/ 31 March 2017

Why do South Africans pay such high costs for mobile data?

As phones become more sophisticated
As phones become more sophisticated

Most South Africans experience the internet through their mobile phones. Whether it be through Facebook, Google or WhatsApp, once they have had access to the net and the possibilities it presents, it becomes an important part of their lives.

Given this, South Africa’s four top mobile service providers have invested heavily in rolling out infrastructure to improve both coverage and connectivity but yet, on average, mobile data in South Africa remains among the most expensive in Africa and across the world. Research ICT Africa released a report in 2016 revealing that South Africa ranks at number 16 in a study that examined the average cost of one gigabyte of data across 47 African countries.

Campaigns like #DataMustFall have come and gone with little change in mobile data costs — instead, what we have witnessed is that mobile data pricing for consumers has gone up. What alternatives do South Africans have for affordable internet connectivity?


ADSL is likely the cheapest option for internet connectivity that South Africans can use, but it has one obvious disadvantage compared to mobile connectivity — it is location based, so you can only access the net at a house where an ADSL line is installed. ADSL subscriptions can be as low as R149 per month, with a 200GB data limit per month (this excludes installation fees and ADSL line rental fees, which start at approximately R159, depending on the speed of the ADSL line and the service provider you choose to manage it). The other downside for ADSL in South Africa is areas it is available in, as well as copper wire theft, known to leave areas without ADSL service for long periods before new wires are installed.

Fibre to the home

Another option for broadband internet is concerned is Fibre-To-The-Home (FTTH), a high-speed option without the cable theft issue, but that is only available in well-heeled suburbs thus far.

Public broadband and Wi-fi

During his 2017 budget speech, finance minister Pravin Gordhan announced: “The department of telecommunications and postal services will be allocated a budget of R1.9-billion to invest in broadband internet infrastructure in public buildings and schools in eight pilot districts.” This will be delivered to the public in the form of both physical (cable) internet connectivity and Wi-fi hotspots in various public buildings. The government broadband internet service is likely to be free, but restricted to essential citizen services.

Some municipalities, such as the City of Tshwane, already offer free internet services to citizens through various Wi-fi hotspots spread throughout the city. There are also several companies that offer monthly Wi-fi data subscriptions that typically cost less than mobile data, and free Wi-fi is also available at many shopping centres and restaurants.

Smaller mobile providers

A lesser-known option of great interest is smaller mobile service providers that offer mobile data at prices lower than their bigger counterparts. For example, Afrihost, has a mobile data pre-paid package that costs just R99 for a SIM card and 2GB of data, whle Joxicraft offers 2GB of mobile data with a R112 SIM card.

Somehow, despite the fact that these small mobile service providers piggyback on the bigger providers’ infrastructure to offer their services, they are able to do this at a cost to the consumer lower than that of bigger mobile service providers.

Although there are options for consumers as far as internet connectivity goes, mobile phones remain the primary method that most South Africans use to access the internet. We can only hope that services will become more affordable in the future.