Mobile data prices in South Africa – 2010 vs 2020

The Competition Commission published a report last year which criticised South Africa’s two largest cellular networks – Vodacom and MTN – for their mobile data prices.

It said that these networks should cut their mobile data prices by 30% to 50%, sparking a variety of responses from South Africans.

While many lauded the Competition Commission’s claim that data prices must fall, others highlighted that were other factors at play which made the Competition Commission’s report unreliable.

Taking all matters into account

For example, Vodacom and MTN spend large amounts of money ensuring that they have wide-reaching and reliable networks. This is the reason they have to charge more for their services – to earn money back for their capital expenditure (capex).

Both Vodacom and MTN’s capex per subscriber in South Africa is significantly higher than they are in other African countries, meaning it makes sense that local data prices would also be higher than in other countries.

This South African network superiority is best shown when looking at coverage. MTN and Vodacom have far superior coverage in South Africa than in the other African countries in which they operate.

The easiest ways to cut data prices would be to cut network investment – meaning that South Africans would have worse connectivity – or to auction new spectrum.

The operators argue that the latter option that is best for South Africa, as it allows mobile networks to decrease data prices without having to compromise on network quality.

Comparing data prices – 2010 vs 2020

In 2010, mobile networks were taking significant steps towards cutting data prices for South African consumers.

MTN cut its out-of-bundle data rates by up to 84%, while Vodacom upped data allowances on its Broadband Standard and Broadband Advanced packages.

At the time, MTN was leading Vodacom’s Advanced product in terms of pricing across the board. However, when comparing MTN’s bundles with Vodacom Standard, it was Vodacom Standard that was more affordable in terms of in-bundle rates.

10 years on, data bundles are significantly more affordable than they were 10 years ago. However, while Vodacom’s out-of-bundle rates are lower than they were in years past, out-of-bundle data on MTN has actually increased for many data bundle packages.

A comparison between bundle prices in 2010 and in 2020 can be found below.

Data prices – 2010 vs 2020 (Bundle rates)
MTN – 2010 MTN – 2020 Vodacom – 2010 Vodacom – 2020
300MB R149 R60 R189 R49 (250MB)
500MB R189 R99 (600MB) R189 (600MB) R79
1GB R289 R149 R289 (1.2GB) R115
1.5GB R189 R389
3GB R389 (2GB) R299 R389 (2.4GB) R299

Data prices – 2010 vs 2020 (Out-of-bundle rates after a bundle expires)
MTN – 2010 MTN – 2020 Vodacom – 2010 Vodacom – 2020
300MB R0.50 R0.49 R0.63 R0.49
500MB R0.38 R0.49 R1.20 (600MB) R0.49
1GB R0.29 R0.49 R1.20 (1.2GB) R0.49
1.5GB R0.49 R0.25 R0.49
3GB R0.19 R0.49 R1.20 (2.4GB) R0.49

Now read: MTN customer migration may affect airtime and data recharges

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Mobile data prices in South Africa – 2010 vs 2020