|Late-breaking news: Cell C branded its service as 4Gs but has been stopped from doing do by the Advertising Standards Authority, on the grounds that it is not a 4G network. Cell C somewhat weakly claimed that 4Gs stands for “For Good Service”.|
I just got back from the Durban and Pietermaritzburg launch of Cell C’s fast mobile HSPA+ data network
Cell C threw a big stone into the local Internet pond recently, when it announced its new data network, and a pricing structure which turns out to be more aggressive than a pit bull terrier.
It is being rolled out in phases with launches in port Elizabeth, Bloemfontein, East London and Cape Town preceding the Durban event.
Speaking in Durban, Cell C CEO Lars Reichelt said that 98% of the population in Durban and 93% of that in Pietermaritzburg would be covered by the network after launch and that this figure would rise to 99% of the total population by January 2011.
He explained that Cell C is the only operator in the country to use both the 900 MHz and 2100 MHz frequency bands for its mobile data offering. The use of the 900 MHz band allows the company to cover greater areas with their base stations and allows the signal to penetrate deeper into buildings than would be the case with a 2100 MHz-only solution.
The media assembled for the launch at Moses Mabhida Stadium were shown a series of demonstrations in which video was downloaded over the Internet, real-time games were played and documents edited.
My first impression, and that of all the journalists present, was that the speed offered by the network was pretty amazing. The technology offers a theoretical possible speed of 21.6 Mbps per second but this is unlikely to be obtained very often.
Reichelt said that speed tests had revealed that network download speeds averaged between 6 – 7 Mbps and that uploads averaged 1.5 – 2.5 Mbps. Those speeds are pretty amazing by South African standards but what is even more amazing, is the price.
There are two packages available including a USB modem (up to 7.2 Mbps) and 2 GB of data every month for a year, for R1499, and a USB modem (up to 21.6 Mbps) and 5 GB of data per month for a year, for R2999. For the 5 GB package for example, you’d end up paying R49.98 per gigabyte, which is unheard of for mobile data in this country.
To understand just how astonishing these prices are, you just have to look at the prices of equivalent packages being offered by other ISPs. The Cell C launch special is about a quarter of the price of similar offerings by the other mobile operators, for example.
Their out-of-bundle data charges are a trifle high-watering at 39 cents per Mb, but 5 GB should be enough for most people and, if not, and there’d always be the option of buying a second modem and data package for use later in the month.
Members of the media at the launch were issued with modems and trial accounts to put the service through its paces. I rushed home to give it a go (and write this report) and was disappointed to find that, although I managed to install everything without any problem at all, I was unable to connect to the network at anything above crawl-speed.
I don’t know whether that is attributable to an equipment glitch or the fact that I live in the wilds of Waterfall, but I didn’t have the time to find out before we went to press.
I will report back but, in the meantime, people buying one of the packages can be reassured that if they get it home and find that it doesn’t work, they can return it to the shop where bought for a full refund. And you have Reichelt’s word on that.
I was disappointed but at least I did get to fulfil a long held ambition of mine and get to ride on a Segway scooter, which Cell C had provided. I zooted merrily around the parking lot at Moses Mabhida and a close shave with a parked Porsche only added to the general excitement.