South Africa's Cell C to invest ZAR8B in LTE over 3 years

South Africa-based Cell C said it will invest ZAR8 billion (€629 million/$667 million) in building an LTE network over the next three years, as the country's third-largest mobile operator seeks to improve its position in the highly competitive market.

The company has already signed supply agreements with Chinese vendors Huawei and ZTE, and said the two network equipment suppliers will be its primary partners in the rollout of more than 4,000 LTE sites. It said it plans to launch a commercial offering in the latter part of 2015 and will reveal its LTE suite of products and services in due course.

Cell C is initially taking a targeted approach with LTE and will continue to rely on 3G network technologies for less densely populated areas.

"Our LTE strategy will be focused and strategic, targeting metropolitan areas where people work and live. The primary commuting areas that fall outside the major metros will remain covered by HSPA+," said Cell C CEO Jose Dos Santos.

Dos Santos also stressed that the company would make every effort to ensure that every LTE site is linked to the company's fibre backbone.

The first targeted areas for LTE will be in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape. Cell C already has LTE sites on air in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape with a select group of customers trialling the service.

"Gated communities and high-density residential areas where there is a great demand for high speed data will be one of our priorities," the CEO noted.

The company will also continue to invest in its existing 3G network to improve HSPA+ performance and plans to deploy an additional 1,353 3G sites across the country in the next three years.

In terms of spectrum, Cell C will no doubt have been encouraged by the South African government's recent decision to adopt the harmonised spectrum channel plans for the use of the 700 MHz and 800 MHz bands for International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT). Indeed, the company has said previously that it did not intend to rollout LTE on a national scale until there was more clarity over the government's broadband plans and the timing of the switchover to digital TV to release spectrum for mobile broadband.

Cell C, which is majority owned by Oger Telecom, competes with larger rivals Vodacom--which is 65 per cent owned by Vodafone--and MTN South Africa. Earlier this year, the company said plans by Vodacom to buy Internet service provider Neotel would deliver a "fatal" blow to competition in the South Africa market.

Vodafone Group CEO Vittorio Colao recently indicated that the group was losing patience over the regulatory approval process for the Neotel deal, according to a report by BDLive. Vodafone has been waiting almost a year for regulatory clearance of the planned ZAR7 billion acquisition.

For more:
- see this Cell C release
- see this BDLive article

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