Telkom detonates bomb on mobile rivals - TechCentral

Telkom detonates bomb on mobile rivals

Attila Vitai

Attila Vitai

Twenty gigabytes of mobile 4G/LTE data a month, free on-network calls, 1 500 minutes of free calls to other networks, zero-rated WhatsApp and Viber, free SMSes, and free and unlimited Wi-Fi access at 6 000 hotspots. All this for R599/month? Not possible?

This is exactly what Telkom has just done, effectively detonating a pricing bomb on its bigger rivals in the mobile industry.

The company on Thursday evening took the wraps off “FreeMe”, a set of very aggressively priced mobile packages for both contract and prepaid users that looks set to leave Vodacom, MTN and Cell C scrambling to respond. They will be available for purchase from Monday, 25 July.

Telkom’s CEO for consumer and small business, Attila Vitai said: “FreeMe flies in the face of years of mobile industry tradition, where customers had to navigate confusing contracts, seemingly endless Ts&Cs, high peak rates and pricey extras, by prioritising simplicity, ease of use and value.

“Telkom FreeMe offers our customers smartphone plans that liberate them from everything they’ve ever hated about their network. Data has become the central requirement for most smartphone users, so that is what we have prioritised,” he said.

The packages start at R99/month and all include a data allocation (from 1GB for R99/month up to unlimited data for R999/month). But they also all include 50 free SMSes a day along with zero-rated BlackBerry Messenger, WhatsApp and Viber, meaning users can send messaging or make Internet calls without eating into their data allocation at all. In essence, the company has launched free Internet calling on its mobile network. Zero-rated Skype and FaceTime, where integration is taking longer, will follow later, said Vitai in an interview with TechCentral in advance of a Thursday evening launch event.

All the new plans include free calls to Telkom mobile and fixed destinations (up to 3 000 minutes a month), and on the 20GB and unlimited data options there are also 1 500 and 3 000 bundled minutes respectively to call any network in South Africa. The few users who exceed these (very generous) limits will pay 69c/minute for calls on per-second billing. Out-of-bundle data costs 29c/MB.

The table below provides more detail about the FreeMe plans, which are available to prepaid users on a 30-day rolling window, or on a month-to-month contract basis for a Sim-only option. Those wanting to bundle a handset with their contract can elect to pay for it over an agreed period of time, locking them in until it’s fully paid off.


Vitai said Telkom is confident the new plans will shake up South Africa’s telecommunications industry.

The company has been able to launch the offers after “re-farming” much of its allocation of radio frequency spectrum in the 1,8GHz band for 4G/LTE. Until recently, it had been used exclusively for legacy 2G services.

Though Telkom won’t switch off 2G entirely – it still has several hundred thousand users reliant on it – it has made it clear that its focus has shifted markedly to 4G.

It has already re-farmed 5MHz at 1,8GHz for 4G, with another 5MHz channel to follow. That will leave 2,5MHz to serve its legacy 2G base, which it said is sufficient. It said the 1,8GHz band had become an underutilised and therefore expensive asset to maintain.

Telkom already has a vast chunk of spectrum at 2,3GHz, but this, Vitai said, is better suited for fixed-wireless LTE applications. The 1,8GHz band, on the other hand, is better suited for use by smartphones. Though some newer smartphones can access Telkom’s 2,3GHz LTE network, the operator’s intention is to build a technical solution that prevents this, reserving the higher frequency exclusively for fixed-wireless access in homes and businesses.

Importantly, data on the new FreeMe plans is also available when users roam off Telkom’s network and onto roaming partner MTN’s infrastructure. However, the roaming agreement between the parties is for 2G and 3G only, not for 4G/LTE.

But in written response to a question about this, Telkom played down the fact that it doesn’t roam on MTN’s 4G network.

“Telkom endeavours to keep the vast majority of data demand on the Telkom radio access network and therefore the strategy is to deploy Telkom coverage and capacity to cater for areas which require high data connectivity requirements,” it said.

“The serving radio technology is also specifically planned for different market segments – for example, wireless broadband customers are best served by LTE … in the 2,3GHz band. The nature of roaming agreements doesn’t allow this type of granularity when planning for customer demand.” — © 2016 NewsCentral Media


  1. Best news i have read all week and possibly the year. Congrats Telkom, you actually listen to what your customers want.

    Let the mobile shakeup begin.

  2. baasted_123 on

    Let the games begin…
    Guess Vodacom and MTN have more to worry about than Whatsapp now… LOL

    Well done Telkom… Must say… I never thought I would utter those words. But really… Well done.

  3. Impressed.
    Now Telkom must just get rid of those silly caps on the their FTTH products.

  4. Boom! A volcanic explosion to competitors and a most welcome breath of fresh air to consumers!

  5. I am sure going to move to telkom after all MTN just recently sent letters telling us that they are increasing the pricing but reducing the reqwards or benefits to 15days instead of 30days that it has been. imagine I buy 2GB of MTN @ R260 I can just add R40 and get 5GB with telkom that make sense even more sense that I also get free 50 smses which were not there at MTN one only got the data …….this will real shake the mobile network industry.

  6. Ofentse Letsholo on

    Dankie Telkom, just feed some of us with your LTE even 3G hey as Mabopane is still under 2G… I need Cell C to do this as I’m covered with their LTE-A. Telkom really did something special here 😉

  7. Magnus Springston on

    NOw this is taking the fight to the MNO’s in a big way…. Well done Telkom! we all knew you had in you… somewhere.

  8. Brian Parker on

    This is an awesome offer but how long will Telkom be able to sustain it. Another question will the current bandwidth available be able to handle the uptake as it is my LTE is down more than anything else and when I report it I am told it is network congestion please keep trying

  9. I’m a Telkom user myself and soon due for a renewal, so happy about this. However, I hope all you guys realise that this is just another cell c in the making in the sense that their high sites will be overloaded and unuseable, just like Cell C when they “shook things up” several years ago. It’s a long (and painful) process to be able to handle all the new customers they’re about to take on and I can assure you they aren’t ready for it.
    As always, they will use the money from all those jumping on board to fund the expansion and upgrades of their network (instead of the “proper” way of doing it which is doing it before the masses come).

  10. Michael Cassel on

    CellC has the same unlimited package in their Pinnacle 3 with 5000 minutes fair usage policy. So not really much of a game changer from Telkom for the top end

  11. Michael Cassel on

    And texts are NOT unlimited but you are actually limited to 1500pm based on 50 a day.

  12. Not much of a changer. But we more aware of Telkom’s plans than Cell C’s product because they dont do awareness. Even if overall Telkom product is crappier than Cell C I dont know the Cell C product. These days Marketing and testing the waters as what telkom is doing is important!

  13. With Telkom. I can’t be sure until I see it happening. Bad experiences with them still giving me nightmares.

  14. Well done Telkom, bye bye MTN. After 20 years with you it is divorce time. I just hope Telkom will not become totally congested due to the flood of new Clients they will get with these plans. Ho Ho it off to Telkom I go . Just need to port my number now .

  15. Johannes Bornman on

    Whatever – So these days I cannot send ANY whatsapp images when using my iphone on WiFi with my Telkom LTE router. So probably this whatsapp messaging is not so free because clearly they found a way to block images. I am paying a fortune for 100GB LTE with a huawei router but the speeds came down from where I used to get 30 to 50Mbps down to 9Mbps in the evening, and when I test on 3G it is 10Mbps – so actually LTE is now slower than 3G. So great all this is for free but you cant use it because you have dropped the prices to the point where contention is killing the network.

    Oh and here is another nasty surprise – this great stuff is only available while you are on the Telkom network – not when you are on MTN – which is basically only in major cities and large towns.

    And lastly – oh I cannot phone any VoIP numbers. No Vox or ECN numbers. Because they are exluded in the fine print.

    Whatever Telkom – BS baffles brains.

  16. I suspect this may indeed be the case, however, at those prices you can always trial the prepaid option and jump ship if it doesn’t work out… in contrast to this, early days Cell C more than likely had you locked into a contract and number portability wasn’t quite a thing yet… forced to play a version of Pokemon Go where you try catch one bar of signal in the middle of a busy freeway 🙂

  17. Kristoffel Wiesyafader on

    Great idea, but as someone who is using the Telkom LTE-A uncapped right now, rather wait to see if any issues pop up. I don’t think they will be able to handle the capacity efficiently. Let them iron out the kinks before you commit. Good job though Telkom, there is hope

  18. Haha, yeah, I am sure Telkom will be better prepared than Cell C was. Even on their roaming partner alone, allowing 3G unlike Cell C that only allowed Edge on Vodacom (now thats changed, but too little too late). They’re also in a much better position on all fronts from the get go. Combined with the fact that they’re offering these options on PAYG as you say, it certainly does leave little room for error on their part. Having said that, call me pessimistic – but I still envisage at least several months of a ‘teething’ process as they deal with the floods of new arrivals.

  19. Wayne Gemmell on

    So, if they lose money, will the gov bail them out? It always worries me when parastatals compete on price with public companies.

  20. My lord, I would actaully consider this! R599 for 20 gigs, excellent, now I jsut wonder what their coverage is in my “in the sticks” area..

  21. Christian Masaire on

    Not the biggest shaker though much appreciated, but the reason why most folks are not prepaid to port or change networks specially from mtn is because mtn has all the nits and wits at your finger tips, all the codes for different functions are easy to find regardless of the fact that mtn has the most disgusting call center agents they make things easy for us all, telkom must update and upgrade their call centers, have more blogs, make codes for different functions easy to find and remember …

  22. Erik Saether on

    Internet is still expensive in South Africa. Here in Russia I pay R70 for unlimited data and 400 minutes a month for example. It is a cheaper package and quality not always 100%. But phone costs not an issue any more.

  23. Unfortunately in my “in the sticks” boeredorpie, MTN signal is poor and data connection awful. Telkom Mobile has a very limited own network, mostly urban.

  24. MTN Signal is the only one that works on my farm, nobody I know actaully uses Telkom as a service provider and checking on their website, I can only get 3G roaming, no Telkom 3 G or LTE, Im about 15km short of it….

  25. Cell C ave just quietly sneaked in a 31% increase for data bundles (100mb bundle – R19 to R25), Telkom I’ll see you tomorrow.

  26. Now if Telkom would only allow LTE on a month to month basis instead of forcing a 24 month contract on potential clients then I would sign up in a heartbeat. I just don’t get their ‘take it or leave it’ attitude.

  27. Andrew Wiid on

    What they need to do is make their Internet cheaper, not their cell phone rates.

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