Mobile operator Cell C says it has successfully decommissioned 34% of its physical radio access network (RAN).
According to Cell C, it has “seamlessly” migrated its prepaid and mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) customers to roam solely on its partner network, MTN, via a virtual RAN.
In this first phase, Cell C says the focus has been on three provinces, namely the Eastern Cape, Free State and Northern Cape, which are now 100% complete.
In the next six months, it plans to decommission a further 10% of its network sites, with a focus on North West, Limpopo, Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga.
Schalk Visser, Cell C CTO, says: “Our network strategy is to strengthen our position as a wholesale buyer and aggregator of network capacity with a quality network and become a digital services provider.”
The mobile operator states that through its expanded roaming agreement with MTN, it will have access to more than 12 500 4G/LTE-ready sites for its prepaid and MVNO customers across the country, with completion scheduled for late 2023.
Cell C and MTN’s initial roaming agreement from 2018 provided coverage in areas outside of the main metros. The decommissioning of sites in the provinces mentioned above means that where Cell C customers previously moved between Cell C and MTN towers, they will now only roam on MTN’s network through the virtual radio network provisioned for Cell C, which has wide network coverage.
Adds Visser: “If our strategy were to play catch up to the Vodacom and MTN networks, we would have to invest R1.5 billion per year for 18 years – conservatively estimated at R27 billion – based on the assumption that we would be able to build 400 new cellular sites per year, and assuming Vodacom and MTN did not build any new sites during this period. This investment in our network infrastructure would be impossible to maintain.”
According to the company, technology advances make it possible for network operators to avoid duplication of investment in RAN infrastructure. In this model, Cell C will decommission its physical RAN, which includes towers, base stations, antennae, radio and transmission equipment, while MTN will provision a virtual RAN.
In addition, Cell C will use its own spectrum on this virtual RAN and manage the customer experience. “As a mobile network operator, Cell C is still responsible for its spectrum licences, core network, transport network, billing system and subscriber management.
“This approach will significantly reduce network expenses and capital expenditure, allowing the newly positioned technology company to be profitable, access best-in-class infrastructure, benefit from scale, improve customer experience, focus on innovating products and services, and be able to pass on value to customers.”