South Africa has embraced the smartphone wholeheartedly. A lack of fixed-line infrastructure in townships and rural areas makes internet connectivity by any other means impossible. Having a smartphone allows South Africans to access services such as banking, social media, news and information.

The use of smartphones has become so prolific that South Africans can now file their tax returns on them. South Africa’s cell phone market continues to grow aggressively, like that of many of its African counterparts. This is characteristic of developing economies. The cell phone market has all but plateaued in developed economies.

In South Africa, most users are connected to 4G signals. Upload and download speeds are regarded as good in South Africa compared to the rest of the continent. There is a growing demand for high-speed fibre connections, but the rollout of the infrastructure is still being set up. The physical and financial constraints hamper the progress of the project.

As it stands, South Africa’s mobile networks are carrying the bulk of the connectivity load. They are the only means of access for most South African citizens. Fixed-line home connections are still in the minority. However, they are the best proposition for high bandwidth activities such as video viewing and downloading.

The real cost of mobile data in South Africa

South Africans frequently complain about the costs of data. They went so far as to launch the #DataMustFall campaign, seeking to force cell phone service providers to reduce their costs. However, compared with other countries, mobile data in South Africa is not that expensive. In a recent survey, South Africa was ranked 143rd out of 230 countries. The average price per GB of data in South Africa is R106, whereas the world average is R126.

Cell phone service provider 2019 once-off mobile data costs:

MTN R149 for 1GB, valid for one month
Vodacom R149 for 1GB, valid for 30 days
Cell C R100 for 1GB + 2GB night, valid for 30 days
Telkom Mobile R100 for 1GB + 1GB night, valid for up to two months
Rain R50 for 1GB, does not expire
Afrihost R63 for 1GB, valid for at least 60 days (rolls over once after 30 days)
FNBConnect R125 for 1GB, valid for 30 days

Service providers allow customers to purchase smaller amounts of data at a time. Cell phone contracts come with different options for how many minutes and SMS messages and how much data the owner is entitled to each month.

Service providers offer additional bonus off-peak data as part of the purchase. Others might credit the user with some free data when they make a purchase.

Data purchase issues aside from price

  • Cell phone brand loyalty runs deep with many South Africans. New service providers take a while to penetrate the market as South Africans are inclined to stick with what they know and tend to be change-averse.
  • Connection quality is another factor that guides people’s purchase decisions.
  • The services offered by providers such as Rain and Afrihost offer data services only. MTN, Cell C, Vodacom, Telkom Mobile, and FNBConnect offer voice and SMS services in addition to data.
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