Picture: THAPELO MOREBUDI
Picture: THAPELO MOREBUDI

In this edition of Business Day Spotlight, we talk about the progress made in implementing Cell C’s new network strategy.

Host Mudiwa Gavaza is joined by Schalk Visser, chief technology officer at Cell C, together with Simo Mkhize, the mobile operator’s chief commercial officer.

Cell C is in the process of shifting away from owning and operating its own network infrastructure in favour of roaming agreements with MTN and Vodacom. The company uses its own spectrum through network towers operated by the larger players and is set to take part in the now delayed  auction.

With more than 5,000 towers across SA, Cell C says it would have to invest R1.5bn per year for 18 years, coming up to roughly R27bn, to catch up to Vodacom and MTN’s network footprint. Hence the decision to go in a different direction.

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The mobile operator is now in the process of implementing the plan, having started to turn off its towers.

In this first phase, the focus has been in three provinces, namely the Eastern Cape, Free State and Northern Cape which are now 100% complete. In the next six months Cell C plans to decommission a further 10% of its network sites, with a focus in North-West, Limpopo, Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga.

Mudiwa Gavaza. Picture: DOROTHY KGOSI.
Mudiwa Gavaza. Picture: DOROTHY KGOSI.

Visser explains the rationale behind Cell C new strategy and how it will work. He also explains the difference between the two network agreements that Cell C has in place with Vodacom and MTN. He says their agreement with Vodacom is a traditional roaming agreement, where Cell C uses their network in areas where they don’t have coverage. The second deal goes beyond just roaming, allowing them to build a radio access network using MTN infrastructure.

Mkhize talks about the economics of putting such plan into action. He says this arrangement gives Cell C the flexibility to not have to spend billions in capital expenditure to catch to the network footprint of the two large operators. Rather, Cell C now pays for what it uses. Mkhize also assures that service for customers will not be affected, saying it will, in fact, get better, with more products and services set to come.

The discussion focuses on why is Cell C decommissioning its radio access network; clarity around Cell C’s network structure versus that of an MVNO; the future of Cell C’s network, roaming on MTN and Vodacom; thoughts around the current spectrum allocation impasse; infrastructure sharing as a model for doing business as a telco of the future; and how Covid-19 has changed the telecoms sector. 

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 Business Day Spotlight is a MultimediaLIVE production.

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