Vodacom and MTN’s big WhatsApp problem – they don’t know what they are

Who is the biggest Internet service provider in South Africa?

That was the question former ICASA councillor and regulatory advisor William Stucke asked at a recent telecom’s event.

Telkom Internet or MWEB may seem like the top contenders, but Stucke said the clear leader is Vodacom.

With 19.1 million active data customers at the end of December 2015, Vodacom data clients dwarf Telkom’s ADSL client base of just over 1 million.

Vodacom doesn’t seem to have realised that it is an Internet service provider (ISP), though, said Stucke, noting that the mobile carrier is not a member of the Internet Service Providers’ Association of South Africa.

The lack of understanding that it, and other mobile operators, are ISPs means that operators are speaking dishonestly about net neutrality matters – such as the regulation of over-the-top services like WhatsApp.

Everyone pays for data

As an ISP, subscribers pay Vodacom for the data they use to access WhatsApp. In fact, each party in a WhatsApp chat must pay their own ISP for the data of every message they receive and send.

WhatsApp, in turn, pays an ISP for the bandwidth it needs to transmit messages and calls between its users.

Clients pay their ISPs for transmitting and receiving data over their network. If the sender and recipient are both on the same ISP, then it is effectively getting paid twice for sending the same data.

Stucke said any suggestion that WhatsApp has been getting a free ride on the infrastructure investment of mobile operators is therefore unfounded.

People pay for the data they use for WhatsApp, and as the largest Internet service providers in the country, Vodacom and MTN would have received a sizeable chunk of that data revenue.

This is demonstrated in the infographic below.

WhatsApp Money

WhatsApp regulation in SA – what Vodacom and MTN really want

WhatsApp doesn’t owe you a damn thing, Vodacom and MTN

Why MTN hates WhatsApp

WhatsApp must be investigated – MTN

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Vodacom and MTN’s big WhatsApp problem – they don’t know what they are