House & Home

Setting up TV, phone, and internet in South Africa

Shortly after arriving in South Africa, you will need to set up your TV, phone, and internet. Discover everything about how to do this successfully.


By Gayatri Bhaumik

Updated 16-1-2024

After you have sorted out your visa, found a house and a job, and settled your children into school, you may be ready for the next step of making your new country home. This may include taking out health insurance and setting up a bank account.

Of course, life without modern means of communication has become unimaginable. South Africa offers a wide range of telecommunications. With so many choices, figuring out which provider to choose when setting up your TV, phone, and internet may be overwhelming.

Do not fret; here is the key information about phone companies in South Africa:


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TV, phone, and internet

For many years, the state monopolized the telecommunications sector in South Africa. Telkom provided landlines, and the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) aired radio and TV. Both were state-owned enterprises.

Cell tower in Johannesburg.
Johannesburg. (Photo: Tebogo Losaba/Unsplash)

Soon after the first democratic election in 1994, the state sold some of its Telkom shares to expand telephone services to under-serviced areas and populations. In collaboration with Vodafone, Telkom also launched the first mobile networks. That subsidiary has now become Vodacom, whose largest shareholder is Vodafone.

First introduced to the country in 1988, South Africans often went online at work or internet cafes; it only became privately available in 1992. It wasn’t until the arrival of wireless broadband and mobile internet that most people got access.

Although privatized, the current telecom landscape is still primarily operated by companies (partially) owned by the state. However, despite the heavy state influence, Freedom House ranks South Africa’s internet freedom at 73 out of 100, based on obstacles to access, limits on content, and user rights violations.

Television (TV) in South Africa

SABC owns three of the four main TV channels in South Africa. These include SABC 1, SABC 2, and SABC 3. The fourth main station is the free-to-air channel, eTV, owned by the company eMedia Investments.

There are also regional community stations, such as Cape Town TV, Soweto TV, Mpuma Kapa TV, and Tshwane TV, for more local programming. Other TV channels include the paid subscription operator M-Net and local digital satellite providers, including DStv and StarSat.

You will need a valid license to watch TV. Annual fees are R264, but users can pay R28 in monthly installments. Failure to pay can incur penalties.

Despite the threat of a hefty fine, over 80% of registered users refuse to pay for public broadcasts. So, in August 2022, the ruling political party Africa National Congress (ANC) proposed that the government replace the TV licenses with a TV tax.

South African landlines

As with everywhere else, the popularity of fixed lines is waning. According to a 2022 Statistics South Africa survey, 0.7% of all households only used a landline, 90.3% had a cell phone only, and 7.4% used a combination of the two.

Girl holding the receiver of a corded black landline phone in South Africa.
Photo: cottonbro/Pexels

Currently, semi-privatized Telkom is the sole fixed-line provider as their rival Neotel went out of business in 2016. Telkom offers landlines from R209/month, which you can order online. After you’ve completed the purchase, they will ensure that the necessary infrastructure is available and contact you to confirm the installation.

However, many South Africans connect their landline using VoIP technology instead of using Telkom. VoIP stands for Voice over Internet Protocol. It can convert voice into a digital signal that can travel via existing internet connections rather than analog phone lines.

Mobile phones in South Africa

Cell phones are popular in South Africa, and the country is spearheading the 5G roll-out across the continent.

The country has several Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs), but the five main mobile phone providers are:

You can get a pre-paid sim card or a contract from these providers. As South African contracts require proof of residency and usually do not offer good value for money, 84% of South Africans use pre-paid mobiles.

Phone numbers

South Africa uses a closed phone number system. The numbers are 10 digits long, and all start with a zero.

Fixed line phone numbers

The first three digits of a landline number indicate the area or city. For example, 011 means Johannesburg, 021 is for Cape Town, and 031 is for Durban.

The seven digits that follow are a home or business’s unique phone number. For example, the number of the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg is 011 309 4700.

Mobile phone numbers

Traditionally, cell phone numbers didn’t have an area code but a phone carrier code. The first three to five digits indicated which phone provider people had and usually started with a 06, 07, or 08.

Man using his cell phone to take a picture of the sun set.
Photo: Karabo Mdluli/Unsplash

For example, phone numbers that started with 072 and 082 were held by Vodacom, 073 and 083 were from MTN, and 074 and 084 were from Cell C. A phone number beginning with 080 is toll-free.

However, since the early 2000s, cell phone users could keep their number when they switch carriers.

Calling internationally

When you are calling from abroad, you might run into some issues by just dialling the number you have on file. That is because you should first use your country’s exit code and the country code for South Africa (+27). The exit code instructs your phone service provider that the call is to an international number.

Next, you can omit the first zero of the phone number and dial the rest of the phone number.

For example, the exit code of South Africa is zero, and the country code is 27. The exit code of the Netherlands is 00, and the country code is 31. So when you are in the Netherlands calling the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, the number you’ll dial is 0027 11 309 4700.

Likewise, if you call the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam from South Africa, the number is 031 20 570 5200.

Emergency numbers in South Africa

If you need emergency services in South Africa, you can call from any phone:

Using mobile phone (all services)112
Emergency numbers in South Africa

Note that you cannot dial 911, 999, or 112 for help, as these calls will not be transferred.

Internet in South Africa

In 2020, South Africa had 41,52 million internet users, 70% of the country’s population. People access the internet on their mobile devices (58.7%), at work (18.6%), at home (9.1%), or elsewhere (10.7%).

A father and son at home looking at the screen of a desktop computer, using the internet.
Photo: Tsebo Clinton/Unsplash

The average download speed on mobile internet is 38,11 Mbps, and on fixed broadband, 36,11 Mbps. Although that doesn’t sound too bad, it places the country 88th on the list of worldwide broadband speed.

Home broadband in South Africa (fiber, (A)DSL, and LTE) is extremely expensive compared to the rest of the world. In 2022, the cheapest package is R529, while the most costly is R1,921.75. On average, a home broadband connection costs R1,047/month. Mobile internet is much cheaper, with an average of R78.50/1GB of data.

South Africa has several options when it comes to internet service providers. Those with the fastest median download speed are:

Mobile internet providers

Fixed internet providers

You can also compare broadband deals with sites such as MoneyExpert South Africa and Hippo.

How to connect to the internet in South Africa

Installing the internet at your home is easy. Most companies allow you to apply online.

You will have to provide personal details, such as your name, address, phone number, and payment details. Once the provider approves the application, they will arrange for a technician to visit your home to complete the installation.

Connecting to the internet on your mobile phone is even easier. All you have to do is get pre-paid or contract, and you’re good to go.

Getting a VPN

Investing in a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a good idea. VPNs can help you access the internet anonymously and help unblock online content. Available VPNs in South Africa include:

Paying your telecommunications bill

As explained above, telecom services in South Africa are offered separately.

TV licenses are issued for one year and can be paid monthly or yearly. Payment can be made in person at designated pay points or online via your banking portal.

For phone services, you can opt for a pre-paid phone or contract. Depending on your choice, you can pay online, use the provider’s app (e.g., Telkom), or in person at a kiosk (e.g., MTN).

Internet services are usually on a 12-month contract that auto-debits from your credit card or bank account. However, fixed internet services can also be settled at a bank or post office.

You will receive a fine when your payments are in arrears or unpaid. Next, the provider may cut off your service, default, or cancel your contract. Eventually, the provider will hand over your debt to an attorney for debt collection.

If you are struggling to pay your bills, it is best to request help from a debt management company as soon as possible.

Telecommunications repairs

You can contact your service provider directly if you have an issue with your TV, phone, or internet connection. You can do so via phone, email, or through their website. The service provider will often try and solve the problem over the phone. If necessary, though, they can send a technician to your home.

In the meantime, you might need to borrow a device from family, friends, neighbors, or even your work.

Making a complaint about a service provider

If the provider cannot resolve the issue or you are unhappy with the outcome, you can file a complaint with the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA). This independent watchdog oversees South Africa’s telecommunications, including the internet, TV, and mobile phone services.

To start, you must file a complaint with your service provider directly. If they don’t respond within 14 working days, you can take your case to the ICASA. The organization has a complaint form on its website, and you should get a reference number for your case within 48 hours.

Alternative communication platforms

VoIP and instant messaging

Many telecom companies offer VoIP packages that access apps like WhatsApp, Skype, Instagram, and TikTok. While these are usually general VoIP packages, some providers provide specific access to these communication apps, such as with a daily, weekly, and monthly WhatsApp bundle.

instant messaging apps on mobile phone
Photo: Adem AY/Unsplash

The exact cost of VoIP access differs by bundle and provider. For example, Telkom’s monthly WhatsApp bundles start from R40 for 1.5GB, and Vodacom’s hourly WhatsApp bundle is R1/10MB.

Internet cafes in South Africa

Although they are getting less popular, you can still find some internet cafés in South Africa, especially in urban areas. Many of these have been added to the existing call-copy-fax shops. Again, prices differ per provider, but you can expect to pay roughly R5 for 15 minutes of internet access.

To find an internet café, you can check the South African Yellow Pages or African Advice.

Useful resources