Cell C in no rush for 5G

Cell C is the only South African mobile operator that doesn’t offer 5G connectivity, and although it has plans to support the technology, it isn’t in any rush.

The company told MyBroadband that it is busy modernising its core network to the architecture necessary for 5G deployment and added that it is progressing discussions with network partners.

This is the same response the mobile operator gave in August 2023.

“Cell C is currently in the process of modernising its core network to the latest architecture necessary for 5G deployment and progressing discussions with the network partner,” it said.

Cell C recently completed its network migration, which involved establishing agreements with MTN and Vodacom to provide its customers with connectivity.

MTN provides Cell C with a “virtual radio access network” for its prepaid and mobile virtual network operator subscribers, while Cell C’s contract customers roam on Vodacom’s network.

Cell C CEO Jorge Mendes recently said the company is working to update its wholesale and roaming agreements with MTN and Vodacom.

He couldn’t provide further details but said he expects to be able to start making announcements in the coming days.

Although both MTN and Vodacom have 5G networks, having access to the radio spectrum isn’t the only requirement for Cell C to offer 5G connectivity. It must first upgrade its core network to support the technology.

Mendes previously said Cell C wasn’t in any rush to launch 5G products as it “unlocks nothing” for consumers.

“2G to 3G unlocked data, 3G to 4G unlocked [streaming] video, 4G to 5G unlocks nothing,” he said.

Mendes added that he isn’t knocking 5G as a technology, as it benefits network operators by helping them support greater traffic volumes more efficiently.

“However, the benefits 5G unlocks for consumers is not obvious, not transparent,” he said.

Mendes explained that while 5G connectivity offers significant benefits for enterprise purposes, operators such as Vodacom and MTN struggle to monetise their 5G networks at a consumer level.

Despite this, he said these network operators won’t charge Cell C more to let customers roam on 5G networks as they want as much traffic on their 5G networks as possible because it’s more efficient.

Jorge Mendes, Cell C CEO

Rain was the first to launch a commercial 5G network in South Africa in September 2019. While it initially only provided coverage in Johannesburg and Tshwane, the company has since expanded its network to offer 5G nationwide.

Vodacom was next to offer 5G, launching mobile and fixed wireless broadband services using the technology in May 2020.

Its launch was aided by the additional emergency spectrum allocated under the Independent Communication Authority of South Africa’s Covid-19 disaster regulations, of which it used a portion to launch its 5G network.

MTN followed suit a few months later. It launched commercial 5G services in selected neighbourhoods in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Bloemfontein, and Port Elizabeth in June 2020.

Telkom launched its 5G network in October 2022, which Telkom consumer business CEO Lunga Siyo described as the “most 5G-ready network in the country”.

Telkom’s 5G network had been in testing since February 2021 using closed-access sites in selected parts of the country.

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Cell C in no rush for 5G