South Africa’s mobile market continues to be dominated by two major players – Vodacom and MTN – who account for three quarters (75%) of the country’s 89 million SIM connections.
However, the rise of MVNOs and growth from Telkom Mobile and Cell C in 2017 has brought some competition.
Analysing reported mobile subscriber figures for full year 2017 (or interim 2018 for Telkom), Vodacom maintains its dominance in the market, with the number two MTN losing ground. Both Cell C and Telkom have inched up over the past year.
Prior to 2016, when Cell C started publishing official figures as part of a due diligence being done by JSE-listed Blue Label Telecoms, it had been difficult to get subscriber data outside of what Cell C self-reported.
This self-reported data showed a rapid climb in the number of Cell C subscribers between 2011 and 2015 – going as high as 24 million subscribers – before showing lower numbers form 2016 and 2017 in the group’s official financial results for the year ending December 2017.
This discrepancy has been explained by the group as it shifting its definition of an active subscriber from a 120 day window to a 90 day window, which is a standard for the industry.
It is trickier still to pin down the numbers for South Africa’s growing MVNO market, which now includes the likes of Me&You Mobile, Pick n Pay, MRP Mobile and others. Most of these networks run on the Cell C network, however, and the mobile operator pegged this at 1.5 million subscribers in the same report.
This segment in particular has seen a steady climb as more MVNOs entered in the market, and appears to have added 1 million subscribers among the MVNOs since reaching the 500,000 peak of Virgin Mobile in 2013/14.
New fixed-LTE provider, Rain, is currently trialing mobile services in South Africa. The group plans to launch full services as Rain Mobile, which will add yet further competition into the market as it comes with deep pockets in the form of African Rainbow Capital (ARC), the financial-services firm started by billionaire Patrice Motsepe, and banking guru Michael Jordaan, who is a director and shareholder of the group.
Mobile market share
Looking at market share, shown as a percentage of the total reported subscriber numbers in South Africa, it’s clear that Vodacom and MTN are continue their dominance of the South African market.
For its 2017 full year results, Vodacom reported having 37.1 million subscribers in South Africa, followed by MTN, which reported 29.5 million. Cell C is third largest with 16.3 million subscribers, followed by Telkom’s reported figure of 4.4 million (September 2017).
According to the reported figures, there are 88.8 million mobile connections in South Africa. This number is not reflective of unique mobile subscribers, but rather the number of active SIMs, attached either to multiple devices or machines.
The total reflects the approximation of South Africa’s mobile market as reported by GSMA Intelligence’s 2018 update. According to the group, South Africa has about 89.4 million mobile connections, giving it a penetration rate of 157%.
Of these connections, over 86% are on prepaid, while 58% are broadband connections.
As of 2017, this is how the local mobile market share is split, according to reported numbers:
Over time, it’s clear that Vodacom has maintained its hold as the largest network operator in the country, with MTN fluctuating somewhat in its number two position. While Cell C’s rise between 2013 and 2015 put a dent in the overall market figures, the shift in definitions for ‘active’ users by unlisted company may have clouded the picture somewhat.
With official figures now being reported like the other listed entities – and possible plans for a listing for Cell C in the pipeline – the 2016 and 2017 numbers provide a clearer picture of South Africa’s mobile landscape.