How Safaricom Steals Your Internet Bundle

99% of Kenya’s 6.5m internet users access it via mobile, of which Safaricom owns 77% marketshare.

In Kenya, when you buy a 1.5Gb internet bundle from Safaricom you pay 1000ksh (~$12). You’ve paid for the data, and there is no additional cost to Safaricom if you were to use that data today or a year from now. The whole concept of data bundle expiry is ridiculous, as noted by Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore when he visited the iHub:

“When you go into a petrol station and fill up your car, does the owner of the petrol station tell you to bring it back on Wednesday to take back what’s left in the vehicle? Of course not. So I ask, why the hell are we doing that?”

Bob goes on to say that he isn’t going to be an apologist for this practice, that there is a problem with leaving the data there ad infinitum. That 60 days is probably too short and that Safaricom does need to change how they handle this.

  • Until recently they just held your data hostage. If your data expired, you could recharge with just a few shillings of data, this would re-trigger your “old” data that was past the expiration, and have that available to you again.
  • Today, it is “data gone, money stolen” after expiration. They cut you off if you haven’t used all of your internet bundle in the nominal 7-90 days, no matter how much is remaining.

I brought this up with Bob Collymore, and his chief executives when they visited the iHub earlier this year (see video), at which point he admitted that it was indeed a dubious practice that would be changed to something much more open to users. You’ll see what Bob says at the 1:17 mark in the video below.

Here Bob is on video speaking to this point (I’ve saved the link to go to the right point in the video):

The other day I caught a Tweet from Sunny Bindra about some surprising changes:

Safaricom is actually very responsive on Twitter, probably the best big company on social media in the Kenya. They followed up with Sunny with this:

So, Safaricom didn’t broadcast this significant change in the way data bundles are handled broadly. Apparently, “publicized on our website” means quietly posting a PDF somewhere in the morass that is their website to notify the data using public of the changes.

If you follow the links to the PDF, you’ll find the following:

What is the Validity period?
This is the time frame that you have to use the bundles, when this period elapses it means that any remaining bundles will have expired and will not be available for use.

(Note: there is conflicting information on how long bundles will last, you can only find out by topping up a bundle. I did this for 1.5Gb and found that it’ll last 80 days, not the 30 that they say in the PDF. I don’t know if it’s more/less time for other bundle amounts.)

It’s in Safaricom’s best interest for you to keep buying more data, over and over, even if you haven’t used it. It costs them nothing to let you use it over a longer period of time, or to keep recharging it.

In Conclusion

I’m disappointed with Safaricom, especially after Bob Collymore came to the iHub and said he was going to fix this, not break it further.

This is an outright fleecing that the Safaricom team should be questioned on. In a country where they are the monopoly player on the primary source for people to access the internet, this makes them appear like a bad actor.

Basically, we’ve gone from a bad system that was promised to be made better, but which had a corrective option, to a worse system that has no option.

Other Safaricom Data Miscellany

While I’m at it, let’s go ahead and talk about a few other ways that the data service that Safaricom raises the bar for bonehead usability: buying data bundles themselves.

Case 1:
You used to be able to send airtime to a SIM card on your Safaricom modem. Then, using the inbuilt Safaricom Broadband app, send an SMS to 450 with the amount of the bundle that you wanted to buy, now 450 only seems to work for checking your balance.

With the new service updated in the aforementioned PDF you can now only use the USSD code to update it.

Solution now?
Take the SIM card out of your modem, load it in your phone and do the USSD code. Once confirmation is received, switch that SIM card back to the modem.

Yes, that’s correct. Instead of being using the software that comes native with your modem, you now have to use a phone to update your bundles. Why would you change your system to not work with everything that people use? I’m quite curious actually. I can’t understand this decision from a either the business or the product side at all.

Case 2:
Safaricom wanted to make it easier for people with modems, iPads, Android tablets and smartphones to be able to update their bundle (good idea). They created for this purpose. Let’s say you’re out of data, you have no credit on your phone. How do you get to this page?

There are none. You’re stuck because this page isn’t zero-rated. This is mind-boggling in it’s oversight. I have no data, therefore I cannot go to your page to load more data. Seriously… who is the genius that thought this up? Or, probably more accurately, what form of bureaucracy is in place that allows this mediocrity to persist?

Further, if you’re Safaricom who controls 77% of the consumer internet access in Kenya, why wouldn’t you zero-rate your whole domain and make it free for anyone to surf, even if they don’t have a single shilling on their phone?

[As a resource, here is the latest quarterly Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) PDF report on the tech scene in Kenya.]

118 thoughts on “How Safaricom Steals Your Internet Bundle

  1. Helen

    Orange offers 24hour unlimited data at Kshs. 39 only for mobile phone users. They also offer fairly priced data bundles for both phones and modems. CHAGUO NI LAKO


    there is a saying in swahili that says ‘kitanda usichokilalia hujui kunguni mwake’ i have proved this saying to be true now that my over seven hundred MBs are no more, with the argument that they have reached expiry date and cannot be reactivated even by small amount of bundles. from this experience safaricom are no better, but can well fit in the gungstar class without straining, the only difference is that they steal without physical violence but exercise psychological violence.

  3. kkita

    We are yet to see any serious internet provider in Kenya. It is so frustrating because there are lots of us who want to do serious stuff online but the companies that claim to provide internet are just not doing it right. their products are hyped yet amount to nothing but a bunch of expensive and unreliable connections. we are told we have fibre but is it really helping us? Maybe it’s a policy issue or else I dont know why we are suffering this much.Be it as it may, there is a chance that the current providers are myopic in vision, only keen on reaping kenyans as much as they can because they think we are all ignorant. maybe its time those of us who depend on the internet for our livelihoods formed a revolution to name and shame this providers then push for better services whether by way of pushing the right policies or compeling the providers to behave, whichever is practical. Meanwhile for any investors out there, please there is a huge opportunity in kenya’s data platform. please consider it!!

  4. isa

    I was shocked today to notice a friend of mine Loose data bundles of 3360MB. All attempts to talk to customer care were exercise in futility. I think everyone should know this.

  5. Dan Kiagayu

    I recently bought a modem with a sim card. i put the simcard in my fon after credit ran out and got very many messages about 4 or 5 every day saying i did not have enough credit for a trnasaction i had never applied or asked for. This means that Safaricom has been debiting my credit at about 150/- everyday when i put credit without my knowledge or authority. Who can rectify refund and apologise over this.
    I am Duncan mobiles 0716 080 100/ 0700 322 377

  6. freddie

    Why are you still in the dark. you is the best in internet even if the speed is wanting especially for unlimited internet. Safaricom are goddamn corporate thieves

  7. Data Traveler

    Looks like Kenyans are getting “data fleeced.” LOL! :-) Perhaps when Yu & Airtel can step up to the competitive data plate, then and only then, will we see better service.
    BTW, I unlock ALL of my modems — always had problems with those damn Huawei E173′s custom firmware. No more :-). Try the DC-Unlocker service; works like a charm.

    Who’s the retard that invented locking a modem that I PAID FOR?? That should be another serious discussion.

  8. Jasper Njuguna

    An alternative for guys to access reliable internet and not necessarily using modems would be purchasing and installing access points gadgets or commonly known as receivers. A majority of business minded guys have set up a station or remote access transmitters that broadcast radio waves and depending on the radius [works mainly on "line of sight" and also "wifi spots"] pretty much you can access the internet via wifi [ if your comp has powerful wifi drivers] or by erecting a access points gadgets at your place and commonly used are Ubiquiti networks. Actually, even the large isp have this kind of setup but on a large scale.

    Think of it , it can be a business idea for you :==:

  9. Angela

    Hey, thanx for this, am glad I found this page! I moved to Orange internet LONG AGO, It was great until we ALL moved, coz they became “shrewd” too! Despite the billboards, unlimited is now 1200, not 990. And their page is no longer zero-rated. U need at least 35-65 bob= 1235 to recharge i.e basically the same reason I left SafCON. Very painful to discover this BY ACCIDENT. Customer care agents were very rude/ had no clue and I got no response from Orange on Twitter! Orange sucks as well, but even THAT’S STILL BETTER THAN SAFCON! :)

  10. HAM

    I have the following horrific things to say about, among other tech giants, Safaricom. The other day I bought an iPad and got safaricom line with 1.5GB data bundle good to go. Then one day the webpage said I had 120 odd MB balance. 5 mins into a skype call I am left with no internet. Its just not possible on a one to one skype video call to spend 120+Mb in 4-5 mins. It turns out that in less than 10 days the bundle got exhausted on average use. So I buy a 1000/= scratch card and upload airtime on the ipad line via the safaricom bundle portal thinking that it was free to access. After inserting the PIN I get message that top up was succeeful. I then attempted to but 1.5GB bundle from the bundle page and got message that there was not sufficient balance for the purchase. After refreshing the page, it still showed 0.00 air time and same 120 odd MB data bundle balance.

    My reasons for ranting: 1) Its not possible to eat up 1.5GB + 50% night bonus bundle in less than 10 days – Safaricom thieves here!, 2) Its not possible to consume 120 odd MB on a 5 mins video skype call, 3)If Safaricom webpage shows incorrect information on airtime/bundle balances then there is a problem with the Safaricom portal, 4) I did not know that accessing Safaricom portal costs money – Safaricom has not clarified about this, 5) iPad users are disadvantaged in that if the safcom web portal is not reliable then we are blinded as we cannot dial *450#1# to check bundle balances as iPad does not have phone/sms capabilities.

    Safaricom are day time and night time thieves.

  11. So sorry with what is happening

    Hope I won’t loose my over 2000 bundles.After recharging I am only getting the bundles fo Ksh.100 Ihave used (80)


  12. Qevin Qwest

    They may have the best 3G network but its actually more painfull now when using it.
    After turning off my PC I checked the bundle balance that was initially 200MB when I bought it, and the balance was 182MB in the morning tha data had drained to 76MB WTF!

  13. Qevin Qwest

    They may have the best 3G network but its actually more painfull now when using it.
    After turning off my PC I checked the bundle balance that was initially 200MB when I bought it, and the balance was 182MB in the morning tha data had drained to 76MB. Did KPLC consume some of my data overnight for using their power? Ges not SAFCONS.

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