Smartphone Usage and Data Costs in South Africa

A GeoPoll Research Report

South Africa is a market leader in the African smartphone market and easily one of the most developed and sophisticated. GeoPoll, a market researched company, shared insights into this dynamic market through the report of recent research they conducted.


Despite high rates of smartphone adoption, South Africa is plagued by high data costs which have resulted in protests and fierce competition between the country’s leading mobile network operators including MTN and Vodacom. It has been found that data costs in South Africa are more expensive than those found in other sub-Saharan African nations including Kenya, Nigeria, and Ghana.

In order to better understand how South Africans are using their phones, what features and applications they use most often, and how much they are paying for mobile services each month, GeoPoll conducted a study in February 2020 with 400 South Africans.


With a 50-50 male-female split, and 33-33-34 split between ages 18-24, 25-34, and 35+. Respondents were roughly nationally representative across the 9 provinces in South Africa.

The surveys were sent via mobile web, meaning respondents received an SMS message with a link that opened in a browser within their phone. Due to this methodology, all respondents had access to the internet when they took the survey, and 398 out of 400 respondents reported that they own a smartphone, as opposed to a more basic phone with internet access.

We summarize some of the research findings below:

Phone Usage in South Africa

  • 60% own more than one phone
    • the main reasons they do include:
      • business/personal use
      • different services used
      • and to have a backup
  • Smartphones running on the Android platform dominate the SA market:
    • Samsung (49%) and Huawei (27%) are the most used phone brands.
  • iPhones have a stronger showing as “dream phones”:
    • The dream phone for most is an iPhone (46%), followed by a Samsung phone (27%), with the most wanted Samsung phone being a Samsung S10.

In answering the most important factors in a phone, storage space came first.

  • storage space (29%)
  • a long-lasting battery (21%)
  • a good camera (14%)
  • a large enough ROM (14%)
Phone types in South Africa
Phone types in South Africa

Phone and Data costs

Monthly Spend On Phone Services
The majority of respondents, 70%, spend between 100 – 500 ZAR on phone services per month, with 48% spending between 100 – 250 ZAR. Male respondents spent more than their female counterparts on phone services.

  • Less than 100 ZAR – 16%
  • 100 to 250 ZAR – 48%
  • 251 to 500 ZAR – 22%
  • 501 to 1,000 ZAR – 8%
  • 1,001 to 2,000 ZAR – 3%
  • Over 2,000 ZAR – 3%

Phone Plans

  • Prepaid – 76%
  • Postpaid – 13%
  • Both – 11%

App Usage

The survey found out that males are more likely to use WhatsApp while females like Facebook Messenger more.
Other findings are summarised below:

Top Social Media Apps

  • Facebook – 33%
  • YouTube – 20%
  • Twitter – 13%
  • Instagram – 11%

Top Messaging Apps

  • WhatsApp – 58%
  • Facebook Messenger – 30%
  • Skype – 5%
  • Telegram – 5%

Top Streaming Apps

Top Taxi-hailing Apps

  • Uber – 50%
  • Bolt – 28%
  • inDriver – 8%

Credit: GeoPoll

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Oluniyi D. Ajao
Oluniyi D. Ajao is an Internet Entrepreneur and Tech Enthusiast based in South Africa. Follow him on twitter @niyyie for more tech updates.

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