Mobile subscribers in SA: who’s eating whose lunch?

Over the past two years, mobile operators MTN and Vodacom have dominated the mobile services market – but as Cell C and Telkom Mobile continue to accrue customers, their gain appears to be the big players’ loss.

On Wednesday (14 August), MTN reported a quarterly decline in its subscriber numbers in South Africa to 25 million.

While the number is a reported decline, when assessing MTN’s subscriber figures year-on-year, the yellow network has shown growth: in September 2012, MTN’s subscriber base in SA stood at 24.5 million subscribers – half a million less than the current figure.

However, despite YoY growth, MTN’s relative market share has seemingly decreased, as competitors boosted it’s numbers.

MTN’s biggest rival, Vodacom – which still boasts the most mobile customers in the country – has also lost ground.

In December 2011, Vodacom had close to 32 million customers on its network; since then, however, SA’s largest mobile operator has seen a decline in numbers to 29.3 million in its latest financial reporting.

Smaller gets bigger

In contrast to the giants, in July 2013, Cell C revealed that it had 11.7 million subscribers on its network – a steady climb from 8.2 million users in 2011 and 9.4 million in 2012 – boosting its relative market share to over 17%, well in-line with the company’s strategic goals.

When Alan Knott-Craig took over as Cell C CEO in April 2012 he said he wanted to grow the mobile operator’s market share in South Africa to 25% within the next three years.

Telkom Mobile (formerly known as 8ta) has also shown consistant growth in its active subscriber base – albeit with less vigor than Cell C.

Since 2011, when its subscribers sat at 1.1 million, Telkom Mobile has boosted its users by half a million to 1.54 million as reported in its latest financial results.

Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO), Virgin Mobile, has also reportedly seen an increase in subscribers over the years – albeit a relatively small one.

According to Virgin Mobile South Africa CEO, Jonathan Marchbank, the MVNO currently has 500,000 subscribers – up from approximately 300,000 subscribers reported in 2011.

SA Mobile Subscribers 2011-2013
SA Mobile Subscribers 2011-2013

Market share winners and losers

Despite a loss in subscribers, and having both lost ground to their smaller competitors, Vodacom and MTN maintain a dominant share of the mobile market in South Africa.

Market share calculations in the table below are based on available user number information from operators which release reports and presentations at different times.

The table shows that latest known data reported between June and September, where applicable, and does not include the 120,000 Red Bull Mobile subscribers.

Subscriber totals are greater than the total population of South Africa as mobile phone users may have multiple accounts on various networks, simultaneously.

Subscribers (Millions) and Market Share

Operator 2011
Market Share
2012
Market Share 2013
Market Share
MTN 20.9 33.6% 24.5 37.3% 25.0 36.8%
Vodacom 31.7 50.9% 29.97 45.6% 29.28 43.0%
Cell C 8.2 13.2% 9.4 14.3% 11.7 17.2%
Telkom Mobile/8ta 1.14 1.8% 1.48 2.2% 1.54 2.3%
Virgin Mobile 0.3 0.5% 0.4 06% 0.5 0.7%
Total* 62.24 100% 65.75 100% 68.02 100%

* Based on tabulated numbers

Market share 2011 - 2013
Market share 2011 – 2013

More on SA mobile operators

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Telkom’s modest mobile numbers

Vodacom: the good and the not so good

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Mobile subscribers in SA: who’s eating whose lunch?