Lockdown leads to data boom in South Africa

by | Sep 16, 2020

On the face of it, the Covid-19 lockdown was an inadvertent blessing for South Africa’s telecommunications operators.

With people stuck at home for the five weeks of the hard lockdown from 27 March to 1 May, it would have been easy to think that the likes of MTN, Vodacom and Telkom would have gained from consumers posting on social media and streaming shows to their phones.

Unlike other parts of the economy, the telecoms sector had an advantage in that under the national disaster regulations, it could continue to operate. Operators also had the advantage of the government giving them temporary access to additional radio spectrum that could facilitate high-speed broadband services.

The operators didn’t have to wait long to see the impact of the lockdown on the demand for data.

MTN South Africa’s data traffic was up 77% and it saw an increase of 14.1% in active data subscribers to 14.2 million, said outgoing group CEO Rob Shuter on an interim results teleconference call on 6 August.

There was a similar story at rival Vodacom South Africa. “Data traffic doubled in the quarter and usage per smart device grew 75% year on year, and 22% from the March 2020 quarter to 2.2GB/user,” said Vodacom Group CEO Shameel Joosub during an investor conference call in July.


“There are now 13.2 million 4G devices connected on our network, an increase of almost 30% year on year,” Joosub said.

Telkom also saw a surge in demand. “We’ve actually been seeing a very, very huge surge in traffic, both on the fixed side of the network and on the mobile side of the network. Luckily, our network is scalable,” said Telkom Group CEO Sipho Maseko at the group’s annual results presentation.

“Data consumption increased just in the last two weeks of March by over 35% viewed in context. It’s the sort of typical growth that we saw in the 11 months between April of 2019 and about February of 2020,” Maseko added.

Source: Larry Classen, MoneyWeb