South Africa’s number-three mobile operator Cell C is to invest ZAR5 billion (US$600 million) upgrading its networks to HSPA+ next year in a bid to catch-up with its larger 3G rivals. “The fastest 3G networks in South Africa offer speeds of 7.2Mb/s. Cell C’s network will offer download speeds that are three times faster than what is available in the market today,” said Cell C’s chief executive, Lars Reichelt. The operator’s two larger rivals – Vodacom and MTN – have already launched 3G (WCDMA) and HSPA-based networks. However, according to Cellular News, Cell C will be the first in the country to deploy its HSPA network in the 900MHz band; the lower frequencies should enable it to cover rural areas using fewer base stations. The company also said it will start building its own fibre infrastructure to reduce its reliance on the dominant landline operator, Telkom.

Cell C’s move to 3G marks a reversal from the operator’s previous position. Last year, former CEO Jeffrey Hedberg proclaimed that “3G is hype and we won’t fall prey to hype.” However, the operator is understood to be under pressure to boost ARPU via data services. According to Wireless Intelligence data, Vodacom led the South African market on 28.2 million connections in the third quarter, followed by MTN (16.4 million) and Cell C (7.2 million). In the 3G market (WCDMA and HSPA), Vodacom had 3.8 million connections and MTN had 2.1 million.