DISCLAIMER: I have been a loyal Globe subscriber for 13+ years, and I was a Smart subscriber as well for 2 years before I got my first iPhone in late 2008. Enough is enough.
For those who are following me on Twitter, you may be aware that I’m currently having problems with my billing for internet usage for my Globe postpaid plan. I have asked Globe to give me a detailed breakdown of my internet usage, but they refuse to issue a breakdown & expect me to take the total minutes or KB indicated on my bill at face value. The sad thing is that I’m not the only one experiencing this: fellow bloggers such as Abe Olandres & Noemi Dado (among others) have also posted their “horror stories” with Globe’s internet usage billing. There are also a couple of threads in PhilMUG (here & here) & applei.ph (here) containing other Globe subscribers’ horror stories.
I conducted an experiment last December to see if there was some basis for my complaints. On December 17, I edited my APN to make sure that I could not connect to Globe’s data servers. To verify that I no longer had a connection, I turned off WiFi & opened Safari. I tried to connect to Globe’s iPhone site & the following alert appeared:
Okay, now I could safely begin my experiment. I retrieved my unbilled charges & they amounted to PhP1337.92. For the next 24 hours, I planned to subsist on Wifi only. Since I work at home, that would not be a problem.
Less than 24 hours later, I decided to check my unbilled charges. To my utmost surprise, the charges were now P1,785.81 due to internet usage. Roughly PhP450.00 increase in less than 24 hours! That’s crazy. So, I did the obvious thing & contacted a Globe CSR through their hotline. I presented him with my findings & asked him for the breakdown of the usage. They advised me to wait for my billing cutoff, but he said that Globe cannot provide the breakdown. As a former Smart subscriber, I was very disappointed; with Smart, a detailed breakdown of internet usage was standard for postpaid subscribers. Because of this, I really began to doubt the accuracy of Globe’s figures.
Instead of focusing on the result of the problem (unreasonable charges), I wanted to see what could be the possible cause. Before I continue, I want to clarify that my experience in dealing with IP connections is limited to 10+ years of configuring a home/office network. I have absolutely no experience in cellular IP connections, so my observations and/or conclusions may be way off the mark. So, please feel free to set the record straight.
STRAIGHT FROM THE HORSE’S MOUTH
The first site that I checked is Globe’s FAQ on Time vs KB charging. Based on the info there, it seems that there are two seemingly conflicting interpretations of how their system works. Under item #8, it states that “You can reconnect without additional charge, as long as you reconnect within 15 minutes from the time of first connection.” However, under item #23, it states that “Since block of 15 minutes are bought, if disconnection happens before the 15 minutes are up, you can no longer get back the missed minutes. When you reconnect, a new P5 for 15-minute block will apply.”
Although they may ultimately mean the same thing, there is a subtle difference. In the first scenario, if I disconnect before 15 minutes are up, but reconnect within the same 15-minute block, I won’t get charged another PhP5.00, unless I exceed the original 15-minute block. Under the second scenario, as long as I get disconnected before the 15 minutes are up, I will be charged PhP5.00 if I connect again, whether or not I’m still within the 15 minutes are up. So which is it? I’m sure most of you are laughing at me & saying that “It’s pretty obvious that the 1st scenario is the correct one.” Fine, however, please bear with me, since the second scenario is related to my subsequent point on IP addresses.
Other items that caught my eye were items #21-22. Based on the info there, “you can register to time-based browsing more than once, but only up to three times a day.” If you try for a fourth time, “you will receive an SMS notification that you have exceeded the number of tries you can subscribe to the service. You can try subscribing again after 24 hours.” When I was still actively using Globe’s data services, I’m definitely sure that I connected more than three times in one day. I never received the SMS notification.
Which brings me to the point about how Globe may be tracking internet usage based on cellular IP connections. Let’s suppose that, when you connect to Globe’s data servers, you are assigned a particular IP address (for example, 10.9.0.100). So, for the next 15 minutes or until you disconnect, your phone (iPhone or not) uses that single IP address. So far, so good right?
However, what if during the 15 minutes that you are using the internet, you get disconnected (either intentionally or unintentionally), and you’re only able to connect after the 1st 15 minutes are up. It’s possible that your phone gets assigned the same IP address, but it’s also possible that your phone is assigned another IP address. If your phone is assigned a new IP address, than it’s safe to assume that the connection using the original IP address has been disconnected & a new connection has been established with you new IP address. We’re still good, just PhP5.00 poorer.
A POSSIBLE EXPLANATION?
Of course, in the real world, you don’t normally plan your internet usage in 15-minute blocks, unless you’re extremely OC, or are a finely tuned robot. So, in this case, you use the internet for 3 minutes, disconnect for 2 minutes, connect again for 1 minute, disconnect for 2 minutes, & connect again for 5 minutes, then disconnect; you have a total of 3 connect/disconnect cycles within 15 minutes. Now comes the fun part. What if the scenario under #23 is actually the correct one? Then you have already been charged PhP15.00 within those 15 minutes.
Even if item #22 is the correct scenario, is it possible that the PhP5.00 is charged every time the IP address used by the device changes? So, if a new IP address is assigned to the device every time it reconnects, than within those 15 minutes, you were charged PhP15.00 since your device went through 3 connect/reconnect cycles.
In either case, if you consider the volatility & randomness of internet usage for a typical mobile user, the question of Ms. Dado (“How could I possibly be using 14.5 hours internet in a span of 1 hour and 27 minutes?”) can be easily answered. Instead of a linear system of billing, Globe’s system may actually be exponential.
If you add items #21-22 to the mix, then you have the possibility that, if you connect more than three times in one day, Globe’s billing system may actually be failing to validly recognize connection/disconnection cycles. This could result in either not tracking connections (which could result in no fee for the fourth connection onwards) or not tracking disconnections. In this case, if your phone connects to Globe’s data servers for the fourth time, even if you disconnect right away (or an hour later), their billing system will not recognize the disconnection. This could explain why, even after I disconnected, edited my APN & stopped using the system for 24 hours, I was still charged for internet usage.
Now, after going through this exercise in speculation, I definitely understand why Globe refuses to give a breakdown of users’ internet usage. If a serious flaw in their billing system is revealed, then current subscribers will refuse to pay for services used or unused, and new subscribers will shy away from Globe. However, if Globe continues to deny that a problem exists, then subscribers like me will continue to look for answers or alternatives. Smart or Sun will be more than happy to welcome disgruntled Globe subscribers, especially if Apple finally allows them to carry the iPhone. Wishful thinking, eh? 😉
UPDATE: If you have been charged by Globe for mobile data usage that was not actually used, feel free to share your own horror story here. Let your voice be heard! Also, please pass the link along to friends who may have experienced this as well. You can also contact Globe directly through their customer service e-mail address at firstname.lastname@example.org.
UPDATE #2: There’s now an article on Manila Bulletin about this issue. I hope Globe and Apple are both paying attention..