WhatsApp blows away SMS prices in South Africa

WhatsApp text messages are substantially cheaper than SMSes in South Africa — whether using in-bundle or out-of-bundle prices on Vodacom, MTN, Telkom, or Cell C.

WhatsApp is the world’s most popular online instant messaging app — with over 3 billion users. It is also extremely popular in South Africa.

According to the Global Web Index’s Social Media User Trends Report from 2020, roughly 96% of Internet users in South Africa had WhatsApp installed on their device.

One major reason for WhatsApp’s high penetration is that it is much more affordable for sending texts and media than SMS or MMS.

It also offers voice and video calling capabilities over Wi-Fi and mobile data, which are generally more affordable than conventional calls.

MyBroadband has previously compared how much WhatsApp messaging costs compared to SMS.

However, WhatsApp regularly updates its apps and the platforms that support it, which can change how much data its messages consume. Mobile networks also update their SMS prices periodically.

For our latest comparison, we used WhatsApp’s built-in data consumption tool to determine how much data a basic text on the app consumed.

To ensure consistency, we determined an average over 10 and 20 messages, which worked out to 0.7kb per message on both occasions.

The texts had the same number of characters as the maximum length of a standard SMS — 160.

We then calculated how much sending a WhatsApp message would cost on South Africa’s four major mobile networks.

Rain was excluded because it no longer sells standalone mobile prepaid plans to new users. These are now only sold as part of a fixed-5G package with the operator.

160-character WhatsApp vs SMS prices — Based on monthly bundles
Network WhatsApp (1GB monthly bundle) SMS (500 monthly bundle) SMS cost relative to WhatsApp
Vodacom R0.00005 (1.2GB — R89) R0.23 (R112.50) +459,900%
MTN R0.00006 (1GB — R79) R0.23 (R114) +383,233%
Telkom R0.00006 (1.2GB — R99) R0.24 (R119) +399,900%
Cell C R0.00005 (1GB — R65) R0.21 (R105) +420,000%
Average R0.00006 R0.23 +415,758%
160-character WhatsApp vs SMS prices — Best out-of-bundle 
Network WhatsApp message SMS Difference
Vodacom R0.002 (R0.29 per MB — Vodacom Prepaid LTE) R0.50 (Vodacom 79c) +24,900%
MTN R0.002 (R0.29 per MB — MTN Super Data) R0.35 (MTN Pay per second) +17,400%
Telkom R0.002 (R0.30 per MB — Telkom LTE) R0.50 +24,900%
Cell C R0.00004 (R0.06 per MB — Cell C 4Eva) R0.29 (Cell C 4Eva) +724,900%
Average R0.00016 R0.41 +198,025%

For these calculations, we assumed the user had bought a monthly prepaid bundle with 1GB of data or the nearest comparable allocation.

This worked out to miniscule amounts of roughly R0.00005 to R0.00006 per WhatsApp.

If a user bought a monthly 500 SMS bundle, the price per SMS would range from R0.21 to R0.23.

Even on the cheapest network for SMSes — Cell C — the older messaging method would cost 4,200 times as much as sending a WhatsApp.

For out-of-bundle rates on most prepaid tariffs, the gap shrinks significantly, but SMSes remain vastly more expensive.

The tables below compare the prices of WhatsApp messages and SMSes at in-bundle and out-of-bundle rates.

Despite WhatsApp messaging being substantially cheaper than SMS, MTN and Telkom recently told MyBroadband that SMS was far from dead in South Africa.

Although both acknowledged significant adoption of online instant messaging services like WhatsApp, Telegram, and Signal, some of their customers still relied on SMSes.

Telkom explained one of the major reasons for this was SMSes not requiring mobile data to work.

The operator said there may be a further decline in SMS use as more devices and networks support the Rich Communication Service (RCS) protocol, which does not require third-party messaging apps.

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WhatsApp blows away SMS prices in South Africa