Samba closes down; the final nail in the coffin for ad-funded mobile services?

Following the recent closure of Ovivo, the free mobile data service from Samba is also shutting down. Surely this marks the end to ad-funded mobile networks?

In the case of Ovivo, money was still taken right up until its sudden shut down at 6pm on the 19th March 2014. With Samba, people who made purchases of SIM cards or dongles in April will receive refunds, while those who had unused cash credit will also get their money back.

Those who earned data from watching video ads will lose all their data when the service ends.

It’s a shame, but I am not particularly surprised and doubt many others can be either. I’m not aware (although I’ve not done any lengthy research as yet) of any ad-funded mobile services that have been successful in the long term – and I do know of others that have been tried before.

No doubt someone will come up with another one that ‘can’t fail’ in the future.

The upside is that there’s very little risk in trying out these services and taking advantage while they last. Bar the cost of buying a SIM card, and possibly also having to stump up some money as account credit, you are generally able to continue without spending any money at all.

All you need to do is watch, listen or read the advertisements that keep things free. But this perhaps where the problem lies.

When it comes to Google services, Facebook and the like, we’re all used to ads funding our free access, but for free phone calls and mobile data, it seems most of us aren’t that keen on ads that are far more intrusive – and with the inevitable temptation to find ways around them.

In the case of Samba, despite having systems in place to prevent users viewing multiple ads at once (to earn credit faster without having to watch anything), there were still ways to get around the restrictions that undermined the whole business model.

Just as people would put the phone down on a desk, to save listening to the audio ads forced upon them before being able to make a call, on previous ad-funded services.

Can advertisers expect to get a good return on these services when people are really not interested in having to endure adverts on such a regular basis?

Samba was recently packed full of public service ads from the UK Government and the European Commission. They might provide a guaranteed revenue stream, but almost certainly not a lot.

It ended up being the case that you had to repeatedly watch the same ads day in and day out to earn just 3.5MB of data each time, which was rather stupid – both for the customer and the advertiser. With some ads in excess of 3 or 4 minutes, it became even more of a problem.

Unlike Ovivo, where some people would have been inconvenienced by the sudden suspension of their personal phone number, Samba customers only used mobile data. It’s going to be easy to get online with another SIM, even if it now means paying real money every month.

For people with 3G/4G enabled tablets, or multiple devices, there must be a viable market for cheap data-only SIM cards, with more generous allowances to cater for audio downloads and video streaming,  but I am pretty sure the days of ad-funded mobile services have now come to an end.


The email from Samba in full:

Samba closing down. Thanks to all our customers.

Dear Customers,

You may have heard via the website, a friend or social media that Samba has had to take the difficult decision to close. We hope that you, our customers, have been happy with the value exchange received over the last two years. Below you will find answers to FAQs.

We would like to thank you for all your support. We know that a lot of you have really appreciated the service, and we have, in return, very much appreciated your loyalty to Samba and your support of our proposition to friends and family.

We have provided free mobile broadband, but also an alternative to interruptive video advertising models, and have, for the most part, with your participation, proven that people are quite happy to view video ads when they are in control of the experience and get something in return. We will be using this learning in future projects.

However, it is with sadness that today we have closed the service, and we understand and appreciate you will need to find alternatives to Samba. We have made suggestions of where to look at the bottom of the FAQs below.

To paraphrase the late Douglas Adams, so long and thanks for all the views…


• Why is Samba closing down?

Samba is closing principally due to the high cost of wholesale data. This makes the current model of offering a meaningful value exchange of mobile broadband unsustainable. The data service will shut down with immediate effect; there is no guarantee we will be able to switch data back on unless negotiations with partners result in lower costs for Samba. Thank you all for your loyalty, feedback and recommendations to friends and family since we launched in 2012.

• Why didn’t you tell us in advance?

We have been in negotiations with our wholesale data partners trying to cut the right deal to continue, but unfortunately this has not been possible. We have to pay for data in advance and, as we have reached the end of the latest billing period without agreement on lower costs, we have had to stop offering our service with immediate effect.

• Can I get a refund for my SIM or Dongle?

All Samba customers who bought a SIM or Dongle in April 2014 will receive a refund. This will be paid into the PayPal account that was used to pay for the original Samba order by Thursday 1st May 2014.

• Can I get a refund on my Samba credit?

All Samba customers who bought a cash top-up that has not expired will be refunded for any unused data on their cash top-up. This will be paid into the PayPal account that was used to pay for the cash top-up by Thursday 1st May 2014.
No money will be paid for Samba credit that was earned from watching ads.

• Will I be paid commission for referring a friend in April?

As we are refunding all customers who signed up in April, we will not be paying commission for refer a friend sign-ups during the month.

We would like to take the opportunity to thank all our customers for being a part of Samba. We hope you have enjoyed using the service over the last 2 years and we hope you find the right mobile broadband deal in the future. You have taken part in a unique experiment that has been welcomed by the ad industry – we have run over 1000 campaigns for our partners and have, to a large extent, proven that people are happy to consume advertising if they are in control of the experience and if they get something meaningful in return. We will be taking this experience into subsequent ventures.

You may wish to compare mobile broadband deals at:


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