or MACRA or Competition and Fair Trade to protect the consumers. CAM only acts where its CEO will be bribed after making a lot of noise…otherwise we don’t need this CAMA. One tend to wonder why Airtel in Malawi is different to Airtel in East Africa. MACRA only works when it is pushed by politicians to close media houses in the country….SHAME. Otherwise this country lucks leaders who walk the talk. To borrow politicians words, this country is full of madeya PERIOD.… Read more »
Edward Jones

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