Vodacom, MTN head-to-head subscriber race intensifies

Read time 3min 50sec
MTN and Vodacom have over 73 million South African customers between them.
MTN and Vodacom have over 73 million South African customers between them.

South Africa's two biggest mobile operators, MTN and Vodacom, continue to rake in subscribers and have over 73 million local subscribers between them, and most of their African operations continue to grow.

This is according to data gathered from MTN's quarterly update for the period ended 31 March 2019 and Vodacom's annual results for the year ended 31 March 2019.

MTN operates in 21 countries across the Middle East and Africa, while Vodacom has six African operations, including its stake in Safaricom in Kenya.

MTN group subscribers increased overall by four million, to 236.6 million, quarter-on-quarter, and the group added a mammoth 15.7 million new subscribers when compared to the first quarter of 2018 when it had 220.8 million customers.

Vodacom, meanwhile, had 110 million group subscribers at the end of March 2019, including Safaricom, up 5.8% from the previous year.

South Africa is really where they compete head-to-head, and at the moment Vodacom is still winning the subscriber race with 43.2 million subscribers at the end of March, compared to MTN's 30 million.

In SA, Vodacom added 1.5 million new subscribers between 31 March 2018 and 31 March 2019, growing its customer base by 3.7% to 43.2 million. On a quarter-on-quarter basis, however, the local subscribers actually dropped by 1.5% compared to 43.8 million customers at the end of December 2018 and was down even more from the 44 million customers it had at the end of September 2018.

For MTN the story was similar. MTN South Africa grew its subscriber base by 0.7% year-on-year, to just over 30 million, but on a quarter-on-quarter basis its subscriber base dropped by 3.8%.

Out of Vodacom's 43.2 million South African customers, the vast majority, 37.3 million, are prepaid customers and just 5.8 million are postpaid. Similarly, MTN SA has 24.1 million prepaid customers out of 30 million in total and about 5.9 million postpaid customers.

South African customers Vodacom vs. MTN (thousand)

Further afield

MTN and Vodacom do not operate in any of the same territories outside of SA, but the majority of their international operations continue to grow.

When it comes to Vodacom's international operations, the telco has seen decent year-on-year subscriber growth in most of its operations.

Vodacom Tanzania increased its customers by 9.6% year-on-year to 14.1 million at the end of March 2019. Vodacom customers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) ticked up 3% to 12.2 million and Vodacom Mozambique grew its customer base by 12%, to 6.8 million year-on-year.

Vodacom Lesotho was the only territory to lose customers year-on-year, dropping 7.8% to 1.46 million. Safaricom in Kenya also grew its subscribers by 7.7% to 31.8 million at the end of March 2019.

Vodacom international customers (thousand)

MTN's business in Nigeria has the largest subscriber numbers for the group, at 60.3 million, and grew 10.5% year-on-year and 3.6% quarter-on-quarter.

Excluding Nigeria and SA, the group breaks down its operations into three regions: Southern and East Africa and Ghana (SEAGHA), West and Central Africa (WECA), and Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

The SEAGHA region grew by 13.4% year-on-year, to total 45 million subscribers. Standout growth came from Ghana, which added 2.4 million subscribers year-on-year, a 15% increase to 18.6 million. South Sudan also saw huge growth from a low base of 762 000 customers at the end of March 2018 to 1.1 million a year later, a 44.7% jump in customers. eSwatini (Swaziland), meanwhile, lost 62 000 subscribers over the year, dropping 6% to 948 000 subscribers at the end of March 2019.

The WECA region grew by 13.1% to 32.4 million customers. Cameroon grew its customer base by 32.5% year-on-year, to 8.7 million, while Benin ticked up 17% to 5.1 million customers.

The MENA region remained fairly flat, growing by just 1% to 68.9 million customers. This as Syria lost 205 000 customers, while Sudan and Iran gained 542 000 and 232 000 customers respectively.

MTN international customers (thousand)

See also