Will South African mobile networks block WhatsApp?

MTN SA CEO Mteto Nyati recently said WhatsApp must be investigated by Icasa, and that the “playing fields needed to be levelled” when it came to the lack of investment the Facebook-owned company made in South Africa.

“You have these players which are getting huge benefit out of an industry without making any investment. What have these over-the-top (OTT) players invested in South Africa? Zero,” said Nyati.

WhatsApp is the most-popular chat application on smartphones in SA, with market tracker App Annie stating the messaging service is the top-downloaded app in the country.

MTN’s call for Icasa to investigate WhatsApp, and suggestions that the messaging app is enjoying success in SA without investing in network infrastructure, has sparked concern the app may be blocked by local networks.

The possibility of the networks charging more for data used on WhatsApp is also a concern, following MTN’s comments.

We spoke to MTN, Vodacom, Cell C, and Telkom to find out what their plans are regarding WhatsApp in South Africa.


Vodacom logo

Vodacom said it does not have any plans to block or limit WhatsApp access on its network.

The network was not as direct when answering questions on the prospect of charging users more for data used on WhatsApp.

“There are various factors that determine the charge for a service, including the charge for WhatsApp service,” said Tshepo Ramodibe, Executive Head: Corporate Affairs at Vodacom.

“These include customer demand, the impact of the service on network (demand and utilisation), the quality of service, requirements for the service, and the management of the network to achieve overall efficiency.”

“Furthermore, we aim to provide customers with ‘worry free’ options where they pay for a bundle of services, which may include WhatsApp services.”

Cell C

Cell C logo on blue

Cell C CEO Jose Dos Santos said the country’s regulator intervening in the over-the-top space and “preventing customers from freely accessing these applications” would be catastrophic.

“Charging more or regulating charges for over-the-top-players is ludicrous. Operators should be finding ways of partnering with OTT players instead of calling on regulatory bodies to intervene.”

“Cell C continues to embrace these players and generate beneficial partnerships with them,” he said.



Telkom said it does not have any plans to block or limit WhatsApp messages or WhatsApp calling on its network.

“Telkom currently has no plans to change the charging on specific protocols, IP addresses, or applications,” said Telkom.

Telkom said over-the-top players have become a significant threat to operator revenues in South Africa, and companies like WhatsApp have “effectively eroded SMS revenue in a relatively short space of time”.

“Operators need to find innovative ways to overcome the threat that OTTs pose,” said Telkom, stating that they could become a “major threat” to voice revenues as well.


MTN logo

MTN did not directly answer questions about blocking or charging more for WhatsApp on its network.

The company said: “MTN believes that operators and OTTs can co-exist within a mutually-beneficial relationship. MTN is committed to establishing an amicable relationship with OTTs.”

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Will South African mobile networks block WhatsApp?