Twitter flies off into the distance, and increased data costs, for MTN subscribers. Picture: REUTERS
Twitter flies off into the distance, and increased data costs, for MTN subscribers. Picture: REUTERS

MTN customers have until midnight on Tuesday to enjoy “free Twitter”, after which the network will shut down the service, used by 13-million people.

The service provider announced on Saturday that it will no longer provide its customers with access to Twitter without being charged for the data used in the process.

“Free Twitter started out as a 90-day promotion in May 2014 and, over time‚ it has become part of the landscape of social media in SA‚” said Jacqui O’Sullivan‚ executive for corporate affairs at MTN SA. “MTN first gave people the free platform to experience Twitter‚ which then had a relatively small local following. At the time‚ the whole of SA only had 5.5-million Twitter users. MTN has more than double that number on our network alone.”

O’Sullivan said overall usage trends towards video and images had determined that it was no longer feasible to offer a service such as Twitter for free due to the cost and demand it placed on the mobile network.

“Twitter was originally intended as a quick and snappy way to stay connected with the world — within a 140-character (now 280) limit. It has since evolved into a platform that is video- and image-intensive‚ making it no longer feasible to offer this as a value-added service to our customers. While we understand Twitter fans will be disappointed to see the end of this free service‚ MTN is committed to delivering other exciting and affordable ways to connect our customers to the digital platforms they love‚” said O’Sullivan.

According to MTN‚ the number of free Twitter users increased to 13-million last month‚ using an extraordinary 1.9 petabytes (PB) of network data a month.

To get an indication of the size of a petabyte of data‚ IT Pro in the UK reported that it would take an HD video recorder running 24/7 for three-and-a-half years to fill a 1PB hard drive.

MTN also announced changes to the pricing and sizing of its WhatsApp and Twitter bundles, effective October 1. The weekly WhatsApp bundle rate will increase from 100MB (for R5) to 250MB for R10. This change‚ according to MTN‚ is to cater for the increased demand the company saw for larger bundles.

The daily offer will increase from R1 to R2 but the size moves from 20MB to 50MB. MTN’s Twitter bundles will also change in size and pricing. The current daily bundle will move from R1 for 20MB to R5 for 100MB and the weekly rate will change from 100MB for R5 to 500MB for R20.

“While our pricing has increased‚ we are mindful of ensuring that our offering remains competitive and affordable. In line with this‚ both offerings still provide great value in the market‚” said O’Sullivan.

Twitter users on the MTN network expressed shock and disappointment at the announcement that free Twitter is coming to an end.