SA mobile subscribers: Vodacom vs MTN vs Cell C vs Telkom

With a fresh buzz around new MVNO me&you mobile entering South Africa, the latest subscriber spread from entrenched operators shows what a difficult time the new player will have trying to penetrate the market.

GSMA Intelligence estimates that South Africa has around 80 million mobile connections – a tally of all reported figures from the operators comes very close to that figure.

In its latest full-year reporting, South Africa’s biggest mobile operator by subscribers, Vodacom, noted a 3.8% decline in users to 31.4 million.

The group’s biggest competitor in the local market, MTN, reported in March 2015 that its South African operation increased its subscriber base by 8.9% to 28 million.

Telkom, which has dropped both its “8.ta” and “Telkom Mobile” branding in favour of a converged service, reported 1.8 million mobile users for the 2014 period.

Cell C and Virgin Mobile are not required to publish annual reports containing subscriber numbers, but the companies have, in the past, divulged figures.

In 2014, Cell C reported massive growth in its subscriber numbers, with the comparative figure for the year 18.1 million users.

According to a JSE-listed Blue Label Telecoms interim results presentation, Cell C grew its user base in 2015 to around 20 million users.

Virgin Mobile has avoided the issue of talking specific numbers, instead focusing on growing its user base to a landmark 1 million subscribers by 2017.

The last user figures from Virgin Mobile came in 2013, pegged around 500,000 – and analysts doubt the figure has changed much since then.

SA subscriber numbers
SA subscriber numbers

Market share

Using these numbers we are able to paint a picture of the South African mobile landscape, and see who’s winning and losing subscribers, and to whom.

Remarkably, most mobile operators have remained fairly stable in their market share, with MTN staying at around 35% of reported numbers and Telkom and Virgin maintaining a 2.3% and 0.6% grip of the market respectively.

Vodacom, while remaining the biggest operator by some margin, has lost the most ground in the local market – dropping from over 50% in 2012 to just under 40% in 2014.

Cell C has been the biggest winner, pushing close to its 25% market share target set by former CEO Alan Knott-Craig.

The following market share percentages are based off reported subscriber numbers from the operators and the latest available information.

SA mobile market share
SA mobile market share
SA mobile market share
SA mobile market share

SA mobile subscriber numbers (millions, 2011 – 2014) and market share

Operator 2011 % 2012 % 2013 % 2014 %
Vodacom 31.7 50.9% 29.97 45.6% 29.3 43.0% 31.4 39.3%
MTN 20.9 33.6% 24.5 37.3% 25.0 36.8% 28.0 35.1%
Cell C 8.2 13.2% 9.4 14.3% 11.7 17.2% 18.1 22.7%
Telkom 1.14 1.8% 1.48 2.3% 1.54 2.3% 1.8 2.3%
Virgin Mobile 0.3 0.5% 0.4 0.6% 0.5 0.7% 0.5 0.6%
Total 62.24 100% 65.75 100% 68.02 100% 79.8 100%

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SA mobile subscribers: Vodacom vs MTN vs Cell C vs Telkom