On 3 October 2017, amid much fanfare, Vodacom South Africa announced it will be cutting its out of bundle mobile data pricing by up to 50%. The reduced rates will come into effect from mid-October 2017 and will apply to both pre-paid and post-paid (contract) Vodacom customers.
Vodacom has indicated that it has already dropped out of bundle data pricing for contract customers to R0.89c from R1.00 per MB, starting 1 October 2017.
"We undertook to reduce out-of-bundle rates, and we’ve now delivered on that. This saving on data costs follows our reducing data prices by 18.9% over the last year alone,” said Shameel Joosub, Group CEO of Vodacom.
In my opinion, both announcements by Vodacom are not much to celebrate, not to mention they are still ridiculously expensive.
Let me put them into perspective.
For a long time now South Africans have been complaining and protesting the high cost of mobile data prices. This includes, among others, online initiatives such as #DataMustFall. The primary complaint has been around mobile data bundle costs, where, for example, you have Vodacom selling a 1GB mobile data bundle (valid for 30 days) at a price of R149. This price translates to R0.15c per MB. Now, this R0.15c per MB, in-bundle data pricing, is what many South Africans are complaining about as expensive in comparison to other countries in Afrika.
Cost of 1GB data based on prepaid data top ups or bundled top ups (in $) for Afrikan countries.
With that in mind, Vodacom coming out and saying they are dropping out of bundle pricing from R1 by up to 50% is, as I said when I started, not much to celebrate. It will still be far more expensive than the already expensive pre-paid in-bundle mobile data pricing. We can debate the reasons as to why Vodacom, and other South African mobile service providers don't have a standard per MB pricing whether you are in-bundle or out of bundle (from a consumer's perspective I am consuming the same thing), but the main reason is likely that they want to sell you mobile data in bundles (for their own internal sales and other reasons).
Why not advertise a standard per MB prepaid mobile data price (less than R0.15c and let consumers use it as they please?
This announcement by Vodacom truly feels like a Kansas City Shuffle, diverting our attention from the main issue: prepaid mobile data (in-bundle) is expensive in South Africa. Vodacom seems to be suggesting that the amount of money it is investing in infrastructure is one of the reasons why mobile data prices are so high.
"We have invested some R32.7bn over the past four years. However, lack of access to spectrum is hampering our ability to drive down infrastructure costs and in turn, enable us to pass savings to the consumer,” said Joosub.
Perhaps it is time we gave up on mobile service providers in South Africa and started shifting our attention to pushing for fiber infrastructure to be more widespread so that even in rural and informal settlements people can get affordable high-speed Internet via Wi-Fi at a minimum. After all, fixed-line Internet access will likely be always cheaper than mobile for the foreseeable future.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.