Real costs to send a WhatsApp message in South Africa

Sending a WhatsApp text message costs tiny fractions of a cent, while a voice call through the platform can cost you anywhere between 1c and 4c per minute depending on the network and whether data saver mode is enabled, a MyBroadband analysis showed.

Due to its plethora of useful communication features in one place, WhatsApp has become the go-to messaging app for many South Africans.

More than 93% of Internet users in South Africa between the ages of 16 and 64 use WhatsApp, according to the latest Social Media Landscape report by World Wide Worx and Ornico.

The app allows for sending texts, audio messages, photos, videos, in addition to making real-time video and voice calls to individuals or groups.

Being a community WhatsApp group member will also keep you in the loop of what’s going in your neighbourhood.

WhatsApp is also increasingly being used by businesses that employ chatbots within the app to reach customers and provide after-sales support.

The only downside to using the app is that it consumes data, which comes at a price.

Many South Africans cannot afford to spend hundreds of rand each month on mobile data.

We set out to determine exactly how much it costs to send WhatsApp messages in South Africa.

For our tests, we sent messages and made calls from one Android smartphone — a Galaxy S20 — to another Android handset — the Galaxy A32.

We used WhatsApp’s built-in network usage monitoring tool to see how much data was used for sending messages and making video and voice calls.

On Android, this can be accessed by clicking on the three-dot menu at the top-right of the WhatsApp home page, selecting “Settings”, and then opening the “Storage and data” section.

Under this category, users will find a “Network usage” page, which provides an accurate breakdown of your data usage on the app, both for sent and received messages and data.

Before each message and call was tested, we reset the statistics on the page to ensure it only reflected the data usage for a particular item.

The table below shows how much data was consumed for each type of message and call.

WhatsApp Data Usage
Text Message 0.5kB
Voice Note (30 seconds) 75kB
Photo 149kB
Video (10 seconds) 2.9MB
Voice Call (1 minute) 357kB
Video Call (1 minute) 4.4MB
Voice Call (1 minute) – Data saver on 185kB
Video Call (1 minute) – Data saver on 3MB

It was evident and expected that multimedia like audio, photos, and videos used much more data than text.

A 30-second voice note consumed 150 times the amount of data of a text message, while a photo took around 300 times more data to send.

Unsurprisingly, video was the largest data user, with a single 10-second video sent over WhatsApp consuming 2.9MB — about 4,800 more data than a text.

Another noteworthy observation was that the data saving feature called “Use less data for calls” appeared to be working quite well.

Turning this on cut data usage on a 1-minute voice call by nearly 50% and more than 30% on a video call of the same length. The reduction in audiovisual quality was negligible.

To compare the effective cost of sending each item or making calls on major networks, we used the prices of a 1GB monthly data bundle from each of the mobile operators compared.

Below is what this bundle costs on each of the four biggest networks in South Africa:

  • Vodacom – R85
  • MTN – R99
  • Telkom – R99
  • Cell C – R50 (based on price per MB for 1,600MB bundle)
  • Rain – R50

Using these prices, we determined a price-per-MB, which then allowed us to calculate the cost of each type of WhatsApp message or call on the various networks.

The table below shows our findings.

WhatsApp Message Vodacom MTN Telkom Cell C Rain
Text R0.00004 R0.00005 R0.00005 R0.00003 R0.00003
Voice note (30 seconds) R0.006 R0.007 R0.007 R0.004 R0.004
Photo R0.013 R0.015 R0.015 R0.008 R0.008
Video (10 seconds) R0.25 R0.29 R0.29 R0.15 R0.15
Voice call (1 minute) R0.03 R0.04 R0.04 R0.018 R0.018
Video Call (1 minute) R0.37 R0.44 R0.44 R0.22 R0.22
Voice Call (1 minute) – Data saver on R0.016 R0.018 R0.018 R0.009 R0.009
Video Call (1 minute) – Data saver on  R0.25 R0.30 R0.30 R0.15 R0.15

It should be noted that some subscribers may receive personalised deals that give them cheaper data bundle options.

Cell C subscribers on the Home Connecta Flexi price plan can also get much cheaper data prices.

The table above merely provides a baseline for comparison — if you can get a cheaper per-MB rate then WhatsApp messages you send over your mobile network will be even cheaper.

It was interesting to note that the per-minute cost of a WhatsApp voice call was much less than the typical cost of a standard phone call per minute on all of the networks.

The cost varies between less than 2 cents and just over 3.5 cents per minute when using a 1GB data bundle.

Cell C’s voice bundles come closest to this rate for standard phone calls, with its R199 monthly any-network voice minute bundle offering 900 minutes, working out to 22 cents per minute.

Telkom’s cheapest FreeMe Promo Voice Bundle with 500 any-network minutes costs R150, which works out to 30 cents per minute.

The cheapest prepaid rate from South Africa’s biggest operator, Vodacom, is priced at 79 cents per minute.

MTN’s cheapest per-minute in-bundle rate is around 74 cents on a 200-minute bundle.

Now read: How to stop your airtime from disappearing

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Real costs to send a WhatsApp message in South Africa