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Cell C takes Jo’burg

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Exactly nine years after Cell C’s launch in South Africa, it enters the broadband big-time. After launching its high-speed HSPA+ network in one small centre after another, today it switched on in Johannesburg and Pretoria. Aside from taking on the big players in their heartland, this is the big test of their big claims of being the fastest broadband provider in the country, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

‚After all the launches in other centres, this is the big one,‚ said Cell C CEO Lars Reichelt this morning at the switching-on ceremony for the mobile network operator’s high-speed network in Johannesburg.

So far Cell C has rolled out its HSPA+ network, which claims speeds of up to 21Mbps, in Port Elizabeth, Bloemfontein , East London, Cape Town, Durban, Pietermaritzburg, Nelspruit, Polokwane, Richards Bay and eMalahleni (Witbank).

Reichelt is frank, however, in acknowledging that average speeds are not close to the 21Mbps potential, and won’t be in Johannesburg and Pretoria either.

‚We have measured average download speeds in Johannesburg and Pretoria of 4-7Mbps, and upload speeds of of 2-3Mbps, with many sites running at 10Mbps,‚ he declared today.

Gadget has tested the network in Bloemfontein, Durban and Cape Town, and routinely achieved download speeds of 4Mbps, with the occasional spike of up to 7Mbps. However, upload speeds have lagged significantly behind the promise, with 250kbps being the more typical average. Wherever we tested the network against competitors in smaller centres, it outperformed both Vodacom and MTN.

Cell C’s strategy had many detractors, who questioned the wisdom of targeting towns and small cities.

In Johannesburg, a few minutes before the official network switch-on, Gadget tested the connection in Johannesburg: The download speed hit 5.64Mbps, upload 1.51Mbps, with a ping time of 51miliseconds ‚ meaning decent speeds and decent latency (the time it takes for a signal to be sent and returned) ‚ allowing for acceptable performance of interactive applications.

After official switch on, download speeds dropped slightly ‚ probably as all the high-end users in the audience began testing it. However, upload performance doubled, to 2.96Mbps.

An equally compelling aspect of the service, though, is the price: the most basic contract costs R149 per month for a 2GB monthly cap. This is less than half the cost of equivalent contracts from MTN and Vodacom.

From this Friday, top-up data packs will be available from R50 for 100MB, to R400 for 2GB. The 100MB pack is 40% cheaper than anything offered by the competition at that level. At 2GB, however, Cell C is more expensive than 2GB top-ups from its rivals. According to Reichelt, this is because it believes its contract ‚ dramatically cheaper than its rivals on a per-month basis ‚ would be more appropriate for customers using that amount of data.

Coverage will also come as a surprise to the competition. Reichelt says the network now offers 62% geographic coverage of the Johannesburg and Pretoria metro areas. The gaps had a lot to do with the World Cup freeze which stopped all infrastructure development near stadiums. More important than geography, the networks covers 89% of the population.

Across South Africa, 32% of the population is now covered, close to a promise of 34% by the end of year, which Reichelt expects to exceed by then.

‚ By mid-2011 we want to cover 67% of the population. By the end of 2011, we are aiming for 97%. Not many countries sin the world have that kind of population coverage at that kind of speed. I am confident there are not many European or American countries with that kind of speed.‚

· Gadget will provide technical , pricing and other specifications of the Cell C network shortly.

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I would think that they represent an excellent value proposition, for new customers especially. Now if they would just call it 3.5G and not 4G!”,”body-href”:””}]

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