Facebook founder Mark Zukerberg took to the social network the other day to talk about what’s next for subscribers to his internet.org service. Internet.org partners with mobile phone companies in developing countries to offer free internet access to those who need it.
It’s not here in South Africa at the moment, but if you want to know which operators offer what “over the top” services free of charge on their network, we’ve put together this handy guide.
The first to go all-in and start tempting customers with free over the top services, Cell C’s announcement just over seven months ago with WhatsApp Co-Founder Brian Acton launched free WhatsApp chat, photos and video for subscribers with a positive balance on their bill.
Cell C Prepaid customers also have to be on the cellphone networks “MegaBonus” price plan while contract customers are signed up automatically.
Cell C customers who use whatsapp express dissatisfaction about the offer as images and other files fail to load during chats. This appears to be a network coverage problem at face value.
If it takes 5 years to send a message, it ain’t worth staying IMO haha “@Thami540: mishgov …but Cell C’s free WhatsApp :p”
— Michelle Govender (@MishGov) May 3, 2015
MTN’s Free Twitter is not an entirely new offer as it had been linked to the purchase of specific data bundles in the past. What is new about the offer is that one can tweet and browse twitter without a positive airtime balance although photos and other media will not load which means being on twitter is half the fun. The offer in this guise was first made available during the Cricket World Cup earlier this year and was then extended after the final match to the end of April.
Another addition by MTN is “Twitter SMS” which enables those who’ve signed up for the service to receive tweets by a specific tweep via sms whenever that person tweets. Tweeting free on MTN for the rest of May although it may well be extended after MTN said the offer “is doing absolutely great” in a statement on its website.
Vodacom subscribers have been grumbling on Twitter that the mobile communications company doesn’t offer them access to at least one social network for free.
MTN has free twitter and Cellc has free whatsapp. What’s your plan? You better step* up my friend. @Vodacom
— IG: lelo_langa (@Lelo_Langa) May 5, 2015
Vodacom is the leader within the smartphone market according to the 2014 South African Mobile Report with just over fifty percent of market share and any move by them to provide one of the over-the-top messaging at no cost would not only benefit a large number of internet users but is also likely to make free social media access an even more interesting area of competition between the mobile networks. Vodacom, however, has also one of the most vocal in expressing concern that over-the-top services don’t get a free ride at operators’ expense.
None of the over-the-top messaging services are offered for free for Telkom Mobile subscribers but their “free WiFi for everyone” offer is worth a mention at this point because depending on how you look at it they’ve been paying for some of everyone’s usage through it.
Thirty minutes of free unlimited WiFi to chat away, send videos, images and other files for MTN, Vodacom, and Cell C customers at more than 2 500 WiFi hotspots countrywide daily. Usage is activated by sending an SMS for R1 at eateries that include Nandos, Steers and Wimpy. Nothing like free WhatsApp or Twitter but an OK deal nonetheless.
Like Telkom Mobile and Vodacom, Virgin Mobile SA does not offer free social media access on its network. Some Virgin Mobile SA customers have access to the networks’ free SMS deal for private users. The deal is monitored to prevent excessive SMSsing. It is as close as you will get to a free over the top instant messaging service on Virgin Mobile… up to 1 000 free SMS a day.
Over the top messaging is often paid for much like SMS was a few years ago and one will surely be watching the market to see if over the top messaging will end up as a free add on in a few years as has been the fate of SMS in most cases. Until then you are free to pick a free social media access as it is provided for by the mobile networks.