Cell C, South Africa’s smallest mobile operator by subscribers, has announced plans to deploy a 3.5G HSPA+ network in 2010, aiming to invest a total of ZAR5 billion (USD659.98 million) in its networks over the course of the year. According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, the company is the last incumbent operator in South Africa to deploy 3G services, as rivals Vodacom and MTN deployed W-CDMA networks in 2004 and 2005 respectively. Meanwhile Cell C’s mobile data offerings have been restricted to its GPRS/EDGE networks, offering download speeds of up to just 244kbps. The company estimates that its new network will be capable of peak download speeds of 21Mbps, approximately three times faster than the HSDPA-based offerings of its competitors. Company CEO Lars Reichelt confirmed that Cell C would become a true mobile broadband operator in the next year and while no specific details regarding the rollout were released he said that he expected ‘significant coverage’ by year-end 2010. Reichelt added that the cellco has already started migrating voice traffic to their higher frequency bands to accommodate HSPA+ services on the 900MHz band.
Cell C also revealed that it has applied to the independent communications authority of South Africa (ICASA) for 2.6GHz Long Term Evolution (LTE) spectrum, but is not too optimistic about its chances of being allocated spectrum or the immediate value of LTE. Reichelt said that LTE is a highly complex technology and may well suffer from restrictive pricing and slow take-up as experienced when 3G was first introduced to the market. In September 2009 the regulator revised legislation regarding the allocation of spectrum and confirmed that it plans to auction four concessions in the 2.6GHz band in the near future, although a date for the tender has still not been set.