How To: Get Cellular, mobile, data and internet in Cape Town - cheaply & efficiently
Prepaid cellular or mobile phone options:
Cellular, mobile service providers available are MTN, Vodacom, Cell C, Virgin Mobile and Telkom. To get going quickly and easily go for a prepaid service option. I would recommend Vodacom for the most comprehensive service without too much irritation with MTN as a second choice. I’ve been with MTN for over a decade but find them ponderous and frustrating when there is any new request or deviation from their service norm.
Get your SIM card at a supermarket or service provider outlet- it should cost you about R2. Resist the urge to buy one as you step off your plane and into Cape Town Airport where you will pay many times this amount. Legislation in South Africa ( called RICA ) means that identification and proof of residential address need to be provided in order to have the SIM card activated. For visitors, presenting your passport and giving the address of your accommodation whilst in the country should suffice.
The ideal way to buy airtime is online but this is not as easy as it would seem in South Africa. The sites that I have visited have verification procedures that are tedious for a resident, let alone a visitor without a local bank account or fixed telephone line; and they force you to buy large Rand amounts of airtime. The best online method I have used is via the website of local bank FNB but you have to have an account with them which rules out many local visitors and anyone from out of South Africa. The simplest option is to get airtime vouchers at the service provider outlets and supermarkets (Pick ‘n Pay, Spar, Checkers, Woolworths), convenience stores and service stations. This goes against the simple logic of buying digital goods online, I know, but bear with us. Nowadays when you put the SIM in your phone they are pretty much self configuring meaning that you can send smss and start web browsing off your phone from when you turn it on.
Fast and functional internet on holiday or business travel:
Getting online in Cape Town- South African internet is quite good and getting better every day. Wifi access points are located in some coffee shops and restaurants and offer limited free access. All too soon you have to haul out the credit card. Many holiday apartments and hotels have in house internet with a wide variety of price and overall quality.
If you want mobility and good value go for the Vodacom data package. This will give you flexibility too. They have a 3G/HSDPA set up where you buy a SIM card and then load pre-paid data onto it. You can use the same SIM as you bought for your phone although this could be clumsy and inconvenient if you are not using your phone as the data modem or main web access device. Data can be purchased as airtime and then converted to the same value of data on the web interface at www.vodacom4me.co.za
. Create an account, log on and go to “My Account” > “Date Bundles”. Basically you get 1.2Gb or 2.3Gb for R289 and R389 respectively. The full range starts a 8Mb and works up to 20Gb and there is also the fancy Advanced data that costs a premium for “guaranteed” bandwidth. The web interface is a straightforward way of monitoring your data usage.
Considerations for happy and satisfying 3G internet use: signal strength- without a decent and constant signal those fast speeds that get advertised will remain a fantasy. Use your phone to see what sort of reception and data signal you get on the Vodacom network. If it looks doubtful then see what the signal of another network looks like- ask someone who has an MTN SIM in their phone. Don't rely on network coverage maps as these don't take reality into account: buildings, micro-dead areas. The other thing is hardware- you are going to use your phone or smartphone, some sort of USB modem or a laptop/netbook with an embedded 3G device that allows you to insert a SIM card. If you are going to hook up via your phone then it is probably best to get familiar with it whilst still at home. I always find that most issues like phone/pc interconnection are best sorted out where the variables are kept to a minimum. If you don’t have a nifty phone or other 3G capable device then you can rent a gateway from us. This will set up your apartment as a private wireless zone or allow you to plug in direct via a network cable- whatever takes your fancy. Excellent where more than one computer user wants independent access via a single device- like a wireless router but even more wireless. You can buy your own data as mentioned above and administer your own usage.