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Basics Edit

Providers Edit

The Republic of South Africa has 4 network operators:

  • Vodacom
  • MTN
  • Cell C
  • Telkom (formely 8ta)

This is supplemented by Hello Mobile, Virgin Mobile, Trace Mobile and some other MVNOs running on the Cell C network. MTN had recently expressed interest to host MVNOs and have thus partnered with Afrihost, a leading South African ISP. Another 4G/LTE operator called Neotel focuses on home broadband and triple play only. That's why it's not mentioned any further.

In 2017 there were more than 90 million subscribers on South African networks. 45% of them used Vodacom, 35% MTN, 16% Cell C and less than 4% Telkom.

Frequencies and coverage Edit

The 900 MHz and 1800 MHz frequencies deliver 2G for all operators with 3G offered on 900 MHz and 2100 MHz except for Telkom using 850 MHz. 4G/LTE was launched in 2012 on 1800 (B3) MHz in major centres by Vodacom and MTN and more recently on 2300 MHz (TD-LTE, B40) and 1800 MHz (B3) on Telkom and 2100 MHz (B1) and 1800 MHz (B3) on Cell C.

Vodacom followed by MTN have the best coverage and speeds in the country. Cell C and Telkom are far behind, but both have a national roaming agreement with either Vodacom or MTN for coverage outside of their own footprint. These agreements only refer to 2G and 3G, but not to 4G/LTE. So if you need fast data, they might not be such a good solution outside of city centres.

Availability and registration Edit

Prepaid SIM cards are available in provider outlets, airports and almost all retail chain stores usually at R5 or less. Since 2009 all SIM cards need to be registered before activation by a RICA agent with registration usually done at the point of purchase. RICA stands for the SIM registration scheme and requires an ID card or passport and a proof of residence.

You don't need to go to a store of the providers to get your RICA as many supermarkets can perform the same duties much faster. Some users have been rejected, because officially you need a home address and have to prove it, what can't be done by most passports. Many RICA agents take your hotel or B&B address in South Africa instead. A few may insist on this address though and you might think of bringing along something official like an ID card with your name and address or a hotel reservation to get approved.

Top-ups Edit

The SIM card needs to be recharged with airtime value to make calls and purchase bundles. Many plans may give you "free" airtime, but this can't be used to purchase bundles. You can recharge at most retail stores including: Clicks, CNA, Dis-Chem Pharmacies, Edgars, Jet, Legit, Mr Price, Pep Stores, Pick ‘n Pay, Shoprite Checkers, Spar, Woolworths and Ster Kinekor and the petrol stations of BP, Caltex, Engen, Total, Sasol and Shell.

New regulations Edit

By 2018 all providers are required to allow subscribers to roll over unused data or transfer it to another user on the same network according to new rule by the regulator. Additionally, the new regulations will not allow operators to charge out-of-bundle tariffs without first obtaining consent from subscribers. Mobile networks in South Africa will be required to send bundle depletion notices to customers at 50%, 80% and 100% depletion, and require an opt-in from subscribers to continue charging for the services.

More info Edit

South Africa has the usual 220 V / 50 Hz electricty supply, but uses an usual type M macro-shaped plug. You will need to bring or buy an special adaptor to convert to this special plug. All mobile phones in South Africa use a euro-style plug for the charger. Euro plug adaptors and chargers are available in phone shops for around R 100 in the country.

More information can be found on the bundlfundi website with further advice for travellers and different prepaid plans compared. They are highly recommmended for more information.

Vodacom Edit

Vodacom

Vodacom is the biggest mobile provider in South Africa and is 50% owned by UK-based Vodafone. It’s the market leader with the most customers, a good coverage (coverage map) at the highest prices.

In an independent network test in 2017 Vodacom was placed top in all six categories and achieved the overall highest score. Vodacom’s 2G network covers 99% of the country’s population, with 3G at 99% and 4G at 80% in 2018 which is the widest coverage of the country’s mobile network operators.

Their tourist line B4IGO has been terminated. If you want a SIM card for a premium before travel check out this Vodacom reseller: https://b4i.travel/za/

Availability Edit

Their regular prepaid SIM cards are available in all of their outlets (Vodacom Store Locator) for around R 5 as well as most supermarkets, including Woolworths in the airports of Johannesburg and Capetown. There is a Vodacom store in OR Tambo International Airport (on the right after leaving baggage claim area). Note that a starter can be as low as R 1 in some shops and high as R 100 at the airports. But there, they can help you with setting up and are open after hours too.

Vodacom offers a large variety of price plans and the Vodacom Prepaid 79c Plan is the easiest, best value plan for voice calls. At the airport they carry the regular SIMs too, albeit for a significant premium (the Vodacom shop at O.R. Tambo airport charged R 100 for the SIM alone in April 2016).

RICA registration at the airport is quick as they are used to registering tourists with a passport and proof of accomodation. Most supermarkets have the equipment to register SIM cards (look for 'RICA agent' sign). Most retail outlets carry three-in-one SIM sizes.

Top-ups can be made at almost any retail outlet.

Data feature packages Edit

A variety of monthly packs for data is available and offered in both a recurring and a once-off version at the same price. The default rate out of bundle or for overuse is R 0.89 - R 0.99 per MB.

  • daily packages (valid until midnight):
    • 20 MB: R 5
    • 60 MB: R 9
    • 100 MB: R 14
    • 250 MB: R 27
  • weekly packages (for 7 days):
    • 100 MB: R 17
    • 500 MB: R 59
    • 1 GB: R 79
  • fortnight package (for 14 days):
    • 1 GB: R 99
  • monthly packages (for 30 days):
    • 15 MB: R 10
    • 30 MB: R 12
    • 55 MB: R 25
    • 100 MB: R 29
    • 250 MB: R 63
    • 500 MB: R 100
    • 1 GB: R 149
    • 2 GB: R 249
    • 3 GB: R 299
    • 5 GB: R 399
    • 10 GB: R 599
    • 20 GB: R 999

You can activate all these bundles on your Vodacom account or by typing *111# and follow the menu options. Balance check is also available through *111# .

Note that it can be cheaper to obtain a SIM, add only credit, and then add the data package via the Vodacom app or online. Vodacom is often running a “Personalised Double Your Data” promotion through its smartphone app, where subscribers are given double data at least on certain bundles. This promotion varies depending on the customer and day however and the bonus data is not fixed.

More info Edit

MTN Edit

MTN

MTN is a multinational mobile phone company based in South Africa and the biggest rival of Vodacom. Its network and speeds are on par (Coverage map). MTN launched 4G/LTE in 2014 and covers 90% of population in 2018. MTN is the only provider that roams in Swaziland, if you should travel there.

There are network tests like of MyBroadband.za that now show MTN in the lead what coverage and data speeds are concerned. At least the MTN network has been improved a lot during the last few years and now rivals with Vodacom for the top spot.

Availablility Edit

MTN SIM cards are 4G/LTE enabled and available in all their stores (MTN Store Finder) and many supermarkets sometimes for as low as R 1.50, but usually R 5. It's easiest to complete the RICA registration in one of their stores.  

There is a MTN store in OR Tambo International Airport, on the right after leaving the baggage reclaim area. In July 2016, it was R 63.5 for the SIM with R 60 credit, plus the price of the regular data bundle of your choice. They are used to tourists and will activate the SIM and data bundle for you. You will need your passport and a proof of accommodation.  

The prepaid SIM card is called PayAsYouGo. It offers multiple voice plans, data plans and international bundles. By default the cards are activated with the "Base Plan". You can switch to the "79c/min price plan" officially called Pay Per Second (by dialing *141*4*4#) as it's their most competitive and simple price plan and cheaper in every aspect than the Base Plan.  

Reload vouchers are available at most retail stores and service stations. Common voucher denominations are R5, R10, R15, R30, R60 or R180.

Their different prepaid tariff plans all charge between R 0.99 and R 2 per MB where no bundle is purchased or for overuse. MTN offers a wide variety of data bundles, that normally don't renew.

In March 2018 the heavily promoted Mass SIM card was launched. “South Africans now double-up their airtime and data bundles when recharging with MTN’s new Mass SIM for R 5 or more". But there are catches attached to double airtime and data. Mass SIM is available only to new MTN prepaid customers, and the bonus airtime and data bundles are valid for only 24 hours once activated.

Data feature packages Edit

  • hourly packages (valid for 1 hour):
    • 15 MB: R 2
    • 50 MB: R 5
    • 150 MB: R 12
    • 1 GB: R 30
  • daily packages (valid until midnight):
    • 25 MB: R 5
    • 50 MB: R 8
    • 75 MB: R 12
    • 120 MB: R 15
    • 300 MB: R 27
    • 1 GB: R 50
  • weekly packages (valid for 7 days):
    • 50 MB: R 10
    • 70 MB: R 12
    • 100 MB: R 15
    • 120 MB: R 17
    • 200 MB: R 25
    • 350 MB: R 40
    • 500 MB: R 55
    • 1 GB: R 70
    • 2 GB: R 99
    • 5 GB: R 199
  • fortnightly packages for 14 days:
    • 1 GB: R 110
  • monthly packages (for 30 days):
    • 20 MB: R 10
    • 50 MB: R 20
    • 100 MB: R 29
    • 150 MB: R 39
    • 300 MB: R 60
    • 600 MB: R 99
    • 750 MB: R 120
    • 1 GB: R 149
    • 1.5 GB: R 189
    • 3 GB: R 299
    • 6 GB: R 399
    • 10 GB: R 499
    • 20 GB: R 899
    • 30 GB: R 1249
    • 50 GB: R 1999
    • 100 GB: R 3499

Activation is by typing *141*2#, get balance by typing *141*1#, through their app or online on your account. Packages don’t auto-renew.

More info Edit

Cell C Edit

Cell C

Cell C is the 3rd operator in South Africa. It claims to cover 98% of population, but still has gaps in certain areas: Cell C Coverage Map. Cell C started a price war in 2011 by undercutting its rivals, but most operators now offer comparable price plans. Cell C is only cheaper when you use their confusing portfolio of bonuses.

Cell C used to roam on the Vodacom network outside areas of their own coverage for free, but this applied to 2G and 3G only, not to 4G/LTE. In 2018 Cell C announced it has entered into a far-reaching roaming agreement with MTN in order to complement Cell C's own mobile network. The agreement will see MTN providing both 3G and 4G services to Cell C in areas where Cell C has chosen to purchase coverage rather than self-build, mainly outside of the main metro areas.

4G/LTE was rolled out in Gauteng and Durban on 2100 MHz (B1) to be spread to 1800 MHz (B3) in other centers of the country. After the new roaming deal with MTN Cell C says its network service offering is at 99% 2G coverage, 96% 3G coverage and 80% 4G/LTE coverage of the population.

Availability Edit

The starter pack is sold in their stores for 99c (Cell C Store Locator) and you can choose different base plans:

  • 66c Price Plan has the simplest and cheapest default rate and the lowest out of bundle data rate of R 0.15 per MB
  • SupaCharge Plan that gives you high recharge bonus as data and on-net mins with limited validity. Out of bundle rate is a high R 1.10 per MB
  • MegaData Bundle Plan where recharges of R 50 or more get you bonus data (3 times the recharge value, but can't be used to purchase data) with limited validity capped at 3 GB. Default rate is at R 1.10 per MB.
  • Bhansela Data Plan: for a recharge of R 20 or more in a calendar month, you get 50 MB bonus data (valid for 7 days) and an out-of-bundle data rate of R 0.35 per MB for the remainder of the calendar month.

Data feature packages Edit

To all plans mentioned above these data bundles can be activated by dialling *147#:

  • day packages (valid from midnight to midnight)
    • 25 MB: R 4
    • 65 MB: R 9
    • 120 MB: R 14
    • 500 MB: R 20
    • 1 GB: R 25
  • night packages (valid 1am to 7am only) for one night:
    • 250 MB: R 6
    • 1 GB: R 15
  • 5-day bundles:
    • 80 MB: R 12
    • 250 MB: R 25
    • 600 MB: R 50
    • 1 GB: R 80
    • 2.2 GB: R 100
  • monthly packages (for 30 days with roll-over when a new pack is bought):
    • 15 MB: R 5
    • 40 MB: R 12
    • 65 MB: R 20
    • 100 MB: R 29
    • 300 MB: R 49
    • 750 MB: R 100
    • 1.5 GB: R 149
    • 3 GB: R 249
    • 5 GB: R 299
    • 7 GB: R 399
    • 10 GB: R 599
    • 20 GB: R 799
    • 30 GB: R 899
    • 40 GB: R 1199
    • 100 GB: R 2999
  • WhatsApp package (without VoIP call included) for one month: 600 MB for R 7.50

To activate bundles, dial *109# or *147#. Only 30 day bundles allow roll over of unused allowances to the next month if a new bundle is purchased. Customers can extend the validity of their data bundles indefinitely by purchasing another data bundle before the current 30 day bundle expires.

More info Edit

Telkom (formerly 8ta) Edit

Telkom

Telkom is a South African-based telecommunication company with the 4th network in the country. It entered the market in 2010 and was called '8ta' before, but has been rebranded into Telkom. It offers the lowest rates for data in the country of any network operator while it coverage is less too.

While it has limited coverage, mainly in the cities, it currently roams on the 2G and 3G networks of MTN, but not on MTN's 4G/LTE. So make a network scan before purchase. Note that their own 3G is on 850 MHz instead of the usual 900 MHz in Africa: Telkom Coverage Map  (Telkom coverage is orange, when you switch to TM Coverage). Furthermore, Telkom's 4G/LTE is on the rare TD-LTE 2300 MHz (B40) in the areas marked on the map (when you switch to LTE).

In November 2018 Telkom signed a new roaming agreement with Vodacom. Telkom customers will be able to roam on Vodacom's 2G, 3G and 4G networks from 2019. Telkom has had a roaming agreement in place with MTN for 2G and 3G services and will conduct a phased transition from the current roaming agreement. This process will conclude in June 2019 when its contract with MTN expires.

Telkom South Africa has announced that it plans to switch off its 2G network nationwide at the end of 2019.

Availability Edit

Telkom SIM cards are available at their stores (Store Locator) and other retail outlets for about R 0.99 and Telkom top-ups are available everywhere.

Telkom agents can get quite strict about the RICA registration and sometimes demand a proof for the given address which is hard to do for visitors. If you have been rejected, go somewhere else and try your luck or bring something written with your name and an address on it.

Two different prepaid plans are available:

  • Telkom more: This is their default plan of a newly purchased prepaid SIM. It comes with higher base rates, but top-up credit is double in value, if you top-up R 5 or more and can be used for voice, SMS and out of bundle data.
  • SIM Sonke: This plan has better voice billing (no peak time and per second) with the same data rate.

On both plans out of bundle data rate is at a low R 0.30 per MB. SIM-Sonke is recommended when you use voice too. For data it's not much of a difference. To change plans dial *180#.

Data feature packages Edit

Remember that all Telkom data bundles can roam on the slower MTN 3G network, but not on the faster MTN 4G/LTE network for free.

Monthly data bundles can be purchased either once-off or recurring and are valid until the end of the next month from purchase (max. 60 days):

  • 25 MB: R 7.30
  • 50 MB: R 14.65
  • 100 MB: R 29.25
  • 250 MB: R 39.50
  • 500 MB: R 69.60
  • 1 GB + 1 GB (midnight-7am): R 100
  • 2 GB + 2 GB (midnight-7am): R 140
  • 3 GB + 3 GB (midnight-7am): R 201
  • 5 GB + 5 GB (midnight-7am): R 301
  • 10 GB + 10 GB (midnight-7am): R 505
  • 20 GB for 6 months: R 905
  • 50 GB for 12 months: R 1815
  • 100 GB for 12 months: R 3227

To purchase data dial *180*1#. Recurring bundles are allocated on the 1st of every month and stay valid until the end of the next calendar month. A few time-based bundles for shorter periods remain:

  • for one hour (once-off):
    • 75 MB: R 5
  • daily:
    • 150 MB: R 10
  • for the weekend (this includes Saturday and Sunday):
    • 100 MB: R 10
    • 200 MB: R 19
    • 500 MB: R 29
    • 1 GB: R 49

Telkom has introduced so-called Free-me Boost Bundles. They can be added to all prepaid plans as well. They include a data allowance for 31 days and up to 300 mins on-net calls, 100 domestic SMS and additional 500 MB for messaging and VoIP through apps of Viber, WhatsApp or BBM:

  • 150 MB: R 29
  • 500 MB: R 70
  • 1 GB: R 100
  • 2 GB: R 150
  • 3 GB: R 200
  • 5 GB: R 305
  • 10 GB: R 405
  • 20 GB: R 605

You can choose between once-off and recurring bundles. Activation via *180#.

More info Edit

Hello Mobile Edit

Hello mobile

Hello Mobile by the Hello Group is the largest MVNO in the country today with 1.4 million subscribers. Starting in 2009 it uses the network of Cell C with Vodacom roaming in 2G and 3G. 90% of their clients are foreign nationals, who use it for their low international call rates. But it has good rates for data too, if you don't need 4G/LTE everywhere.

Availability Edit

Their SIM card is sold in Hello Mobile and Hello Paisa shops and other branded shops, where you see their sign. They may not be so easy to find Try to do the RICA registration there too. You can also get it online for free to be sent to a South African postal address. If you have ordered it online, you'll need to go in person to a RICA agent to have it registered, before you can activate it.

Top-ups can be found and done easily as you can use any Cell C voucher for it (see above). The SIM will stay active up to 120 days after the last activity. Check balance by *101#.

Data feature packages Edit

Data is at R 0.99 per MB by default. You can add these bundles to all plans:

  • daily bundles (valid until midnight):
    • 25 MB: R 4
    • 65 MB: R 9
    • 120 MB: R 14
    • 500 MB: R 17
    • 1GB: R 20
  • nightly bundles (valid 1am-7am only):
    • 250 MB: R 6
    • 1 GB: R 15
  • 5-day bundles:
    • 45 MB: R 8
    • 80 MB: R 12
    • 250 MB: R 25
    • 600 MB: R 50
    • 1.2 GB: R 80
    • 2.2 GB: R 100
  • monthly bundles (valid for 30 days) including a special quota valid at night 1am-7am:
    • 750 MB + 1 GB night: R 85
    • 1 GB + 2 GB night: R 100
    • 1.5 GB + 3 GB night : R 149
    • 2 GB + 4 GB night: R 199
    • 3 GB + 5 GB night: R 249
    • 6 GB + 7 GB night: R 299
    • 7 GB + 10 GB night: R 399
  • a WhatsApp bundle is sold at R 17 for one month of "unlimited" (FUP: 1.2 GB) WhatsApp use. This excludes VoIP calls.

Activation is through *147# for monthly bundles, *109# for daily and nightly bundles. Overuse is at default rate of the plan.

More info Edit

Virgin Mobile Edit

Virgin mobile

Virgin Mobile started as South Africa’s first MVNO in 2006 as a joint venture between Cell C and the Virgin Group. It uses the network of Cell C (for coverage check Cell C above) with some 2G/3G roaming on Vodacom.

Availability Edit

Their SIM card is given out for free in their few stores (store finder) and outlets, but you have to top-up right away. You are likely to walk past their display stand with free SIM cards just past the customs area on exiting the terminal at the Johannesburg airport.

Data feature packs Edit

Default data rate outside of bundles is R 0.99 per MB. These data bundles are offered all valid for 30 days:

  • 50 MB: R 10
  • 200 MB: R 40
  • 400 MB: R 75
  • 600 MB: R 100
  • 1.5 GB: R 200

Until at least end of January 2019 Virgin runs a 'Twice is nice' promotion when all packages are doubled in size.

Use the My Virgin Mobile App or dial *110# to buy a data bundle. All data bundles. All bundles are sold as once-off or recurring. If you would like to stop the bundle from renewing, dial *110# and follow the prompts. 

More info Edit

Lycamobile Edit

Lycamobile

The UK-based provider Lycamobile has soft-launched in South Africa in 2017 as 22nd country. It operates on the network of Cell C with some 2G/3G roaming on Vodacom, but no 4G/LTE yet: coverage maps.

Availability Edit

The starter is usually given out for free in their outlets (look for their logo). You should be able to do your RICA registration there. You can order it online too sent to an South African postal address, but this requires that you go to a RICA agent for registration. You can check your RICA status here.

You'll need to top-up your SIM rightaway. You can buy top-up vouchers from your local retailer or online by credit card. The voucher shows a PIN either printed on it or underneath a scratch panel. Enter *101*<PIN>#. Check balance by *101#.

Data feature packs Edit

Default rate without a package activated or for overuse is R 0.99 per MB. You have the choice of these packages all valid for 30 days:

Data Price Activation
100 MB R 10 *139*2701#
300 MB R 19 *139*2702#
2 GB R 79 *139*2703#
6 GB R 149 *139*2704#
8 GB R 245 *139*2705#
15 GB R 299 *139*2706#
20 GB R 399 *139*2707#
35 GB R 599 *139*2708#

It's not known, if these bundles are once-off or recurrent or you have the choice.

More info Edit

  • APN: data.lycamobile.co.za
  • Username: lmit - that's possibly wrong and should be: lmza
  • Password: plus
  • Website: http://www.lycamobile.co.za

Afrihost Edit

Afrihost

Afrihost is a South African Internet Service Provider offering a number of services like ADSL broadband and web hosting. They offer low data rates for mobile internet operating on the network of MTN (coverage map) in 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE.

Availability Edit

SIM cards can be ordered online and will be sent to any postal address in the country within 2-3 working days and a R 149 fee for delivery and registration applies. You need to show your ID or passport and be present when the courier arrives for RICA registration.

Alternatively, you can opt-in on any MTN SIM (not of any other network) to Afrihost. This can be made online on your account at "my connectivity". You need to select "I have a MTN SIM card". This may take a while, but no new RICA registration is necessary and your MTN balance will be retained. You'll need to adjust your APN to Afrihost (see below).

Be aware that 4G/LTE is only enabled by default on SIM cards obtained directly from Afrihost. If you've obtained a SIM card elsewhere and opt-in to Afrihost, you'll need to manually request LTE provisioning by contacting them via email, telephone or live chat and activation can take up to 72 hours.

Data feature packages Edit

Out of bundle charge is optional and costs only R 0.10 per MB. These monthly data bundles are offered:

  • 500 MB: R 59
  • 1 GB: R 109
  • 2 GB: R 168
  • 3 GB: R 257
  • 4 GB: R 336
  • 5 GB: R 415
  • 10 GB: R 810
  • 20 GB: R 1600

All rates are tax included and valid for 30 days. You can add-on top-ups for R 99 per GB valid until the end of the following month.

More info Edit

Trace Mobile Edit

Trace Mobile

In May 2018 a new MVNO started on the Cell C network in 2G/3G and 4G/LTE run by media and entertainment company Trace. It's targeted to a 18-35 year old audience, but sold to everyone. It's unique feature are packages, that never expire.

Availability Edit

The SIM card is sold for R 5 at various locations shown in this store locator where you have to do your RICA registration.

For top-ups any Cell C voucher form R 5 to 500 can do. To top-up enter *102*<voucher PIN>*. To check balance, enter *101#.

Data feature packages Edit

Default rate is R 0.99 per MB. Their data packages have the special feature not to expire and can be used over an indefinite period. Be aware that a 90-days inactivity rule for the SIM card validity applies:

  • 10 MB: R 6.50
  • 20 MB: R 10
  • 50 MB: R 20
  • 100 MB: R 29
  • 300 MB: R 60
  • 500 MB: R 100
  • 1 GB: R 149

Activation of packages is done through their Trace Mobile app available for iOS and Android. You can also swap balance and allowances with other Trace Mobile users by app.

More info Edit