WhatsApp vs SMS pricing in South Africa

SMS used to be a major source of income for mobile operators, but the advent of messaging apps like WhatsApp is steadily siphoning off this revenue.

Looking at the SMS charges from mobile networks, it is not difficult to see why data-based messaging services have gained so much traction.

Despite the improvements made to the default SMS apps on Android and iOS, having extended conversations over SMS is prohibitively expensive for most South Africans.

Platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger not only offer cheaper messages, but also include the ability to send files, videos, and locations, and allow users to secure their chats with end-to-end encryption.

To examine just how much cheaper sending a text over WhatsApp is than sending a standard SMS, we compared the cost of both using mobile data from each mobile operator.


WhatsApp

According to data usage tests conducted by MyBroadband, a standard WhatsApp text message consumes around 0.3kB of mobile data.

To calculate the cost of sending this message, we used 1GB data bundle pricing for each mobile operator.

The price of a 1GB data bundle on each mobile network in South Africa is listed below:

  • Vodacom – R149
  • MTN – R149
  • Cell C – R149
  • Telkom – R99
  • Rain – R50

We used these prices to calculate the price-per-MB, which was then used to calculate how much each WhatsApp message would cost.

Below is the price of a WhatsApp text message on each mobile network, using a 1GB mobile data bundle.

Operator Price
MTN R0.00005
Vodacom R0.00005
Cell C R0.00005
Telkom R0.00003
Rain R0.00002

SMS

The cost of an SMS, however, remains relatively high – despite the limited capability of the communication method.

Many mobile operators still offer SMS bundles, through, which provide better prices compared to standard tariff charges.

To account for this, we compared the price of an SMS on the default prepaid tariff for each network to the price-per-SMS if a user purchased a 500 SMS bundle from their operator.

Rain Mobile does not facilitate SMSs on its network and offers a data-only plan.

Below is the cost of sending an SMS on each mobile network in South Africa.

Operator Standard Tariff 500 SMS Bundle
Vodacom R0.52 R0.23
MTN R0.50 R0.23
Cell C R0.50 R0.21
Telkom R0.50 R0.23
Rain N/A N/A

While people still send SMSs, it is easy to see that WhatsApp is the much cheaper option.

Users on the cheapest network for bundled SMSs – Cell C – pay 21 cents per message. They could send 4,200 WhatsApp messages for the same price using mobile data.


Now read: Virgin Mobile R15 WhatsApp bundle – Prices compared

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WhatsApp vs SMS pricing in South Africa