South African small businesses need affordable, internet options more than ever. Trendy markets, coworking spaces and pop-up vendors, as well as the boom in online shopping has created a growing need for data, but costs have never been more controversial (#datamustfall) or difficult to understand.
We’ve pared down the lingo, and compared all the cheapest data packages down to the nitty gritty – specifically with small business owners in mind. Yoco card machines process about 1 000 transactions with 1GB – which should be enough for most small vendors. But as your business grows naturally, a fixed line may become the cheaper and more practical option, to support a variety of online needs. However, these mobile bundles will always give you an affordable, nifty backup.
Vodacom is famed for having the best coverage, followed closely by MTN – and Cell C, which now shares MTN’s network. But, that may not matter if you operate from a fixed location – you’ll either have signal, or you won’t. You may need to test a few options to find a network that works in your area. If you move around (e.g. you work at a festival or market), it’s more important to assess the many areas and routes you’ll need to use. The rule seems to be that the better the coverage a company has, the higher it charges for data and vice versa.
Out of Bundle Rates
Out of Bundle Rates are the (usually) higher prices charged to “top-up” data when a user’s bundle has run out. Commonly, the larger the bundle, the better the price per GB – so try to purchase all your monthly data needs in one go. However, the Competition Commission released a damning report in December 2019, stating there’s no good reason for this type of exploitative price discrimination.
South African data and mobile prices are the highest on the continent, at a time when economic growth is hugely influenced by access to data-driven technology and innovation, across all sectors. No matter how you connect, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to run any business without reliable and fast wifi, and with each update, vital apps grow more sophisticated and data-hungry. Sparked by the #datamustfall movement in 2017, the Competition Commission recently declared that high South African data prices are anti-poor, anti-inclusion, and in need of serious inquiry.
Prices Will Fall?
The Commission’s final report ordered Vodacom and MTN must reduce their prepaid mobile data bundle prices by 30 to 50%, by February 2020 – or face prosecution under the Competition Act. There has even been mention of mandatory daily free data allocations. Either way, we know data prices in SA have to fall, and soon. In the meantime, every purchase you make holds economic voting power.
The table below is composed of prepaid (no contracts and no cancellation policies) for 1GB data bundles only. The data packages all last for a minimum 30 days. The inclusion of extra-hour data has been indicated, but it may have limited relevance for most 9-5 businesses. We’ve also highlighted whether data can “rollover” for longer periods of time – however the Commission has also rejected the legality of prepaid data that expires, so this may change soon. All reputable operators employ standard vetting procedures upon sign-up. None of the rates discussed apply to international roaming.
We’ll keep this updated
Last Updated: Mon 13 January 2020
So, what’s the cheapest data package? Well, it depends…
|Operator||Data||T’s & C’s||Price per 1GB||Top-Up|
|Always On Once-Off Data Bundle||1GB||Legal Notes: *Data valid: 1 month *No rollover *Payment: Upfront, Online or PayPal||R49 Rate: 5c/MB||R29/ 500MB Rate: 6c/MB|
|Rain Buy-as- you-Use||1GB||Legal Notes: *Data valid: 1 month *1 month rollover *Pay only for data used at end of month - Online card payment *Cap monthly data limits online||R50 Rate: 5c/MB||R50/ 1GB Rate: 5c/MB|
|Vodacom Once-Off Data Bundle||1GB||Legal Notes: *Data valid: 1 month *1 month rollover, only when another bundle is purchased before month-end||R99 Rate: 10c/MB||R63/ 250MB Rate: 25c/MB|
|Cell C Once-Off Data Bundle||1GB||Legal Notes: *Data Valid: 1 month *1 month rollover, if another package is purchased within 30 days||R100 Rate: 10c/MB||R49/ 500MB Rate: 10c/MB|
|Hello Mobile Once-Off Data Bundle||1GB +2GB NIght||Legal Notes: *Data Valid: 1 month *Rollover: 1 month, only when another bundle is purchased before month-end||R100 Rate: 10c/MB||R80/ 750MB Rate: 11c/MB|
|Telkom Once-Off Data Bundle||1GB +1GB Night||Legal Notes: *Data Valid: 2 months *None||R100 Rate: 10c/MB||R40/ 250MB Rate: 16c/MB|
|MTN Pay as You Go Data Bundle||1GB||Legal Notes: *Data valid:1 month *Rollover rules are limiting & complex *Beware All MTN Data bundles Automatically Renew, like a contract! *First card payment will turn into monthly debit order, unless you deactivate the automatic renewal, via phone prompt or online.||R149 Rate: 15c/MB||R60/ 300MB Rate: 20c/MB|
Our favorite bundle overall has to be Rain: it combines the lowest per MB price, charging the same rate for top-ups, plus usage can be easily capped online and data rolls over. There are no hidden terms or conditions, and there is a general sense of transparency about their offers. The downside is coverage – so if you’re not lucky enough to be in a Rain area, Cell C and Hello Mobile have the two next best packages for wider reach, with relatively consistent top-up rates and mid-level per MB prices. We’ll keep abreast of market developments as the Competition Commission’s report is implemented. Hopefully, we’re right on the brink of a data-access revolution that will exponentially enhance the inclusivity and potential of small businesses and the economy.