Mobile data in South Africa is expensive. Very expensive. In this post, we compare the prices of one-off mobile data bundles from Vodacom, Cell C, MTN, Telkom and Rain. We also compare the reliability of the different networks — cheap data isn’t very useful if there’s no coverage.
Access to Wi-Fi and fixed broadband connections are not the norm for most South Africans, who rely largely on mobile data packages.
The price of data in South Africa ranks 143rd in the world, according to Cable, a UK mobile broadband comparison website. They analysed over 6,000 mobile data plans in 230 countries in their investigation.
The average price of 1GB of data in South Africa is R106.20. Spare a thought for our neighbours in Zimbabwe, where 1GB of data goes for R1,110.70 on average. Meanwhile, India has the cheapest data prices in the world with an average price of R3.84 per GB.
There’s actually a reason for all this. Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub blames the high prices on “lengthy delays in completing the digital migration and allocating 4G spectrum.” Whatever that means.
Below are the prices for a once-off 1GB prepaid data bundle.
*Rain’s offer isn’t limited to 1GB, but each gigabyte costs R50. The data-only network also offers the first seven days free. There’s a once-off R50 fee for the Rain sim card. Rain’s headline deal is R250 for one month of unlimited data for 19 hours of the day.
*Cell C doesn’t offer a 1GB bundle but their R1.5GB bundle (R80) works out to about R53 per GB. Cell C has also reintroduced its R17 WhatsApp data bundle, offering customers 1GB of WhatsApp data for R17. Cell C gives you the option to extend bundle validity to 90 days or a year, at an additional cost.
Telkom’s 1GB bundle comes with an additional 1GB of ‘Night Surfer’ data, to be used between midnight and 7am. The data is valid until the end of the following calendar month from the date of purchase. The 2GB data bundle is more economical at R140 (R70 per GB), and also comes with an additional 2GB of ‘Night Surfer’ data.
MTN’s 1GB data bundle is more expensive than Telkom’s and is only valid for one calendar month. MTN’s 3GB data bundle costs R299, which works out to around R100 per GB.
Vodacom also offers daily and hourly bundle options which are ideal for very short periods of use. For example, 1GB of hourly data is only R12 – but it expires at the end of the hour.
Coverage and Network Strength
A recent South African survey revealed that mobile coverage was one of the most important factors of a mobile data service, along with reliability. Without getting into the nitty-gritty of “Mhz bands” and “latency”, coverage basically refers to where your data will work, while network strength refers to how well it will work.
Rain, for all its affordability, has particularly poor coverage, which is understandable given how relatively new the network is. Rain’s CEO Willem Roos says that the company’s intention is to roll out its 4G network in the main metropolitan areas.
By any measurement, Vodacom has the best coverage in South Africa, followed closely by MTN and Cell C.
According to research from the BusinessTech team, MTN has the best and most reliable speeds, followed by Vodacom.