Ed update: The feature is still rolling out, so if it does not give you a notification, just be patient!
Google has recently enabled South African users to use their free SMS service that allows Gmail users to send free SMS messages within Gmail chat to supported networks both locally and internationally. While sending an sms from chat is free, replying via SMS from a phone to Gmail is charged at regular SMS rates.
At the moment, MTN and 8ta are the only supported service providers.
This is how it works: Each user is given 50 credits, 1 for each message sent, that is provided upon activating the service. With every reply received in Chat, the user’s credit increases by five, up to a maximum of 50.
Google explains that “If your SMS credit goes down to zero at any point, it will increase back up to one 24 hours later. So, you won’t ever be locked out of the system.” Extra credit can be “bought” simply by sending messages from Gmail to one’s own phone and replying to that message via SMS multiple times.
8ta senior manager, Amith Maharaj explained that the reason it decided to support the service is to bring relevant and convenient services to its customers. Maharaj also commented that 8ta has a direct agreement with Google, and that 8ta customers can look forward to continued support while on the 8ta network as well as roaming on MTN.
With regard to Cell C and Vodacom’s position on the possibility of bringing the service to their customers in South Africa, Vodacom is looking into providing the service for South Africa and interestingly enough is currently supporting the service in other African countries including Tanzania, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Cell C, has a similar response with spokesperson Karin Fourie saying that the company is in discussions with Google and is currently testing the feasibility of the service.