Cell C has signed a new roaming agreement with MTN, which will allow its subscribers to roam on MTN’s network in smaller cities and rural areas.
The agreement excludes the major cities – Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town, and Durban – where Cell C and MTN will maintain their own networks.
The announcement from Cell C surprised the market, as it has been roaming on Vodacom’s network since its launch in 2001.
Cell C CEO Jose dos Santos said an assessment of the wholesale offerings available in the market, which included MTN’s significant network investment in recent times, showed MTN offered the best solution.
A Cell C spokesperson told MyBroadband their decision to partner with MTN was informed by a combination of factors, including price and technology.
Cell C’s roaming partnership with Vodacom did not support seamless handover, which means a subscriber will drop a call if they move from Cell C to Vodacom’s network.
With MTN, a Cell C subscriber will be able to move to the MTN network, or the other way around, without dropping a call or data session.
Mackinnon said seamless handover and the 4G roaming agreement with MTN will improve the customer experience and enable them to sell more services.
MTN was hungry
Mackinnon added that MTN was hungry for Cell C’s business, who is the “biggest customer” in South Africa.
“There was a meeting of the minds between Cell C and MTN, which could not be achieved by Vodacom,” he said.
One of the deciding factors may have been MTN’s willingness to offer Cell C 4G roaming. With Vodacom, Cell C could only roam on its 3G network.
MTN spokesperson Jacqui O’Sullivan told MyBroadband the roaming agreement will provide Cell C with access to another operator’s 4G network for the first time.
“MTN can offer Cell C the service levels the network requires with the added benefit of seamless roaming,” said O’Sullivan.
Vodacom told MyBroadband its current roaming agreement with Cell C to use its 2G and 3G networks in certain areas remains in place for at least another two years.
Mackinnon confirmed they will continue to roam on Vodacom’s network, but this will become less important over time.
He said Cell C will most likely move most of its 3G roaming traffic from Vodacom to MTN, and as 2G becomes less relevant, it will rely less on the Vodacom roaming agreement.
Vodacom downplayed the financial impact of Cell C roaming on MTN’s network, saying it expects its network experience to improve as a result of the agreement.
“In the current spectrum-constrained environment, we will leverage the additional network capacity this will release given that we carry both our traffic and that of Cell C in certain areas,” said a Vodacom spokesperson.
Vodacom said it will mitigate any roaming revenue impact by using the additional capacity to acquire more customers.