Vodacom vs MTN vs Telkom vs Cell C — The battle for mobile customers

There are nearly 104 million mobile subscribers among the four biggest networks in South Africa, with Vodacom’s customer base accounting for around 42% of this number.

This is based on the latest financial results of Vodacom, MTN, Telkom, and Cell C, which showed that mobile adoption in the country continued to grow over the last year.

This was not unexpected, however, as the COVID-19 pandemic spurred demand for connectivity solutions.

Mobile operators reported significant increases in data usage and mobile data revenue across their customer bases.

With fixed options such as fibre still having a limited footprint in South Africa, many turned to mobile data to work, learn, and be entertained from home.

Vodacom has maintained its position as the largest mobile network operator in the country, growing by around 2.7 million subscribers to reach 44 million at the end of March 2020.

However, its subscriber growth was smaller than that of its main rival MTN.

According to its latest quarterly update, MTN had more than 32 million subscribers in South Africa by the same date, an increase of more than 3.1 million from the year before.

Telkom, which last year became the third largest operator in the country, has shown impressive growth in its mobile business.

While its fixed business is suffering, Telkom has invested heavily in its mobile network.

As a result, it recorded the largest percentage-based growth of any mobile network operator in the country, with its contract and prepaid subscribers jumping from just under 12 million to more than 15.3 million, an increase of 27.8%.

Burdened by its financial struggles and a purposeful focus on more profitable customers,  the fourth biggest network – Cell C – has lost almost two million customers over the last year.

Its customers dropped from 14.4 million to 12.5 million during the 2020/2021 financial year.

The table below shows how the number of subscribers each network has changed from March 2020 to March 2021, while the chart shows what proportion of the total number of subscribers across the four networks belongs to each operator.

Biggest mobile networks – Customers compared
Network March 2020 March 2021 Change
Vodacom 41.312 million 44.061 million +6.7%
MTN 28.966 million 32.097 million +10.8%
Telkom 11.995 million 15.326 million +27.8%
Cell C 14.407 million 12.508 million -13%

Typically, there would a correlation between how many customers a mobile network has and the revenue it makes.

Vodacom, MTN, and Telkom — with their higher numbers of subscribers — also recorded increases in mobile service revenue over the last year.

Cell C, which lost customers, saw its mobile service revenue decline by 8%.

However, due to revenue per customer increasing, the change was lower than it could have been.

The table below compares the mobile service revenue of the four biggest mobile network operators in South Africa.

Vodacom, Telkom, and Cell C’s financial years run from April to March of the next year.

Figures shown under “2019” are thus for the 2019/2020 financial year for these operators, while “2020” is for the 2020/2021 financial year.

MTN’s annual results are measured on the actual calendar year – between January and December.

Biggest mobile networks – Service revenue compared
Network 2019 2020 Change
Vodacom 52.712 million 56.402 million +7%
MTN 36.430 million 37.024 million +1.6%
Telkom 12.593 million 16.938 million +34.5%
Cell C 14.154 million 12.989 million -8%

Now read: Vodacom CEO reveals requirement for uncapped mobile data

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Vodacom vs MTN vs Telkom vs Cell C — The battle for mobile customers