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The best mobile data offering in South Africa - Vodacom, Afrihost or Rain?

For a long time I have not enjoyed the options available to the South African consumer when it comes to buying and using data for mobile devices. Data is not only expensive, but plans and packages are very limiting and inflexible.


The major service providers are in a constant battle with each other to try and lock people into contracts. Competition is good as it will often drive down prices but in this case the concentrated competition of only a few huge companies doesn’t seem to be benefiting customers especially in the hot area of data prices.


Don’t you hate it when you see adverts for data but hidden in the terms and conditions is a side note saying that a large portion of that data can only be used during “night owl” times? This is an example of a company trying to use “clever” ways of marketing their product that in the end don’t actually show much benefit for their customers.


Because I have been frustrated by my current scenario for some time now, I feel that it is finally time that I explore other options.


My usage


In February 2018 my cellphone contract expired and since then I have been buying prepaid data on my Vodacom sim card every month.


My current usage on an average month is about 800mb’s and I will use roughly this amount of data without having to monitor or cap my usage in any way.


There are a few things that are important to me in what I do or don’t want from a data provider:

  • I don’t want contracts or lock-in periods

  • I don’t want to waste money by buying more data than I need

  • I want to pay reasonable prices for my data

  • I want to have good network availability


Vodacom Prepaid


Vodacom currently charges the following prices for their monthly data bundles:

Prices as at 2018-12-27

Given that my monthly usage is roughly 800mb’s per month, the most cost effective option for me is to buy a 1GB bundle for R149.


In my opinion this is quite expensive and I often have data left over when the bundle expires after 30 days. If I choose to rather go for a smaller bundle, I need to be very cautious with my data usage in the month. Generally if I do this I do deplete the bundle and it ends up costing me even more.


Vodacom’s voice and data only contracts are so far from what I identified is important to me from a provider that it is not even worth mentioning.


Afrihost


Afrihost offer voice + data plans or you can choice a data plan only. These plans are month-to-month plans so you are not locked in to a contract for an extended period of time. You can also pause your plan for a month or two if you decide that you are not going to need the data in the next few months, or maybe you are going out of the country.


It is important to note that Afrihost uses MTN as its network provider.


The packages that initially appealed to me were the following:


Mobile XS voice and data plan – R109 per month


  • 40 minutes

  • R39.50 airtime

  • 1 GB data

In order to keep my current number on this plan I would need to port my number to MTN. This package is much better than my current situation with Vodacom but still not really what I am looking for. I don’t think I will use many of the minutes or the airtime and the thought of porting my number is already enough to irritate me.


Starter pack 1GB data only plan – R68 per month

  • You are still able to make voice calls if you have an MTN sim card and load additional prepaid airtime

  • Top up cost is R99 per GB

This is a much more cost effective solution than the Vodacom options and if I had an MTN sim card I would have already been on this plan since March.


Initially I thought if going with the data only plan that you wouldn’t be able to make calls/SMS’s, but after speaking to a friend who has this plan with Afrihost it seems that he is able to load additional MTN airtime and make calls/SMS’s as required.


Rain data only plan – 5c per MB

  • 5c per meg (R50 per GB)

  • no contracts

  • no bundles

  • no expiry

  • no voice calling on this option

Just like Capitec’s bank account offering, with Rain there is only one option. This makes things much easier when trying to gather more information on the offering. Simplicity is very important to me and rain’s data plan option really ticks all the boxes in this aspect.


As this is also a data only plan the biggest downside is that I will not be able to receive phone calls and SMS’s. Although I do not make phone calls or SMS’s very often myself I do feel that it is still a necessity in the current way society and businesses operate. For example when I log onto certain accounts I need to enter a one-time-pin code in order to access my account. This is generally received through SMS although it can sometimes be set to email. If I am waiting for a call back from an interview, business or client they will generally do this by voice call. Because of this I would still need to hold onto my current Vodacom sim card.

Image taken from rain.co.za store

There are a few ways that I can get the benefit of cheaper data without having to lose the option of voice calling from my phone. The rain sim cards can connect into a 4g compatible MiFi device, such as the ones below:

These do require an investment upfront but would benefit me in the long-run provided that my data usage remains constant.


When I am driving around, at the shops or going for a hike on the weekend I don’t quite want to be carrying around an extra device like this. The other solution is to have a duel sim phone which I can easily switch between if I need to use data. My current phone is supposed to be a duel-sim phone but because it was supplied to me on a Vodacom contract, they kindly removed this feature from the phone… Any phones I buy in the future would definitely be dual-sim phones.


Conclusion


In comparison to many others my data usage is not significant by any means. There are many people paying in excess of R500 per month for the data they use. It is however important for me to ensure I am not paying for something when there are better options out there.


Afrihosts data only plan is a very competitive offering but for now I have decided to try out rain and see what life is like without traditional voice calling. I of course can still use my normal Whatsapp number and make and receive calls from there.


Rain have been running a promotion where they deliver your sim card (or as many sim cards as you would like) for R1. It costs R50 once off payment per sim card upfront. So for R51 I got my new rain sim card delivered to my door and I am ready to test over the course of the next few months how it works into my lifestyle.


Throughout the next few months I am going to look for some second hand MiFi devices that I can buy at a steal, so that I can easily access this data during working hours and therefore still keep my Vodacom sim card in my phone during this time.


Please note:

· All prices and product plan information was accurate at the time of publishing – 27/12/2018

· Telkom, Cell C and MTN were not part of this analysis as Afrihost and Rain offer much more suitable plans for my needs. Vodacom was only considered as it is my current provider.

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