As the South African mobile economy heats up, which network provides the best data bundles? We take Vodacom, Cell C, MTN and Telkom Mobile head-to-head!
South Africa finds itself in an interesting space with regards to mobile data in 2016. As the #DataMustFall movement engages with parliament in a bid to bring the exorbitant price internet access to heel, South African networks have entered a new phase of competition.
This is perhaps exemplified with the data bundle; an area where mobile consumers are caught between prepaid packages and the expense of paying off a mobile contract. Where data runs dry, consumers will flock to purchase additional packages to keep their heads above water and remain connected to not only social media, but a growing brochure of social media platforms online.
While one can benefit from purchasing a data bundle to avoid disconnection from the web, not all offerings are made equal; South African mobile networks not only have to satisfy their bottom end but remain in staunch competition with one another.
In that light, we’ve rounded together offerings plied by Vodacom, Cell C, MTN, and Telkom Mobile to evaluate which network offers their clients the best all-round value in terms of coverage and data provision.
Without further ado, let’s get to it!
Mobile data bundles: How we’re judging the competition
We’ve grouped together packages offered by Vodacom, Cell C, MTN, and Telkom Mobile in nine categories divided by allocated data starting at 30MB. As we move through each package, we’ll unpack which offering is best at each price point and we’ll conclude with a final say as to which offering we feel is strongest. It is important to note, however, that not all networks compete in the data brackets we’ve selected, and for this reason we’ll identify if a network offers a better or worse deal for a greater or lesser amount of data.
Bracket one – 30MB
30MB is usually the amount of data one would purchase to perform a quick task, as system updates and synchronization functions across Android, BlackBerry 10, or iOS can drain this capacity quite quickly. In this bracket, Vodacom and Cell C compete; Vodacom offers R12 per 30MB in an offering which equates to 40c for MB, while Cell C offers R11 per 30MB in an offering which is the equivalent of 37c per MB.
The bottom line: At this bracket, no-one really wins; least of all the consumer. Given the low cost of a 30MB data packet, networks can provide an offering which fills a need, yet has no value for the consumer. The high cost of data in this bracket – 38.5c per MB on average – is exorbitant in comparison to bundles we’ll elaborate on below. While Cell C takes the cake for offering its bundle at R1 less, this is a bracket in which South African consumers will most feel the heat.
Bracket two – 50MB
Our second bracket is where the competition meets on the open field. On lesser smartphones where internet usage is closely monitored, 50MB can accommodate a fair amount of activity ranging from lightweight web browsing to instant messaging, and South African networks compete closely to out-position one another in this regard.
Vodacom offers R12 for 50MB in an offering which equates to 24c per MB, and is followed by Telkom Mobile offers R14.50 for 50MB in which equates to 29c per MB. MTN places itself leagues ahead at R25 for 50MB, which is 50c per MB, while Cell C altogether distances itself from that offering with a 60MB bundle for R20 – 33c per MB.
The bottom line: While Cell C might package its offering under the guise of offering more data for less cash, that offer is only the 3rd best when compared out of all four competitors. Vodacom shows strength with its offering, which equates to 24c per MB – the best on show at this price point. MTN lags behind with a costly 50c per MB.
Bracket three – 100MB
As we approach a threshold in which the allocated amount of data might last beyond a day or two, all networks compete on an open plane. Vodacom offers R29 per 100MB (29c per MB), while Cell C and Telkom Mobile compete at the same juncture. MTN once again lags behind, offering R35 per 100MB which equates to 35c per MB.
Cell C makes the interesting play of offering R49 for double the amount of data (200MB) in this bracket – 24.5c per MB – which effectively undercuts the value offered by Vodacom despite the fact that one would need to fork out nearly twice the lowest amount of money required for 100MB to acquire a 200MB bundle.
The bottom line: For value, Cell C is the winner in this bracket as it effectively offers more data for a lesser amount per MB – yet, when competing at the sole 100MB bracket, Vodacom and Telkom Mobile are only 5 cents ahead. The competition is close here – and what you prefer may well depend on your habits. What is clear, however, is that MTN once again fails to offer a convincing alternative.
Bracket four: 500MB
500MB is the equivalent offering of many contract arrangements offered by all four major South African networks, in which a smartphone is offered concurrently. At this price point, a clear winner emerges.
Vodacom offers R99 per 500MB (19c per MB) and also competes at a lower allocation- offering R59 per 250MB (23 per MB) -while Cell C competes at the same price point. Telkom Mobile is the victor, offering R69 per 500MB in an offering that equates to just 13c per MB. MTN alternatively offers R105 for 500MB – 21c per MB – which is simultaneously its most attractive offering yet while still falling short of the competition.
The bottom line: Telkom Mobile offers supreme value at this 500MB mark, and for this reason the network is the clear winner. However, for reasons we’ll outline later, Telkom’s mobile network isn’t the strongest performer amongst its rivals, Cell C’s offering a close second as Vodacom executes less value through its provision of a 200MB bundle for R59 – a purchase trap many will fall into.
Bracket five: 1GB
The 1GB mark is where Telkom’s newest mobile offering truly begins to shine. While Vodacom and Cell C both offer data bundles for R149 per 1GB – 15c per MB – Telkom Mobile offers 9c per MB in its 1GB bundle which costs R99. MTN joins the party by offering 1GB of data for R160 – 15.6c per MB.
The bottom line: While Vodacom, Cell C, and MTN compete closely, Telkom Mobile demonstrates its value by undercutting its closest rival by R50 – a proposition that’ll no doubt attract many at this price point considering the fact that Telkom Mobile furthermore charges nearly same amount as its competitors (R139) for 2GB data – its most unparalleled offerings.
Network versus network: Where’s the value?
Up until now, we’ve solely discussed the value offered by different South African mobile networks, which is only half the equation – to paint a more elaborate picture, we’ll need to evaluate the strength of each network.
While we’ve shown that Telkom Mobile offers the best value for its high-end data packages, its deal comes with a caveat; as Telkom’s cellular network emerges, it relies on MTN’s roaming infrastructure to field many of its clients. In actual fact, Telkom Mobile subscribers would have a higher chance of depleting their data earlier thanks to their use of a roaming network. The end emphasis is that for consumers interesting in getting onboard with Telkom Mobile’s offerings, they’ll have to make sure their area of residence is well supported.
Speaking of MTN, it’s worthwhile to address that in our comparison the network frequently concluded in last place – the penalty for consumers accessing Africa’s widest and most expansive network is a higher cost of data across the board. While consumers will probably enjoy MTN’s extensive coverage, whether one will be able to stomach the worst prices per MB of data is up to one’s discretion.
Where Cell C once found itself in Telkom Mobile’s position – suffering from an acute lack of network coverage which often left its clients frustrated – things have greatly improved for the service provider. With a strong LTE network in place, Cell C has provided great value for its consumers across its offerings and only falls short in the middling spectrum where it is outcompeted with Vodacom. For consumers seeking to purchase bundles greater than 300MB, Cell C represents a solid bet.
While Vodacom neither posed the most accessible offerings in comparison to Telkom Mobile, nor possesses a networking infrastructure as expansive as MTN’s, the irony is that the company has found a greater middle-ground than any of its competitors, and frequently exercises value proportional to that of its network structure. Vodacom further contest great value in each bracket, leaving us to feel that while their offerings may not be as competitive as those offered by Telkom Mobile, one can be safe under the company’s auspices.
By no means is this an authoritative verdict; your choice of mobile network will likely be defined by out-of-bundle charges, smartphones on offer, and your personal preference – and further, while all the figures reported are valid at the time of publication, mobile networks can pivot their bundle offerings whenever they wish.
It’s our hope at Bandwidth Blog that as a result of movements like #DataMustFall, the prices of internet access can continue to drop and that citizens across South Africa can enjoy accessible and reliable internet connections. Listen in to the latest episode of Bandwidth Blog On Air to hear our opinions:
Have your say!
What are your thoughts? What’s your favourite mobile network? Be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Disclaimer: No mobile network, ISP, or data provider was involved in the production of this article.