Cell C contract subscribers will stay on Vodacom’s network

Cell C will not be migrating its contract subscribers back from the Vodacom network, Cell C CEO Douglas Craigie Stevenson said during a Q&A at the company’s annual financial results presentation.

Even after Cell C has decommissioned its own cellular network and switched to using a virtual radio access network deployed by MTN, its contract customers will remain on Vodacom.

The confirmation of Cell C’s plans for its contract subscriber base comes after the mobile operator announced last year that it will shut down its cellular network.

Craigie Stevenson said that the transition from operating their own cellular tower infrastructure to a virtual radio access network provisioned by MTN will take place over three years — from 2021 to 2023.

The aim is for Cell C to move away from being a fully-fledged cellular infrastructure operator, reducing its network expenses, facilities leasing costs, and capital expenditure.

Cell C said that it is impossible for it to match Vodacom and MTN’s network investments.

Rather than wage an ever-losing battle trying to build its own network, Cell C’s strategy is to partner with the large mobile network operators and give its subscribers the benefits of their scale.

In addition to its deal with MTN to build and operate a cellular network on Cell C’s behalf, using the radio frequency spectrum assigned to Cell C, the company has also begun migrating its contract subscriber base onto the Vodacom network.

Cell C’s announcement in January that it was migrating contract subscribers to Vodacom rather than MTN was a surprise.

While the company did have a previous roaming agreement in place with Vodacom, it signed a new roaming agreement with MTN in 2018 to replace Vodacom.

Cell C said at the time that it would 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.

The switch from Vodacom to MTN as its roaming partner in 2018 came five years after a public spat between Cell C and Vodacom, where Cell C bemoaned Vodacom’s unwillingness to offer seamless handover.

“Seamless handover” refers to the ability of Cell C subscribers to roam onto a partner network seamlessly, without disconnecting in the middle of a call.

Cell C contract subscriber home screen
Vodacom PLMN name on Cell C contract subscriber device

The surprise announcement from Cell C that it was migrating its contract subscriber base onto the Vodacom network fuelled speculation that the company had sold its contract subscriber base to Vodacom.

However, Vodacom, Cell C, and its shareholder Blue Label Telecoms have vehemently denied that any sale of subscribers took place.

While Cell C and Vodacom are trying to make the migration look like a simple roaming agreement, many industry players are disputing this.

MyBroadband received information from an industry insider that Vodacom has taken over all upgrades, credit vetting, and collections for Cell C’s contract customers after they were moved to the Vodacom network.

Contract subscribers who have been migrated also no longer see “Cell C” as their network name, but “Vodacom” instead.

When MyBroadband asked Cell C if its contract customers also run through the Vodacom core network, Craigie Stevenson said: “No, they run through our core.”

Vodacom and Cell C have been tight-lipped about the details of this deal.

“These commercial agreements, their existence and their terms are confidential between Cell C and the counter parties to the contract,” Cell C previously told MyBroadband when asked for more information.

Vodacom would also not answer any questions regarding the relationship, saying it is “contractually precluded” from commenting on the matter.

Now read: Cell C’s new prepaid fixed-LTE tested in a smartphone – with surprising results

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Cell C contract subscribers will stay on Vodacom’s network