Cell C starts moving prepaid customers to MTN’s network in 3 provinces

Cell C has migrated its prepaid customers in two provinces to MTN’s network, while the majority of its contract and broadband customers are now roaming on Vodacom’s network.

This is the latest update from the operator on its progress in shutting down its physical radio network infrastructure and moving subscribers to its roaming partners’ networks.

The shift forms part of Cell C’s turnaround strategy to reduce its network expenses, facilities leasing costs, and capital expenditure, and pull itself from the brink of complete financial ruin.

The country’s fourth largest mobile operator’s latest financial results for the 12 months ending 2020 revealed a loss of R5.5 billion before tax, largely due to a once-off impairment in the first half of the year.

For the second half it posted a profit of R2.1 billion, which the company has attributed to an increased focus on more profitable customers and a reduction in operating costs.

The switching off of its own radio network infrastructure played a key part in the latter.

Cell C is of the view that it is impossible to compete with Vodacom and MTN’s network investments, which is why it is instead partnering with them to give subscribers the benefits of their network footprints.

As part of this, Cell C contract and broadband customers are in the process of being moved to Vodacom’s network, whereas prepaid customers are being switched to MTN.

This will allow Cell C to gradually turn off its towers without customers’ cellular connectivity being impacted.

Coinciding with this, the operator is building its own virtual Radio Access Network (RAN) on MTN’s network over the next three years, with completion scheduled for late 2023.

This virtual RAN will be used to connect prepaid customers to Cell C’s network, while contract and broadband customers will stay on Vodacom’s network for the foreseeable future.

Douglas Craigie Stevenson
Cell C CEO Douglas Craigie Stevenson

Cell C told MyBroadband it has now completed the transition of prepaid customers to MTN in the Eastern Cape and Free State, in addition to beginning migration in certain parts of KwaZulu-Natal, Northern Cape, and Western Cape.

The process would be seamless for both its direct prepaid and MVNO subscribers and they would continue to see the Cell C wording in the network indicator section of their devices.

Cell C said prepaid customers would benefit significantly from this migration.

It said customers previously had access to 5,500 base station sites (towers) before it started with the transition to MTN in January 2021, with approximately 50% of these able to carry 4G/LTE traffic.

After the transition period, Cell C customers can connect to 12,500 MTN sites, in addition to infrastructure MTN builds over the next three years, most of which are 4G/LTE-ready.

It should be noted, however, that this does address the fact that Cell C customers would supposedly already have had access to some or all of MTN’s towers under the roaming agreement before the migration.

Looking at the migration of its Cell C’s contract customers, the operator first started moving them to Vodacom in mid-December 2020.

Cell C initially told subscribers it was targeting February 2021 to complete this migration.

According to the latest update, however, approximately 25% of these customers still had to be migrated to MTN network.

In its financial results for 2020, the company revealed it had just over 1.2 million contract and broadband customers, which means around 300,000 subscribers still have to be moved.

Cell C contract customers have in recent months complained of connectivity problems, which were ostensibly caused by the migration.

Cell C said it continued to monitor and resolve any connectivity challenges that its customers experienced due to the migration on a day-to-day basis, and was recalibrating its customer support processes to assist customers.

“In addition, we have ongoing engagements with our roaming partner on solutions where coverage issues may be experienced,” the operator said.

Cell C reminded contract customers with Android smartphones to activate data roaming manually on the settings on their device if they were unable to connect to the network. This will be done automatically for Apple smartphone users.

If the customer has a router, they will need to activate data roaming on the router’s setting page via a PC.

Now read: It will cost Cell C over R223 billion to catch up with Vodacom and MTN’s networks

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Cell C starts moving prepaid customers to MTN’s network in 3 provinces