Free Data

Who doesn’t like free data?

Every now and then I’ve thought up a project that would need mobile network connectivity. A bit of data for some mobile-data-based IoT thing or something running on one of my non-primary-phones. I balked at the idea of paying Vodacom (my primary carrier) their exorbitant data rates for a few “hobby” SIMs so the hunt was on to find the cheapest alternative.

So, here’s how I get 6GB of data across 6 SIM cards for around R6pm.

You said Free Data, you lied!

I didn’t lie, the data is 100% free. However, to consistently get that free data, you’ve gotta keep those SIMs alive. We’ll get to how to do that later..

The Process

  1. Acquire (up to) 6 MTN SIM Cards, remember to carry relevant RICA Documents.
  2. Insert a SIM into a phone (ideally a spare phone) and get the phone number attached to the SIM.
  3. Install the Afrihost App (Link here)
    • You may have to add in a payment method, I was already an Afrihost client so my details were already in the app.
  4. To Add the SIM to Air Mobile:
    1. In the Afrihost App, in the products tab, tap the + in the top right, then “Air Mobile”
    2. Tap “Air Mobile Prepaid”
    3. Enter the number from Step 2
    4. Follow the rest of the steps in the App
  5. On your phone:
    1. Give consent to Air Mobile to manage your SIM using steps here.
  6. (Optional) – Remove the SIM card and put it into the device that will use the data
  7. Make sure the device with the SIM in has the correct APN credentials.
  8. On the first of every month, you will be able to claim your 1GB Free data!

Repeat the above steps for each SIM card.

Keeping the SIMs Alive

Now for the non-free part. How do we stop MTN from cancelling the sims?

This is a cool photo, not a metaphor (Image Credit)

Click the date in my tweet below to see their replies:

If you don’t make a “chargeable transaction every now and then” the SIMs will get cancelled. That’s where the ±R6pm comes in.

Every two months, I’ve been doing the following:

  1. Load R12 airtime onto SIM 1
  2. Put SIM 1 into a phone
  3. Transfer R2 to SIMs 2 to 6 (using USSD *136*3#), leaving a R2 balance on each SIM
  4. Make a call with SIM 1 until balance is depleted.
  5. Place all other SIM cards (2 – 6) into a phone and make a call until balance is depleted.
  6. Return SIMs back to their devices

Per my experience, this has been enough to keep my SIMs alive (and I’ve had them for 7 months now). I wasn’t willing to risk a SIM to explore how long it actually takes before it’s cancelled so that exercise is left to the reader! If you’re daring, this 6 year old article from MyBroadband says 90 days. MTN can at any time change how they define “an active SIM card” so YMMV.


For a little bit of bi-monthly admin, you can now slap a SIM into that Raspberry Pi HAT or turn that old phone into a GPS tracker/in-car Navigation/Music device. My previous Grandmother Communicator and Resurrected Ten Year Old Android Tablet projects get data from these SIMs when not on WiFi.

Air Mobile also has a pretty great data rollover policy where each Free 1GB lasts for 3 months. So if you don’t use any data on a SIM, it can accumulate up to 3GB.

Now my projects can live outside the home WiFi!

If you have any questions/would like to share your experience with Free Data, Afrihost or Air Mobile, leave a reply below. To receive an email when I publish a post, subscribe here.

(Featured image remixed from this photo)

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