VIVA: The Fine Print

I find it frustrating when businesses intentionally avoid disclosing information related to their products to their customers —service providers in particular. They don’t want consumers to see the whole picture, so they “cleverly” emphasize their value proposition, but leave out the details which are likely to influence people’s buying decisions. This is also why commitment plans are in place; people can’t opt-out easily after realizing what they had truly signed up for. While I’ll be focusing on Viva in this post, realize that the concept applies to many businesses; some are more or less transparent than others.

Lets take an example and explore the least-expensive most-basic postpaid plan: the 10 KD bundle. Hold on, wasn’t there a 7 KD bundle? Oddly enough, if you visit these two links, you get different results:

Despite its presence on the Viva mobile app as well, let’s assume for the sake of simplicity that the 7 KD bundle is an old package that someone had forgotten to remove from the website.  Is there a difference between the postpaid 10 KD bundle and the 10 KD “Go Unlimited” bundle?

Lucky for us, these two packages are identical: the missing “100 SMS” and “vanity number” offers are mentioned in different places further down on their corresponding page. I will give Viva the benefit of the doubt and assume that it’s a presentation/repackaging mistake, but the issues don’t end there. Side note: You might be wondering how the 10 KD package got to be listed under the “unlimited” section and my guess is that subscribers can send an SMS code (send “210” to 567) to buy unlimited Viva-to-Viva minutes for 1 KD/month.

So what does the 10 KD package give you exactly? Lets look at the first component: talk time. The package gives “KD 8” which, according to the asterisk, means that you get eight dinars worth of credit of talk time. That may seem like a great offer at first, but there is no mention of the call rate: the cost to talk per minute. Follow the second asterisk —it’s ridiculous, but bare with me— to find that the credit is rated for “Pay As You Go”. Well then what’s the PAYG rate, you ask? While I was not able to find it on the website, it may be safe to assume that the Prepaid “Allo” packages share the same PAYG rate: 45 fils/min. That would mean that subscribers would get around 177.7 minutes of talk time. I suppose 177 minutes is not as marketable as 8 KD, am I right? I will not try to get into normal vs peak rates or on-net vs off-net (same/different carrier) because that’s another issue which isn’t explained, but I wouldn’t be surprised if rates go up to as high as 49 fils/min.

Great! So we managed to work out that Viva’s 10 KD package gives us approximately 177 minutes of talk time, right? No, not necessarily. This credit may be consumed by other components once their limits have been exceeded (for the 10 KD bundle: anything beyond 100 SMS or 10 GB internet). Each of these components have their own rates as well. Although not on the website, I believe SMS is 50 fils/message? From experience, I know that it’s not possible to surpass the allocated internet capacity (10 GB), but then why would the asterisk mention that this includes “downloading content and internet browsing”?

We still haven’t talked about the validity of these minutes! Again, you won’t find this information easily on Viva’s website —are you surprised at this point?—, but from personal branch visits, I learned that credit is provisioned on the first day of each month (it was previously the 21st, but let’s not get into that). This means that if you don’t consume all of your credit (ie. your total talk time for the month was less than the amount provisioned by your bundle), you don’t get to keep the remaining amount. There is no concept of accumulating credit/minutes for an indefinite time; credit must be consumed before it expires. In contrast, if all the credit (177 minutes) is consumed very early in the month, the PAYG rate will still apply and the equivalent amount will be billed on the following month.

When it comes to internet service, the 10 KD bundle gives 10 GB capacity. That much is clear. But what happens after that capacity has been consumed? If my memory serves me well, older packages used to provide internet access at “high speed” (3G/4G LTE) then fall back to “low speed” (2G/HSDPA), but “never completely disconnects”. As of writing though, Viva will stop all internet access (refer to the asterisk at the very bottom of the page) unless a power-up or a “booster” is activated (at an additional cost). If you direct your browser to pay.viva.com.kw using your mobile/device (won’t work outside of Viva’s IP address space), you’ll be able to see your internet usage and activate a variety of power-ups.

A power-up cannot be purchased/activated multiple times. For example, if you buy the 1 GB (1 KD), you will not be able to purchase it again until the next month —at least not via the payment portal? You will need to buy the 6 GB booster (5 KD) or some other option if you want to continue to consume bandwidth. To make matters worse, these boosters are not very clear either: there are different types with limited validity, but you’ll have a hard time finding/understanding them from the website/mobile app:

Screen Shot 2017-07-01 at 7.42.30 PM

Boosters:

  • 1 KD (1 GB “extra GB”)
  • 1 KD (20 GB only works with “Social Media”)
  • 1 KD (20 GB works on weekend “Friday and Saturday”)
  • 1 KD (20 GB only works at night “from 1 AM to 7 AM”)
  • 1 KD (20 GB only works for streaming “SD YouTube”)
  • 2 KD (20 GB only works for streaming “HD YouTube”)
  • 3 KD (15 GB “extra GB”)
  • 3 KD (40 GB only works for “Gaming”)
  • 5 KD (6 GB “extra GB”)

Some of these can be activated by sending special SMS codes, selecting them from the payment portal or Viva’s website (member’s Self Care section). The term “Social Media” includes WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Viber and Instagram according to this 2013 launch post.

Then there’s the matter of “Surf On” plans:

Screenshot_2017-07-01-20-01-51

 

  • 4 KD (15 GB with unlimited Social Media – not shown on website anymore?)
  • 7 KD (50 GB with unlimited Social Media – not shown on website anymore?)
  • 18 KD (2 TB)

I’m assuming that “Surf On” is an internet subscription plan while “Boosters” are just temporary capacity extensions? Regardless, Viva promotes adding a Surf On package to your existing postpaid plan (they’re on the same page), but I see no point of buying a 4 KD surf-on plan when a 3 KD booster gives the same capacity? Is that why the 4 and 7 KD options have been hidden on the website?

Viva’s prepaid plans are slightly less confusing than the postpaid, but keep in mind that a bundle must be activated every month otherwise the PAYG rates apply. Power-ups for prepaid plans are priced differently than postpaid. Oddly enough, the prepaid 8 KD package with a 1 KD minutes booster gets you 250 minutes, 150 SMS and 25 GB. That’s approximately 70 minutes, 50 SMS messages and 15 GB extra compared with the 10 KD postpaid plan described above!

There are still numerous points which I have not yet to addressed, but I feel that this post has made my point clear: even for the most basic of services, a business can really confuse and mislead consumers when it comes to promoting their products in subtle or disingenuous ways. Viva’s (as well as other mobile telecoms) packages and pricing structures are designed in such a way that consumers are encouraged to either spend more than what they actually need upfront or risk, unknowingly, paying premium rates as they try to reduce their usage. Service consumption naturally varies from month to month, but businesses prefer a steady stream of revenue and hence promote long-term commitment plans and pose hefty penalties when consumers decide to change their minds. Don’t let them take advantage of you. Keep an eye out for the fine print, the asterisks, ask about the details, and watch out for any sudden changes they may make.

Update:

I just noticed that the Prepaid packages have “doubled”, but the effect isn’t reflected on the product page. Is this “doubling” a temporary offer? Your guess is as good as mine.

Update 2:

According to this study (page 23) about 75% of the mobile subscriptions in Kuwait are prepaid.

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