The mobile data product that shocked South African mobile operators

Thirteen years ago, almost to the day, Telkom’s upstart mobile operator 8ta launched a media blitz.

Barely eight months old, the young network operator had a point to prove — that Telkom’s decision to take on Vodacom and MTN wasn’t a mistake and that they were here to compete.

The blitz began at an event in Centurion on Monday, 20 June 2011, with 8ta announcing major coverage milestones and the upgrade of its network to 21Mbps HSPA+.

That Thursday, 23 June, just as coverage about its network upgrades started to subside, 8ta shocked the entire industry by launching its first “Go Big” data promotion, offering 10GB of mobile data for R199 per month.

Known internally as “Project Hulk”, what made the deal even more noteworthy was that 8ta had undercut its parent company’s ADSL products — offering ten times the data at a third of the price.

Without a gram of hyperbole, MyBroadband wrote at the time that this was the best mobile broadband deal South Africa had ever seen.

The promotion was spearheaded by then 8ta managing executive Amith Maharaj, former Telkom mobile data chief Zoltan Miklos, and then product executive Vishal Phlad.

Initially planned as a 6GB offer, Maharaj pushed for a bigger and bolder “Project Hulk” until they settled on a 10GB package.

Phlad explained at the time that they always wanted to launch their network with an aggressive data offering.

However, they wanted to ensure they were comfortable with their network rollout progress before launching the promotion.

Project Hulk set the industry ablaze.

For awhile, Vodacom, MTN, and Cell C  struggled to respond as their networks did not have the free capacity to accommodate the influx of users should they drop prices to a similar level.

8ta’s Go Big data strategy continued in the years that followed, even after changing its name to Telkom Mobile.

In 2015, Telkom would further exploit its radio frequency spectrum capacity advantage by launching uncapped LTE services on selected towers for R599 per month.

Go Big would also give rise to a Deal of the Month, the brainchild of sales executive Megan Nicholas that Telkom called “The Big Deal”.

In 2017, Telkom’s August “Big Deal” was another industry-shaker.

Developed and launched by LTE product manager Greg Roberts, it offered 500GB of off-peak data for R50. Charging 10 cents per gigabyte was simply unheard-of value.

So good was this deal, customers were queuing outside Telkom stores to buy it.

While Maharaj, Miklos, and Phlad all moved on from Telkom between 2016 and 2017, and Nicholas in 2019, their legacies live on in Telkom’s monthly deals.

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The mobile data product that shocked South African mobile operators