Cell C lost over 4.5 million customers in a year — on purpose

Cell C lost over four-and-a-half million customers in a year and three months, according to the struggling mobile network operator’s latest financial results.

However, Cell C has stressed it is deliberately focused on shedding low-value customers and retaining its more profitable customer base.

The publication of Cell’s results for its 2022 financial year ended December 2022 was delayed by several months.

On Monday, it published these results in addition to its 2023 year-to-date results.

The last time it reported its financials, Cell C showed it had 12.79 million customers by the end of June 2022.

That number had shrunk to 10.6 million by the end of December 2022 — a loss of 2.19 million customers in six months.

Nine months later, the number had dropped by a further 2.4 million customers.

Between June 2022 and  September 2023, Cell C’s customers declined by 4.59 million — nearly a 36% decline in 15 months.

As part of its turnaround strategy over the past few years, Cell C said it wanted to “rationalise its subscriber base and retain profitable customers”.

This aims to increase Cell’s average revenue per user (ARPU), which has ticked up slightly in the past year and a half.

While the company’s blended ARPU dropped from R84 per customer to R74 between June 2022 and December 2022, it had ticked up again to R80 per customer by September 2023.

Cell C vs the rest

Cell C was South Africa’s third-biggest mobile network operator for several years, but Telkom’s mobile subscribers surpassed Cell C’s sometime in late 2020.

At the end of 2020, Telkom had 14.93 million customers, compared to Cell C’s 9.32 million.

Despite its deep financial struggles, Cell C grew its customer base over the next year and a half.

However, it could not catch up with Telkom, which has since widened the gap to over 10 million subscribers.

While Telkom’s market share of 16% from last year has only inched up by around half a percentage point, Cell C’s shrunk from 11.42% in June 2022 to 7.4% by September 2023.

Neither operator has anywhere near the market share of Vodacom and MTN — which account for over 75% of the mobile subscribers on the four major networks.

The other significant player in the mobile space — Rain — does not regularly share subscriber numbers.

Daily Investor previously estimated the operator had reached a million subscribers in 2022.

The table below compares the latest subscriber numbers of Vodacom, MTN, Telkom, and Cell C as of September 2023.

Biggest mobile networks in South Africa — Subscribers and market share
Mobile network Number of subscribers Subscriber market share
Vodacom (September 2023) 47.26 million 42.75%
MTN (September 2023) 36.80 million 33.29%
Telkom (September 2023) 18.29 million 16.54%
Cell C (September 2023) 8.20 million 7.4%
Total 110.55 million 100%

Now read: Mr Price’s cellular division makes R63 million profit

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Cell C lost over 4.5 million customers in a year — on purpose