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Telkom finally goes global, but watch those costs

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Telkom mobile has launched full international roaming services to its prepaid and top-up customers, but pricing can be hit-and-miss. 

Previously, these customers could only use SMS roaming. Full roaming includes full access to voice, SMS and data services. Customers can now activate international roaming through Telkom’s self-service platforms, either via the website on the self-service portal, or on USSD shortcode *180#.  Android device users can also use the Telkom app to activate the service.

Data costs remain high, with cost per Megabyte (MB) in each of the countries included in the arrangement priced at R2 per MB, which has been the top rate for data costs in South Africa for well over a decade. At most international airports, travelers are now able to pick up local SIMs that reduce the per-MB cost of data signficiantly.  However, the Telkom roaming option simplifies access, especially on first arriving in a foreign country.

“This is a good opportunity for Telkom that will enable us to provide roaming services to previously excluded customers, resulting in an improvement in our overall customer experience,” says Andrew Dawson, executive for product portfolio management at Telkom. “We will launch in two phases, by first opening up roaming to the countries and network operators listed and, as a second phase, we will target all neighbouring countries within the SADC region.

The countries and networks prepaid international roaming will be available on are:

Country Roaming Partner
United Kingdom Vodafone
United States Telna
United States T-Mobile
United Arab Emirates DU
Botswana Mascom
Botswana Btc Mobile
Botswana Orange
Mozambique Movitel S.A.
Germany Vodafone
Zambia Zamtel
Nigeria MTN Nigeria
Congo (DRC) Africell
Turkey Vodafone Turkey
Italy Vodafone
Cameroon MTN Cameroon
Lesotho Econet

Gadget tested pricing, available from Telkom at https://secure.telkom.co.za/today/campaign/international-roaming/, and found a massive disparity in data prices between listed operators and those that users may find popping up as option on their phones. For phone calls, the partners did not always provide the best options. For example, making a call in the USA while roaming on T-Mobile will cost R5 a minute, compared to R2 a minute on Sprint. As with T-Mobile, the cost of data via Sprint will be R2 per MB.

Travelers should therefore be aware of which operators are included, as well as what the charges will be via alternatives.

When travelling to countires not included, local SIM options are essential to avoid bill shock. For example, roaming on Vodafone in Spain will cost the unwary Telkom customer R400 per MB. That is the same cost as an airport-bought Vodafone SIM card with 3GB pre-loaded.

Similarly, the cost of a local Vodafone call while roaming on Telkom will be R100 a minute – but a fraction of that on a locally-bought SIM.

Dawson says that, thanks to Covid-19, Telkom has seen a significant decline in roaming traffic and revenues, but it is ready to expand its service offering in new markets and territories. 

“Telkom has a prepaid customer base exceeding 12 million where we can add real value and the rates will essentially be similar to post-paid rates,” he said.

It does seem, however, that more work remains to be done on rates agreements.

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