The real cost of WhatsApp calling in South Africa

It is over 95% cheaper to make voice calls on WhatsApp with 1GB monthly data than using regular calls with prepaid voice minute bundles or out-of-bundle rates in South Africa, MyBroadband calculations show.

WhatsApp calls are similar to voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP) in that the call data is transmitted over the Internet.

However, it uses a custom protocol, which requires both users to have WhatsApp installed on their devices to make and receive calls.

With regular phone calls, a caller’s audio is also digitised but not transmitted over the Internet. Instead, it is routed through mobile operators’s backhaul and core networks, which can operate independently from the Internet.

We compared the per-minute cost of WhatsApp calling to using regular voice minutes on South Africa’s five major mobile networks — Vodacom, MTN, Telkom, Cell C, and Rain.

Using WhatsApp’s built-in data consumption tool, we established that a voice call consumed around 300kB per minute with the “Use less data for calls” setting turned off.

When this option is enabled, data consumption reduces to 225kB per minute.

To calculate the per-minute cost, we used the prices of 1GB prepaid monthly data bundles or the nearest comparable allocation.

Without the data-saving mode, we calculated the effective cost per minute of WhatsApp calling on all five networks to be around 2 cents on all networks.

When looking at precise costs, Rain was the lowest at 1.5 cents per minute, while Telkom was the most expensive at 2.48 cents per minute.

Rain’s rate dropped to 1.13 cents per minute in data-saving mode, while Telkom’s reduced to 1.86 cents.

We used these figures and compared them with the effective per-minute cost of various prepaid voice bundles and out-of-bundle rates on voice-focused plans and found WhatsApp calls were over 95% cheaper.

The table below compares the per-minute costs of WhatsApp and conventional cellular calls on South Africa’s five major mobile networks.

WhatsApp voice calling vs regular calls
Vodacom MTN Telkom Cell C Rain
WhatsApp call on 1GB monthly bundle — data saver on (300kB per minute) 2.23 cents
(1.2GB — R89)
2.37 cents 
(1GB — R79)
2.48 cents
(1.2GB — R99)
 1.95 cents
(1GB — R65)
1.50 cents
(1GB — R50)
WhatsApp call on 1GB monthly bundle  — data saver off (225kB per minute) 1.67 cents
(1.2GB — R89)
1.78 cents
(1GB — R79)
1.86 cents
(1.2GB — R99)
1.46 cents
(1GB — R65)
1.13 cents
(1GB — R50)
Normal voice call on 100 all-net minutes monthly bundle 109 cents
(R109)
50 cents
(R50)
60 cents
(R30)
56 cents
(R50 — 90 minutes)
100 cents
(R100 — 60 + 30 + 10 minutes)
Normal voice call on 250 all-net minutes bundle 100 cents
(R250)
42 cents
(R100 — 240 minutes)
52 cents
(R130 — 200 + 100 minutes)
41 cents
(R99 — 240 minutes)
72 cents
(R180 — 60 minutes x 3)
Normal voice call on 500 all-net minutes bundle 90 cents
(R450)
42 cents
(R200 — 380 + 100 minutes)
50 cents (R250) 41 cents
(R198 — 240 minutes x 2)
100 cents
(R500 — 60 minutes x 8 + 10 minutes x 2)
Normal voice call at best out-of-bundle rate 79 cents (Vodacom 79c) 99 cents (MTN Pulse) 275 cents
(Telkom More)
49 cents (4Eva) n/a
Best WhatsApp vs best normal voice call cost -97.90% -95.75% -96.28% -96.44% -98.40%
Worst WhatsApp vs worst normal voice call cost -97.95% -97.61% -99.10% -96.52% -98.50%

It should be noted that WhatsApp call prices can be even cheaper when using discounted WhatsApp-only bundles.

The significantly lower prices of WhatsApp calls could be one of the major factors driving a decline in traditional voice traffic and a big surge in data traffic on all mobile networks in South Africa.

However, there are some downsides to using WhatsApp compared to regular calls.

Firstly, the caller and recipient must have WhatsApp installed on their devices.

Secondly, you must have a moderately good mobile data connection to ensure acceptable call quality. In contrast, conventional voice calls can work well even with just a few bars of 2G signal.

In addition, WhatsApp calls consume data on both ends of the conversation. Therefore, you won’t be able to take a call if you don’t have mobile data. With regular voice calls, only the caller requires voice minutes.

It should also be noted that MTN and Vodacom started offering affordable unlimited calling plans for under R500 per month in late 2023.

These offer high value for traditional and WhatsApp calls, considering they also include a moderate amount of mobile data at a better effective cost than when using 1GB monthly data bundles.

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The real cost of WhatsApp calling in South Africa