Much ado about data: How to spend less and get more 💰

Mobile data is pricey! We South Africans pay up to six times more than users in other emerging markets. The Competition Commission was unhappy with the state of affairs and released a report in 2019 instructing the big players like Vodacom and MTN to cut their prices.

They did, but not by much. And data plans are still so complicated and it’s almost impossible to compare like-for-like. Here are some examples of special bundles, unique to each particular service provider:

Confused? Yeah, we don’t blame you!

What about prepaid bundles?

Here, we can start to see the wood for the trees. All of these are standard prepaid data bundles, valid for 30 days:

Cell C has structured their bundles to offer something different to the likes of Vodacom and MTN, who are more closely matched.

Vodacom and MTN both offer 1GB for R85, while Cell C offers 1.6GB at R80. Telkom is more expensive for 1GB but offers another 1GB free as Night Surfer data. You end up getting more for less, provided you actually use your phone in the early hours of the morning.

Most of us consume data faster than we drink water, especially if we don’t have reliable Wi-Fi access. This means bigger bundles work better. Vodacom is the most expensive option if you need 3GB of data. Cell C gives you 3GB at the lowest price, plus another 3GB to use between 1 am and 7 am. All in all, Cell C offers the best value, but consumers often complain about how patchy their 4G coverage is.

Is Rain worth it?

Rain is a data-only mobile operator. They offer unlimited 4G data for mobile phones for R299 month-to-month. You only get access to data, so you can only make data calls (no voice calls or SMS) and you can’t use your phone to hotspot another device. Rain works great if you have a dual-SIM phone — you can use a prepaid SIM card from MTN or Vodacom to receive or make voice calls, and your Rain SIM for data, all in the same phone. But also make sure to check the coverage in your area.

Max out free Wi-Fi

Find out which apps use the most data and try to only use those apps when you have Wi-Fi access. Updates also kill data faster than Tatjana Schoenmaker flattens world records. Do all your updates over Wi-Fi. If you don’t have Wi-Fi at home, head to your favourite coffee shop, or to the gym, your local library- anywhere with password-protected free Wi-Fi. (A password is important because it means the network is secure.) You only have to enter the password once — the next time you visit that spot, your device should connect automatically.

How to decide what’s best?

Start by figuring out how much data you use in a month. You’ll find this figure in your phone’s settings menu, often broken down for each app. This will give you an idea of what size bundle you need to buy.

If you’re a prepaid customer, it’s generally cheaper to buy one bundle for a month, than to buy weekly. If you know your needs really well, consider exploring a 24-month contract deal, which might offer better rates. If you’re an Instagram influencer or a big video streamer, you might want to consider a mobile Wi-Fi option or an unlimited data package.