In 2016, Vodacom and MTN called for over-the-top services to be regulated in South Africa.
The networks were referring to the likes of WhatsApp, which offers users the ability to send messages and make calls using mobile data.
Because WhatsApp messages and calls only cost users the amount of data they consume, the app is much cheaper to use compared to SMS and cellular voice calls.
With mobile data dropping in price as the years progressed, and Wi-Fi connections backed by fixed-broadband services available at home and at work, WhatsApp became incredibly popular in South Africa.
The result was that MTN and Vodacom’s voice and SMS revenue took a big knock, and in late 2017, Vodacom announced that it was making more money from data than from voice calls.
Call rates in South Africa
The mobile operators have not done themselves any favours when it comes to persuading users to move from WhatsApp back to voice calls, however.
ICASA’s report on cellular tariffs in South Africa for the first half of 2018 shows that standard prepaid voice tariffs from Vodacom, MTN, and Cell C have essentially stayed at the same price since 2013.
With mobile and fixed-broadband data prices dropping in recent years, the lack of movement in the price of standard voice calls means the service essentially becomes more expensive to use each year compared to VoIP apps.
“Cell C’s 66c tariff plan was introduced in 2014 as a promotion, then later turned into a standard tariff plan. This plan has remained constant at R0.66 throughout the 5-year period,” said ICASA.
“Vodacom’s Anytime per second has been at R1.20 from 2013 to 2017, and recently increased to R1.23 due to the VAT increase and commercial reasons.”
“MTN’s per second call was initially priced at R1.20 in 2013 and was reduced by 34.2% to R0.79 from 2014 to 2017. However, MTN’s tariff plan has been increased in 2018 by 25.3% from R0.79 to R0.99.”
The graph below from ICASA shows these price movements.