Vodacom South Africa has launched reverse-billed data for its business customers. It allows businesses to offer clients and staff free access to their websites, online content, apps and data services without affecting their own data bundles. Businesses can thereby expand their reach, increase website traffic and improve engagement, because clients do not need to worry about the cost of data.
Vodacom Business offers a tiered billing model with subscription fees and usage based on a sliding scale, charged to the sponsoring company. For reverse-billed data, businesses will subscribe to a service where their specified URLs will be charged according to usage.
Vodacom Business’ reverse-billed data is an interesting and innovative concept, in some ways reminiscent of zero-rating in the consumer market. In zero-rating, an operator makes data available free for certain apps, usually popular ones such as streaming entertainment or OTT messaging. This is done for several reasons—to inculcate high-data-consumption habits in customers, to promote a service partnership and to gain a competitive advantage over rival operators.
In this case, the target audience is not consumers in general but clients of a specific company to whom that company would like to offer complimentary access to sites, apps and related services. Vodacom is selling its business customers the reverse-billed data service, making it possible for them, in turn, to provide what is essentially zero-rated data to their customers. If that allows businesses to increase their client base and by extension their revenue, the uptake of the reverse-billed data service will not only bring in revenue for Vodacom but also increase acquisition and retention of customers for the operator.
The tiered, sliding-scale billing structure appears to be a sound idea, as it would make it possible for all sizes of business customers, enterprises and SMEs, to subscribe to the service. The fact that the data that is reverse-billed is charged according to usage as opposed to flat-rate should be appealing to business customers because it gives them the security of knowing that they are only paying for data actually used.
The one question looming over this offering is whether the data charges that ordinarily would be accrued by corporate clients accessing the sites and apps of businesses are prohibitive in any way. If companies really hold back from using data in these ways because of charges, to the point where they would significantly increase their usage if the data were reverse-billed, then the offering should succeed. But it is also possible that the analogy between consumers using zero-rated data and businesses using reverse-billed data is inexact.