Why is my airtime disappearing? Is it a WASP or is it a tariff?

This is unfortunately a question too many South Africans ask themselves as cellphone users. How many of you can relate to this: It’s the beginning of the month, you’ve just topped up or your contract airtime has just been is loaded. You’ve hardly used your phone, maybe made one short call and surfed social media for a bit, but your airtime has reduced at an alarming rate.

There are four possible explanations for this occurring:

  1. You have been subscribed to a WASP service unknowingly and it is taking your airtime.
  2. You don’t have an active data bundle and you’re depleting your airtime at out-of-bundle data rates.
  3. Your call tariff on your network is higher than you expected (it’s not uncommon that call rates are as high as R2 per minute these days).
  4. Your network provider has experienced a system billing issue and has mistakenly depleted your airtime.

WASPs and how to get rid of them:

A WASP is a Wireless Application Service Provider which distributes content to customers over a network’s infrastructure. Although I’m sure WASPs initially originated from good intention, these days WASPs trick people into entering into subscriptions for ‘content’ that the customer isn’t even aware they are receiving or want. To avoid being tricked into one of these subscriptions, avoid clicking on unfamiliar SMS or email links sent to you from an unknown brand or source.

In order to check if you are subscribed to a WASP service currently or to cancel all WASP services you can follow the guide for the associated network you are with:

SmartMobile & Cell C

  • Stop all content services – Dial *133*1#


  • SMS “STOP ALL” to 31050
  • Or Dial *111# > Services > Content Services > Stop All
  • Or Stop Vlive and CTB Services – Dial *117#


  • Dial *141*5#
  • Select 1 for WASP services
  • Select 2 CTB/MTN Play services

Telkom Mobile

  • Telkom app – Login > My product > Subscriptions > Content Service
  • Or contact their customer service call center number


Out-of-bundle rates depleting your airtime:

Each network has what is known as an out-of-bundle (OOB) data rate. This means, that if you don’t have an active data bundle that you have purchased, your airtime (if you have a positive balance) will start depleting at the OOB data rate. The OOB data rate is normally a per MB rate and is much higher than your in-bundle rate. These rates differ from network to network but if you are out-of-bundle for long enough, you can drastically reduce your airtime balance without knowing.

We can take SmartMobile as an example. A customer on the SmartMobile network can buy a 25MB data bundle for R8.00, therefore making the in-bundle data rate 32c per MB. The out-of-bundle data rate on the SmartMobile network is 99c per MB, meaning that if a customer doesn’t have an active data bundle, but they use 25MB of data whilst out-of-bundle, they will end up spending R25 of their airtime for the 25MB as opposed to R8 if they had just converted some of their airtime to data.

As you can imagine, this created bill shock for customers who went out-of-bundle and it wasn’t a very good experience. SmartMobile then decided that they would follow ICASAs suggestion and automatically opt all of its customers out from OOB usage unless they so wished to stay opted-in.

Therefore no SmartMobile customer will experience bill shock from out-of-bundle data rates unless they have elected to opt-in for OOB usage. This will increase the overall customer experience and help customers to manage their spend more effectively. Once a data bundle ran out, it would notify the customer to purchase another data bundle.

SmartMobile customers can dial *135# or *140#, select option 3 “Manage Account” to opt-in or out of Out-of-bundle usage.

Higher than expected call rates:

With the world moving more towards higher consumption of data and the industry seeing a sharp decline in call volumes, we have seen a decrease in the price of data but a rise in the price of calls.

In the past, networks used to compete on the price of calls, seeing who could offer the lowest rates. Nowadays, very few people use the traditional voice call, and there is a move to OTT service data calls like WhatsApp call or Messenger call.

The networks still need to maintain their voice infrastructure which has operational costs and at the same time they need to supplement the cost of data somehow in the ongoing price war and regulations imposed upon them by government. Therefore customers are experiencing call tariffs of up to R2 per minute or more.

Not too long ago you could buy R10 airtime and call someone for 20 minutes, but now that same R10 top-up might just get you a 5 minute call. These call rates differ, as mentioned before, from network to network but it also depends on whether you are a prepaid or contract customer. That’s why it is crucial you know what the call rates are before you purchase a prepaid SIM or contract if you know you’ll need to make some traditional calls.

On the SmartMobile network, we want to make our customers’ lives easier and not hide behind hidden tariffs; therefore our call rates are a flat 99c per minute, anytime to any network. We pride ourselves on keeping it simple and keeping our customers connected.

Network billing system issues:

It is common for networks to consistently upgrade or change their system in order to offer the customer a better experience, but unfortunately system and human errors do occur. I have experienced and read many articles, across networks of customers being affected by changes that were made to the network.

These are often very quick and easy to fix but can be overlooked by the network if a customer doesn’t report the problem. So my suggestion, if you are affected by this last scenario, is to escalate the issue as soon as you realize your airtime has been depleted as a result of a possible system error.