Wireless Business Solutions (WBS), the holding company of iBurst, is at advanced stage of discussions about building a mobile cellular network in a sign that infrastructure competition in SA is stepping up another gear.
If it goes ahead with its plans, which one senior source close to the company says appears likely, WBS will become SA’s fifth mobile network operator after Vodacom, MTN, Cell C and the soon-to-be-launched Telkom Mobile.
The news comes hot on the heels of Vodacom’s intention to sell its stake in WBS, apparently so that it will be eligible to participate in an upcoming radio frequency spectrum auction.
However, unlike the other operators, WBS wants its network — which, if it’s built, will be a 3G service operating at 1 800MHz — to focus almost exclusively on rural areas and the township market.
A senior close to WBS tells TechCentral that the company has sufficient bandwidth in the 1 800MHz band to provide both 3G services and its traditional iBurst Wireless data offering.
The source emphasises that a final decision hasn’t been taken yet, but says a significant amount of discussion and planning has already taken place.
However, another senior source with knowledge of WBS’s plans says the company has been planning to launch a mobile network in the 1 800MHz band for a long time. The second source says that, for now, it’s “all talk” as no financing has been arranged.
The plan, if it goes ahead, is to sign a roaming agreement with one or more other operators to allow WBS’s mobile customers to roam in the cities, where the company won’t have a cellular footprint. It has not yet begun discussions with other operators about roaming.
The idea is that the network, if it goes ahead, will be built in outlying areas right across the country. It’s not known how much WBS would have to spend on the network, or where it would raise the necessary capital.
A source tells TechCentral that WBS will not sell 3G services directly to clients, but will partner with other companies that will provide services to end-user subscribers using the network. It’s understood that WBS is in talks with more than half a dozen interested parties in this regard.
WBS’s shareholders include Vodacom, iBurst CEO Thami Mtshali and Brett and Mark Levy, the co-CEOs of Blue Label Telecoms.
However, Vodacom is in the process of selling its 24,9% stake. It’s understood the other shareholders will exercise their rights to buy Vodacom’s shareholding.
Mtshali could not immediately be reached for comment about WBS’s plans. — Duncan McLeod, TechCentral