Vodacom vs MTN vs Telkom vs Cell C – The battle for mobile subscribers

There are almost two mobile packages in use for every citizen of South Africa when taking into account all of the active users from the four largest mobile operators in the country.

According to their latest financial statements, Vodacom, MTN, Telkom, and Cell C collectively service almost 100 million mobile products.

Their business is lucrative, with Statista having estimated that the mobile services industry in the country generated around $6.47 billion (R95.19 billion) in revenue in 2019.

A GeoPoll Research Report indicated that 70% of mobile phone users in South Africa spend between R100 and R500 each month on their mobile services.

It is therefore clear that mobile networks stand to gain significant financial benefit from having as many subscribers as possible.

We’ve assembled the subscriber numbers of the four large mobile network operators to see how they compare, using the available figures from their most recent quarterly updates.

By the numbers

Vodacom is still the largest mobile network operator in the country when it comes to pure subscriber numbers.

The operator had over 38.1 million prepaid mobile users and close to 6.2 million contract customers by the end of December 2020.

With around 44.3 million mobile subscribers in total, it is still ahead of MTN in South Africa by a significant margin.

According to its last quarterly update, MTN had just shy of 30.9 million subscribers by the end of September 2020.

Its subscriber base is made up of around 24.3 million prepaid customers and 6.5 million postpaid subscribers.

MTN is followed by Telkom, which surpassed Cell C during 2020 to become the third-largest mobile operator in the country last year.

The company has in recent years been emphasising a shift in focus from its fixed-line business to mobile.

It grew its mobile subscriber base by more than 25% in 2020, going from 11.86 million to 14.93 million.

Cell C, which is in the midst of a financial crisis, last reported its customer numbers on 30 June 2020.

It had recorded a marked decrease of 28% in total subscribers to 11.7 million – of which around 9.32 million were prepaid and contract customers.

The graph below compares the number of subscribers on each of the four biggest mobile networks in South Africa.

It illustrates a significant discrepancy between the 1st placed Vodacom and 4th placed Cell C.

Mobile network subscriber numbers


Aside from the big four operators, there is only one other mobile network provider in South Africa which uses its own licenced spectrum – Rain.

However, its products are limited to data, and it does not offer any voice or SMS services.

Rain’s last official communication on subscribers numbers in 2019 revealed it had around 100,000.

Major shareholder ARC said Rain had recorded a huge increase in subscribers since the lockdown started, with the normal 10,000 to 20,000 new monthly sign-ups jumping to 60,000-80,000 per month.

This would suggest Rain is currently approaching 1 million subscribers.

Now read: South Africa’s multi-billion-rand spectrum battle

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Vodacom vs MTN vs Telkom vs Cell C – The battle for mobile subscribers