How much it really costs to use WhatsApp in South Africa

WhatsApp is the first app installed and opened on many new smartphones in South Africa, as it has quickly become the primary means of communication in the country.

Like all other data-based messaging applications, WhatsApp offers a cheaper and more feature-rich way to send messages to other people or even call them over a data connection.

Despite the price of mobile data in South Africa remaining relatively high due to a lack of available spectrum for mobile operators to reduce network costs, WhatsApp still offers a much cheaper way to communicate than the conventional channels used by mobile operators.

Out-of-bundle usage has historically been a major concern for WhatsApp users, but the introduction of new regulations which prevents out-of-bundle billing by default on all mobile networks has removed this threat to customers’ treasured airtime.

By any metric – even when using out-of-bundle data – calling, texting, and other activities are cheaper through WhatsApp than South African networks, as shown below.


Voice and Video Calling

WhatsApp Call

VoIP calling on WhatsApp is substantially cheaper than calling on mobile networks, even if you have opted in to out-of-bundle data usage.

During a standard voice call, WhatsApp consumes roughly 400kB per minute.

When calculating the cost per minute for a WhatsApp voice call, the size of the data bundle and the network needs to be accounted for.

Below is the cost of a WhatsApp voice call if the user purchases a 1GB data bundle on each mobile network.

Operator 1GB Bundle Price per MB WhatsApp Call – Per minute
Vodacom R149 R0.15 R0.06
MTN R149 R0.15 R0.06
Cell C R100 R0.10 R0.04
Telkom R99 R0.10 R0.04
Rain R50 R0.05 R0.02

Video calling is also supremely cheap on WhatsApp compared to standard call rates offered by mobile networks.

Previous tests conducted by MyBroadband found that a video call used around 5.05MB of mobile data per minute, which equated to less than a cellular voice call if the customer had an active 1GB mobile data bundle.

Below is the data pricing comparison for WhatsApp video calls on each mobile provider, including the per-minute rate for standard cellular calls.

Operator 1GB Bundle Price per MB Cellular Call – Per minute WhatsApp Video Call – Per minute
Vodacom R149 R0.15 R1.53 R0.75
MTN R149 R0.15 R1.50 R0.75
Cell C R100 R0.15 R1.50 R0.51
Telkom R99 R0.10 R1.90 R0.51
Rain R50 R0.05 R0.25

Messaging

Texting

SMS used to be a major source of income for mobile operators, but revenue from old-fashioned text messaging is declining as adoption of messaging apps increases.

WhatsApp also includes the ability to share files and information which cannot be facilitated by SMS, including live location data, PDF documents, and voice notes.

We compared the cost of sending an SMS on each network using standard and in-bundle rates to the cost of sending a WhatsApp message.

A standard WhatsApp text message consumes around 0.3kB of mobile data, and we compared the price of a message of this size when using a 1GB mobile data bundle to standard SMS messages below:

Operator Standard Tariff 500 SMS Bundle WhatsApp Text
Vodacom R0.52 R0.23 R0.00005
MTN R0.50 R0.23 R0.00005
Cell C R0.50 R0.21 R0.00003
Telkom R0.50 R0.23 R0.00003
Rain R0.00002

The cost of sending a basic text over WhatsApp is miniscule, and so is the price for sending other information.

Below is a table depicting the estimated cost for each WhatsApp message type based on 1GB in-bundle mobile data rates across all networks.

WhatsApp Message MTN Vodacom Cell C Telkom Rain
Text R0.00005 R0.00005 R0.00003 R0.00003 R0.00002
Voice Note (30s) R0.009 R0.009 R0.006 R0.006 R0.003
Photo R0.014 R0.014 R0.010 R0.010 R0.005
Voice Call (1m) R0.06 R0.06 R0.04 R0.04 R0.02
Video (10s) R0.33 R0.33 R0.22 R0.22 R0.11
Video Call (1m) R0.75 R0.75 R0.51 R0.51 R0.25

Value and bundles

WhatsApp can be made even cheaper through the purchase of specific data bundles with bonus WhatsApp data.

These bundles include data that can only be used within the messaging application for text messages and voice calls.

Vodacom, MTN, and Cell C offer daily, weekly, and monthly WhatsApp bundles of various sizes, starting from as cheap as R2 for a 50MB daily bundle.

Telkom’s FreeMe contracts and prepaid bundles include free WhatsApp calling and messaging, with a data usage allowance of 2GB and 500MB respectively.

Even without these social data bundles, however, using WhatsApp is far cheaper than relying on ageing call and SMS technology.

The comparisons above also demonstrate the supreme value in owning a smartphone with Internet and data capabilities, as communication instantly becomes cheaper when you migrate to a messaging app.


Now read: WhatsApp test lets you share your status to Facebook

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How much it really costs to use WhatsApp in South Africa