South Africans have flocked to messaging apps due to the much cheaper cost of communication compared to legacy technologies like SMS.
Platforms that were popular in the past included Mxit and BBM, which allowed users to communicate with each other at a significantly lower cost.
However, these platforms have been consigned to history following the rise of WhatsApp – which is now one of the first installed apps on South African smartphones and the most popular messaging app in the Western world.
Mobile networks realize that their consumers prefer using WhatsApp to SMS due to the lower cost.
For this reason, they offer specific data bundles that allow WhatsApp users to use these apps even more affordably.
All of this has rendered SMS an increasingly uncommon form of communication for most consumers.
However, mobile networks still offer bundles that include SMSs – leading one to believe that there is still money to be made from this technology.
MyBroadband asked Vodacom and MTN how SMS volumes have changed over the past few years.
“In the initial stages of the proliferation of data-based messaging applications, we experienced a decline on SMS,” a Vodacom spokesperson told MyBroadband.
The spokesperson added that this decline has stabilised recently.
Vodacom said there is increased demand from SMEs for price plans that include higher SMS quantities.
“Many businesses in the SME segment use SMS for campaigns, as a means to communicate with their customers,” said Vodacom.
“Ideally we recommend that these customers purchase a bulk SMS product, which is better suited to their messaging requirements.”
MTN South Africa’s Executive for Corporate Affairs, Jacqui O’Sullivan, told MyBroadband that the operator is experiencing a decline in SMS usage of approximately 20%.
This extends to both prepaid and contract customers, O’Sullivan added.
“Despite the growth in data-based messaging applications, SMS is still used by many consumers and contributes a good portion to the revenue of MTN.”
The future of free SMS
MyBroadband previously asked mobile networks whether they had any plans to make SMSs free in South Africa.
Both Cell C and Telkom claimed to already offer free SMSs on certain bundles, although Cell C highlighted that this is in accordance with a fair usage policy.
MTN said that it doesn’t plan to offer free SMSs in the future, as the service still contributes a good portion of the company’s revenue.