Vodacom dominates subscriber numbers in South Africa — but MTN has one key edge

Vodacom significantly outperformed MTN, Telkom, and Cell C in subscriber growth and revenues in South Africa over the past year.

MyBroadband compared changes in subscriber numbers of the four biggest mobile networks in South Africa to see how their market shares stacked up.

Rain was excluded from this comparison because its parent company — African Rainbow Capital — does not regularly disclose subscriber numbers.

Vodacom, MTN, Telkom, and Cell C’s parent company Blue Label all report this figure as part of operational data in their financial results.

Mobile subscriber numbers across the four biggest networks increased from 110.37 million to 116.93 million between December 2022 and December 2023.

The vast majority of the increase came from Vodacom, which added 6.59 million customers during the year, representing 14.8% growth.

Over the same period, its main rival, MTN, added less than a million subscribers in South Africa, growing 2.4% from 36.54 million to 37.43 million.

As a result, MTN’s market share declined from 33.1% in December 2022 to 32.0% a year later.

The third-biggest mobile network, Telkom, increased its subscribers by roughly 1.18 million, a 6.4% jump.

That saw its market share jump marginally from 16.8% to 16.9%.

Cell C was the only operator to see a decline in subscribers, dropping from roughly 10.6 million in December 2022 to 8.5 million by November 2023.

The table and chart below compare the subscriber numbers and subscriber market shares of the four biggest South African mobile networks by the end of 2022 and 2023.

South African mobile network subscribers and market share
Vodacom MTN Telkom Cell C Total
2022 subscribers (December 2022) 44.67 million 36.54 million 18.56 million 10.60 million 110.37 million
2023 subscribers (December 2023) 51.26 million 37.43 million 19.74 million 8.50 million (November 2023) 116.93 million
Change +14.8% +2.4% +6.4% -19.8% +5.9%
2022 market share
(December 2022)
40.5% 33.1% 16.8% 9.6% 100%
2023 market share
(December 2023)
43.8% 32.0% 16.9% 7.3% 100%

Vodacom’s 43.8% market share puts it close to being regarded as a “dominant” firm in South Africa’s competition laws.

The Competition Act defines a dominant business as one that has at least a 45% share of the market.

While subscriber growth can be a good indicator of an operator’s performance, it should not be assessed in isolation.

It is easy to buy a SIM card in South Africa but not spend a lot of money on it.

SIM cards are used in a wide variety of low-consumption applications — like in Internet-of-Things (IoT) gadgets — where they may not generate huge revenue.

One of the key measures used by companies to determine how effective they are at getting their customers to spend money on their products and services is the average revenue per user (ARPU).

We compared this figure for the two biggest networks to see whose customers had the highest individual value.

While Vodacom’s subscribers grew significantly, its ARPU declined 12.8% between its 2022/2023 and 2023/2024 financial years.

MTN’s subscriber growth was lower, but its ARPU increased marginally from R94.20 to R94.63.

That means that the subscribers MTN South Africa added during 2023 were on average more valuable as a source of revenue than Vodacom South Africa’s customers.

The table below summarises the key financial performance indicators of Vodacom and MTN in South Africa.

Vodacom vs MTN financial performance
Most recent full financial year
Vodacom South Africa  MTN South Africa 
Service revenue R61.62 million (+2.6%) R41.88 million (+2.5%)
ARPU R82.00 (-12.8%) R94.63 (+0.45%)
Market capitalisation R187.15 billion R152.81 billion

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Vodacom dominates subscriber numbers in South Africa — but MTN has one key edge