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MTN vs Vodacom data/voice plan for use in South Africa

Austin, Texas
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MTN vs Vodacom data/voice plan for use in South Africa

Hello. I will be arriving at Johannesburg Tambo Airport (JNB) in a few weeks, and planning ahead at which local data/voice carrier to use. I have a USA-based iPhone 5 on Verizon, which according to the Apple store, does have a GSM chip for use outside of the USA. All it needs is a South African SIM card.

I want to pick up a SIM card at the JNB airport. I see Vodacom and MTN are two big providers in South Africa, and I wonder which people suggest, Vodacom vs MTN? I am looking for reliable 3G data coverage. We will be in Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth, Addo, and towns on the Garden Route including Storms River, Plettenberg Bay, Knysna, and Hermanus. Also a couple days in Victoria Falls Zimbabwe, but I am assuming no coverage will be available there, which is fine.

Also, I want my iPhone 5 to be a mobile hotspot for other devices, such as a laptop computer and tablet. My USA Verizon Wireless iPhone does let me activate a mobile hotspot, and I wonder if Vodacom or MTN sim cards are compatible with the mobile hotspot feature on the iPhone 5?

Edited: 14 August 2014, 22:48
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Johannesburg
Johannesburg
Greater Johannesburg, South Africa
Johannesburg Intl Airport
Johannesburg Intl Airport
Johannesburg, South Africa
Port Elizabeth
Port Elizabeth
Eastern Cape, South Africa
Garden Route
Garden Route
107 Reviews
Western Cape, South Africa
Plettenberg Bay
Plettenberg Bay
Western Cape, South Africa
Knysna
Knysna
Western Cape, South Africa
Hermanus
Hermanus
Overstrand, South Africa
Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls
Matabeleland North Province, Zimbabwe
Washington DC...
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1. Re: MTN vs Vodacom data/voice plan for use in South Africa

From my reading here it seems that, as with many things, people have their preferences with some leaning towards MTN and others to Vodacom. I think you won't go wrong if you select Vodacom. I recently used its Sim card in the Jo'burg and Greater Kruger Region and had excellent coverage.

Sorry, can't help with the hotspot question. Why not ask Vodacom directly? If you choose to do so, here's the email address at JNB: jiamanager@cellucity.co.za

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Johannesburg Intl Airport
Johannesburg Intl Airport
Johannesburg, South Africa
Austin, Texas
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2. Re: MTN vs Vodacom data/voice plan for use in South Africa

Thanks for their email address.

Brisbane, Australia
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3. Re: MTN vs Vodacom data/voice plan for use in South Africa

I have a vodacom sim and in Urban areas it goes between H+ to 4G signal. Even in a mining town in the middle of nowhere (Northern Cape) I still had decent coverage. There is coverage at Vic Falls but you will need to be on International roaming.

Mobile hotspots as far as I know are dependent on the phone and not the carrier. You will need to make sure your phone is un-locked. Carriers can lock you to their service, so you should talk to verizon and confirm.

It's also worth noting that a lot of places (restaurants and hotels/guest houses) have wifi available. The internet speeds here aren't fantastic, but it works!

Washington DC...
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4. Re: MTN vs Vodacom data/voice plan for use in South Africa

Here's what Verizon customers need or not need to do, from Verizon:

Can I unlock my Global Ready™ device while traveling overseas to use local service?

Yes, you can unlock your device to use local service. The steps required to unlock your device vary by the type of device you have:

4G Global Ready devices - 4G Global Ready devices are unlocked by default. You don't need to do anything to unlock it.

3G Global Ready devices - If you have a 3G device, call Customer Service at *611 from your mobile phone or (800) 922-0204. For the unlock request to be processed, you must have an active Verizon Wireless account for at least 60 days in good standing.

The iPhone 5 should be good to go.

Austin, Texas
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5. Re: MTN vs Vodacom data/voice plan for use in South Africa

Thanks Steveb. I called Verizon Wireless and confirmed the iPhone 5 (and 5C/5S) are all globally unlocked, meaning an overseas SIM card will work. Older phones, like the iPhone 4 and 4S must be unlocked for use globally by calling 800-711 8300.

All I need to do is put in a SIM card.

Only question at this point is the Personal Hotspot feature. Andrew C, I believe the carrier (or maybe the SIM card) is what controls the Personal Hotspot feature on the phone. For example, I know that Verizon Wireless's tiered 4G plans include Personal Hotspot but an older unlimited or old Loyalty plan will not have that feature regardless of the phone you use. I think the same thing applies to AT&T customers, new plans work with Personal Hotspot while older plans would not.

Anyway, I have read online that within the last year, all carriers in South Africa have the Personal Hotspot feature allowed for iPhone 5 users but I have been unable to find confirmation of this.

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6. Re: MTN vs Vodacom data/voice plan for use in South Africa

Sorry there are no hotspots with the providers in SA. It is not normal here in SA.

Austin, Texas
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7. Re: MTN vs Vodacom data/voice plan for use in South Africa

I just returned from South Africa, and sure enough, my iPhone 5 did work as a mobile hotspot. Used the Vodacom service which I pre-paid for through the http://b4i.travel site. Also Google Maps worked well to navigate us all around South Africa (from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town and the highways & towns in between).

Used an iPhone 5, iOS version 7.0.4, went to "Personal Hotspot" in Settings, turned it on, and it worked. So FYI to anyone else traveling to South Africa, the Vodacom nano sim I pre-paid from http://b4i.travel worked exactly the same as my Verizon Wireless service.

Note to anyone with an iPhone 4. As mentioned above, you must request an UNLOCK from your carrier BEFORE you travel and try to use another SIM card in your phone. My girlfriend had to do this with her iPhone 4, and I was glad we figured it out before we flew to South Africa. She filled out the AT&T unlock request online, then we got the unlock confirmation by email with instructions on how to factory reset her iPhone 4. Rather than following their instructions to upgrade the iOS version on her iPhone 4, we accomplished this by doing a full backup on iTunes when the iPhone was USB connected to the computer. Then we disconnected the iPhone from the computer, went to Settings on the phone, General, Reset, Erase All Content And Settings. Once the iPhone was factory reset, re-connected it to the computer, and got a message congratulating us that the iPhone was unlocked. Did a "Restore from Backup" on iTunes, and we were done. Had to re-download apps on the phone, but at least the phone was unlocked, and there seemed to be no easier way than this to do the unlock. Her iPhone 4 worked great with a Duo Sim pre-paid for oh the http://b4i.travel site.

Edited: 16 October 2014, 19:09
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Port Elizabeth
Port Elizabeth
Eastern Cape, South Africa
Cape Town
Cape Town
Western Cape, South Africa
New York
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8. Re: MTN vs Vodacom data/voice plan for use in South Africa

Yeah. I am also going to use that Vodakom website b4itravel.com to get a SIM before my upcoming holiday to SA. The good thing is that they email you the telephone number 2 weeks before your arrival. You just pick it up at the vodakom shop at the airport.

I will just get the SIM and a small voice prepaid. Later I can top up elsewhere as the airport and the website charge quite a lot more than average. (R99 for the SIM !)

Edited: 16 October 2014, 20:45
Cape Town Central...
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9. Re: MTN vs Vodacom data/voice plan for use in South Africa

I think Annemieke misunderstood the "hotspot" question. On my Samsung phone I have a facility called "portable hotspot". This means I can make my phone behave like a WiFi router whenever the phone has a good data signal. Then my laptop sees the phone as a standard WiFi service. Have already used it on standard MTN and Vodacom sims, as well as cheap sims in Botswana and Namibia. Have never needed to tell sim provider that I will use my phone as portable WiFi hotspot, as far as the sim is concerned it is data and the sim needs not be aware there is WiFi in the background.

When we travel as a couple, my wife's phone gets a local sim because she likes her WhatsApp, Facebook and Gmail. I retain my roaming sim for voice and text, switch off data roaming it is too expensive, but use her phone as the WiFi hotspot so that my internet service continues.

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Namibia
Namibia
Africa
Montreal, Canada
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10. Re: MTN vs Vodacom data/voice plan for use in South Africa

I'm Canadian. I have a T-Mobile SIM card for when I travel to the USA with a $3/day plan. I've used this SIM card multiple times with different older phones (Nexus One, Galaxy Nexus, Samsung S3) and activated the personal hotspot for my wife's benefit.

Last week, I loaned my card to a friend for a week-end in Vermont. He owns a Nexus 5 running Android 5-Lollipop. When he tried to turn on the hotspot function, he was directed to a T-Mobile walled garden where he was informed he needed to subscribe to this function.

I don't have more info than that and have not yet tried to use one of my phones to verify if it is specific to more advanced phones / more recent Android versions.

But the conclusion here is : hotspot (also called teethering) may or may not work and seems to be controlled by the provider. It looks like the phone is telling the provider that the functions has been turned on and asks for permission. What remains to be determined is if all operating systems / versions can be controlled that way or only the more recent.

-p.

(edited for spelling errors)

Edited: 24 January 2015, 22:29