How many customers does Cell C actually have? On its website, as well as in communication from the company over the past year, it has claimed to have over 20m subscribers. But a regulatory filing on Tuesday suggests it actually has far less.
The “who we are” section of Cell C’s website states clearly that it has more than 20m customers. “In spite of penetration of over 140% of mobile services in South Africa, growth — particularly in the prepaid market — continues apace. Cell C itself grew its mobile subscribers from 9m in 2012 to over 20m by July 2015,” the website says.
However, a circular to shareholders by JSE-listed Blue Label Telecoms — which is buying a 45% stake in Cell C for R5,5bn as part of the mobile operator’s recapitalisation plan — says Cell C has a total active subscriber base of 12,6m.
Of these customers, 10,6m are on prepaid, half a million are on post-paid, a million are on so-called “hybrid” tariff plans and 700 000 are broadband users.
A further million customers are wholesale subscribers, presumably through mobile virtual network operators that piggyback on Cell C’s network, taking the enlarged total to 13,6m.
According to the Blue Label circular, Cell C had market share of 12,1% based on service revenue and 16% based on active mobile subscribers at the end of June 2016.
Has Cell C lost more than 6,4m customers in the past 12 months, or is there another explanation for the discrepancy in the numbers?
In written response to a question from TechCentral, Cell C says the number listed in the circular represents what it calls “A3 subscribers”, or subscribers that have been active at least once in the past three months. This number, it says, is “more directly comparable to the subscribers reported by the other network operators”.
The company says the 20m figure — which, it says, has now grown to 25m — represents “total subscribers”.
But how are total subscribers counted?
“Cell C has used A4 (active within the last four months) to report customer numbers both locally and as a management metric, including [the 9m figure from]2012,” it says. “We used A3 in the circular to align with international reporting.”
The difference between the A3 and A4 numbers is an astonishing 11,4m subscribers (assuming the million wholesale customers is included in or excluded from both numbers).
At the end of June 2016, Vodacom South Africa had 35,1m active subscribers, while MTN South Africa had 29,8m. Telkom’s mobile arm had 2,7m active users at the end of March 2016 — the most recent published figures from the company.
Both Vodacom and Telkom define an active user as one that has generated revenue in the last 90 days. MTN was not immediately able to provide a definition. — © 2016 NewsCentral Media