In mid-September, TouchCentralFM’s Tbo Touch, led South Africa’s robust Twitter community in issuing an ultimatum to local networks: “bring down the price of data, or we take our business elsewhere”.

That “elsewhere” is the network with the best data rates and having looked at LTE contract packages earlier this year we thought it was high time we looked at prepaid data costs and which network offers the best rate for 1GB of data.

In addition to that we’re also looking at who has the cheapest out-of-bundle rates. The reason for this is that once your data bundle is depleted, your mobile network operator will start to deduct airtime and as we discovered, you definitely don’t want that to happen on some networks.

The data dance

We’ll be looking at the four main mobile network operators in South Africa: MTN, Vodacom, Cell C and Telkom Mobile. The data presented below is based on the most recent pricing for 1GB of data.

Network Cost for 1GB Extras Validity
Cell C R149 None 30 Days
Vodacom R149 None 30 Days
MTN R160 500MB free 30 Days
Telkom Mobile R99 None ???

Looking at the table above its clear that Telkom has the cheapest gigabyte of data. The trouble is that MTN is offering an additional 500GB of data which would normally cost you R105 from the network. That’s good value especially when you consider that the same amount of data from Telkom would cost you an additional R69.

Mind you, that offer of an additional 500MB is only valid until 31st December 2016.

As for validity of that data, they’re all the same, except for Telkom which states, “”Pre-paid Internet bundles will expire at the end of the next calendar month from the date of activation.”

That is rather vague as it could mean anywhere from 30 to 60 days. We’ve asked the operator to clarify what exactly it means and we’ll be sure to update you here.

Quick! Switch off mobile data

As we mentioned we’re also looking at every network’s out-of-bundle rate and you might want to get the med kit out.

Network Out-of-bundle rate (per MB)
Cell C R0.79 – R2
Vodacom R1.50
MTN R0.99
Telkom Mobile R0.29

Cell C’s out of bundle rate ranges from R0.79 to R2 depending on what tariff you are on. That R2 out-off-bundle rate applies if you’re on the 66c tariff plan. So you can have cheap calls or cheap out-of-bundle data, not both.

For Cell C’s EasyChat and SmartChat tariff plans the out-of-bundle rate is R0.79 per MB and all other pre-paid tariffs have an out-of-bundle rate of R0.99.

Something that became abundantly clear during our research was that Cell C has an inordinate number of pre-paid tariffs, so many it can get confusing.

Eight tariff options seems like too many Cell C.

The cheapest out-of-bundle rate then is offered by Telkom Mobile.

The winner is…

The best value for money appears to be Telkom. The network offers the cheapest data in the 1GB tier as well as the cheapest out-of-bundle rate. This doesn’t however take into account the fair-usage policy of each network and the network’s coverage among other factors.

If you’re just looking for cheap data however, Telkom Mobile is your best bet, especially when it comes to out-off-bundle rates.

We will revisit this pricing in January as many of the operators say that pricing is valid until January 2016. Failing that, should there be any drastic changes to how mobile network operators price data, we will do yet another comparison.