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    October 17, 2016

    Vodacom vs Cell C vs MTN vs Telkom Mobile: Who offers the best data bundles?

    best data bundles south africa

    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.

    Read: In-bundle versus out-of-bundle rates: What‘s the difference on the price of data?

    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!

    best data bundles south africa

    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.

    best data bundles south africa

    A graph depicting the price of data bundles per network. The general premise is that bars closer to the floor than their competitors represents greater value for the consumer.

    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.

    Telkom Mobile

    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.

    Read: Telkom‘s FreeMe plan is its most aggressive pricing yet on mobile data


    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.

    Cell C

    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.

    Read: Android vs iOS: Vodacom reveals the most popular platforms on its network


    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:

    Read: The EFF becomes the first political party to pledge support for #DataMustFall

    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!

    Follow Bryan Smith on Twitter: @bryansmithSA

    Disclaimer: No mobile network, ISP, or data provider was involved in the production of this article.

    Listen in to our latest podcast!

    • Richie M Z

      While the analysis is so interesting as it is revealing, I felt it’s a bit biased towards Vodacom. I’m a subscriber of both Vodacom and Telkom mobile and with a monthly data budget of R250 I believe I fall in the above average user. I discarded data usage on my android usage due to its exorbitant data rates and the not so slow data depletion rate as compared to Telkom. I am sure since Telkom phased its Telkom network data bundle in late 2014 or thereabouts to all networks bundle, the roaming issue is no longer an issue. I will put Telkom so up there! Thanks for the article.

      • Thanks for the feedback, @richiemz:disqus! As we said in the article, this is the result of our own investigation and we’re left to conclude that Vodacom – at the moment – offers the most reliable service that’s value for money. However, it’s great to hear you’re having a positive experience on Telkom Mobile – I definitely believe that their service will expand within the next year or to and will give more established networks a run for their money; I believe their FreeMe plans are a great indication of how determined they are to disrupt the data market. We’ll continue to cover this in the coming months! 🙂

        • Kimmy

          With me I’m on contract with Vodacom. They give me 500 mb per month and I do top up. If I buy 1G, it’s cost R80 and they give me 1G free.

        • Phumlani Kenny Maphumulo

          Sorry, I hate Vodacom just for personal reasons. I took a contract with them 10 years ago. At first month’s debit they took all 23 moths worth of debit oders at once. They clear all my savings and when I enquire I was told countless times that they cannot do reversal of funds. I was a living hell to me. Since then everyone in my family is using Telkom mobile because of their exceptional service to people.

    • MAQ

      Just buy 1Gig Nightly Express for R10 on MTN if you can afford not to sleep. You can buy more Gigs too depending on how much you can use between 00:00:00 and 06:00:00 AM

    • Jeremy Alexander

      Cell C has the worst range in the country right now. if you an Iphone or samsung person then great, they have everything you need, however if you like LG or Sony then you out of luck, not only do they have the worst range, the refuse to do an aftersale of products they dont have and also their prices for contracts is far higher than any other network in south africa.

    • Dewald Ferreira

      I use Vodacom, Mtn and Telkom. Unfortunately none of the networks are interested in having reliable coverage in the smaller towns such as Meyerton, where I live. Cell C is worst of all. Over weekends, holidays and at night during the premium hours their signal fades literally as the sun sets. in a short distance of about a kilometre the signal goes from Lte to 3G to Gsm to nothing at all. During the 24 months of agony, the life span of the contract, I could never reach the limit of 100 minutes talk time and 200mb of data. I tried using different ;phones, modems and routers to no avail. I eventualy just put their phone and sim back in the box and kept on payng until the contract expired, Not even then was it over ‘coz they would keep on deducting the debit order every month no matter what I did. It became a chore to go to my bank every month-end to reverse the debit order. Eventually I cancelled my bank account of 18 years to get rid of them and finally, after 4 years, the nightmare was over. Now I warn people every day to stay clear of Cell C.

      • Phumlani Kenny Maphumulo

        I totally agree with you 100%. With Cell C data I could only read text on facebook but no visibility of picture posts. That’s how bad Cell C is. I do have an existing contract with Cell c, I threw away SIM card and I’m paying off the handset