We tested MTN’s WhatsApp competitor

The Ayoba messaging app, which is owned by MTN, was recently made available in South Africa.

Ayoba allows users to send messages to their contacts using data rather than their airtime – even to users who don’t have the app installed.

The app can be downloaded from the Google Play Store, as well as from ayoba.me/download – the latter of which is zero-rated if you are an MTN user.

Ayoba is currently only available on Android.

Ayoba 2

How it works

If both the sender and recipient have the Ayoba app installed on their smartphones, these users can communicate with each other within the app, similar to traditional instant messaging platforms such as WhatsApp.

However, Ayoba also allows users to send messages to non-Ayoba users through the app interface.

The message will be received as an SMS by the user without the app installed, but will still only cost the sender data rather than depleting their airtime or bundled SMSs.

Images or files sent in this type of message will be represented by links, which the receiver can follow to view these files.

If the receiving user is an MTN subscriber without the Ayoba app installed, they will be able to reply to Ayoba-sent messages for free via SMS. Non-MTN users cannot reply to these messages.

Ayoba 3


Ayoba offers several multimedia features on its platform that WhatsApp users have become accustomed to. These include the ability for users to send the following types of media:

  • Images
  • Locations
  • Voice messages
  • Contact details
  • Files/Documents

Ayoba 4

The automatic downloading of media is set to ‘off’ by default. However, users can set these downloads to happen automatically if they prefer, and there is also an option to auto-download files only when the user is on Wi-Fi.

Ayoba also allows users to set a file size threshold, which ensures that files below a certain size will automatically be downloaded.

Users can share or forward their in-app messages to other Ayoba contacts, and can manually deleted unwanted messages, chats, or group chats.

Much like WhatsApp, the app also lets users create a profile to personalise their messaging experience. This includes a profile photo, a display name, and an updateable status.

Unlike WhatsApp, voice calls made through Ayoba will not use data but will use airtime or minutes just like a normal phone call. Ayoba also does not support video calls.

The app is available in English, French, and several other African languages – including Afrikaans, isiXhosa, and isiZulu.

Ayoba 1


According to Ayoba, its messaging app uses “sophisticated end-to-end encryption” – meaning that only the sender and receiver of messages can read what is being transmitted.

Ayoba said that it cannot read messages sent using its platform.

Online backups of your messaging history are automatically initiated every 24 hours. These backups cannot be enabled or disabled, nor can the 24 hour period be changed.

Now read: MTN South Africa grows revenue but loses subscribers

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We tested MTN’s WhatsApp competitor