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strowger (Offline)
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Default South Africa - especially data - 14-06-2010, 12:27

Just returned from SA and hope people will find the following useful:

It took me a long time researching before travelling there to decide what to do about mobile data etc while there; hopefully this will help people out.

Couple of starting points:

1 - Internet access in South Africa is VERY expensive by European/US standards. Although the mobile operators' rates for data bundles are not great, they are much cheaper than wireless hotspots.

2 - There are 3 mobile operators in SA - Vodacom, MTN, and Cell C. Vodacom have the best coverage, MTN slightly less. Cell C's coverage area is small, but they have a roaming agreement with Vodacom for the remainder.

3 - All new SIM cards in SA have to be registered in-person at a retail outlet, for which you will need your passport and a proof of address in SA (which can be just a printed hotel reservation). This process is called "RICA". Not all airtime resellers can do this. There are suitable retail outlets for Vodacom and MTN in the major airports - though there may be queues at busy times! These retail outlets also sell SIM cards, so there's little point buying a card on ebay before travelling unless you can find a RICA'd one.

I tried MTN and Vodacom.

Vodacom:

Coverage is excellent and data speeds are generally very good. I found Vodacom very reliable. 3G reaches surprisingly far into rural areas and GSM is extremely widespread.

Look on Welcome to Vodacom under "broadband" and choose the package you want. Buy a suitable amount of top-up credit, then purchase the bundle by dialling *111#.

The APN is "internet" and username/password are guest/guest.

MTN:

Coverage is good, but slightly less so than Vodacom. Data speeds generally good, but I found MTN very unreliable; voice calls often failed, and there were long periods where GPRS data was not passed at all.

MTN have an "unlimited data for 24 hours for ZAR50 bolt-on" offer, which is seductive. "Fair use" policy - after 150Mbyte, speed is limited to 128kpbs.

In practice I found data became unusable after 150Mbyte; very much slower than 128kbps, with much packet loss. To use this offer, top-up with at least ZAR50, then call 555, pick option 3 to buy it. The bolt-on has to be first "bought", then "activated". Once bought, you get an SMS with instructions on how to "activate". In practice, I didn't find this ZAR50/dat offer very useful, because the network was so flakey.

They also have transfer-based packages, like Vodacom: Data Bundles
Prices are very similar to Vodacom, but the service is noticably less reliable, so I'd suggest just using Vodacom if you don't want the ZAR50/day offer.
   
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