Hands on with Cell C's Data Offerings: Call it Whatever you Want, it Works.

Up to now I have avoided signing up for 3G contracts in South Africa ““ despite being someone who is constantly online. True, I do add data bundles to my cellphone, but the idea of signing away 2 or 3 years to a 3G contract seems silly. It is after all such a competitive industry, why would I want to subscribe to a fixed cost for the next few years?
However, things have started to change in the last few months. It is as if someone lit a cracker underneath the cellular operators in SA ““ and for once it is not the Vodacom and MTN who is getting all the attention. Up until now Cell C did not really have any presence when it came to mobile broadband in SA, in fact they did not roll out 3G until recently. Clearly their late entry to into the data market has a few advantages.
Cell C uses a different payment approach ““ instead of signing a 24 or 36 month contract, you pay a once off fee that gives you a certain amount of data every month, for a year. This suits me perfectly ““ because it means in a year from now I have the freedom of choosing a different 3G service, and not be locked in. This helps Cell C as well, seeing as they can get early payment and thus pay off their investments in new supporting data infrastructure.
Cell C is currently in some trouble because they called their service “4G” up to now – which is technically speaking not true, despite being significantly faster than any other 3G offering locally. The CEO of Cell C made a public apology recently regarding this, but not without driving home the fact that Cell C is faster than even 4G networks in the US…. My opinion is that if the product works, I dont mind the name…
Currently Cell C has 2 offers using this payment model:
2GB a month for 12 months, using the included 7.2 mbps modem, for R1499.
5GB a month for 12 months, using the included 21.6 mbps modem, for R2999.
You can also buy it without the modem for somewhat less. My advice – get the modem, because there are not a lot of modems available locally which can access the applicable frequencies that Cell C uses.
Compare this to Vodacom‘s current deal which charges R945 pm for 5GB, and you immediately see why this is such a good deal. Vodacom also released their Internet Starter Pack using a similar payment model, but it clearly doesn‘t cater to the same higher end market as Cell C.
Included in the bundle is a modem ““ I used the faster 21.6 mbps one, and it‘s a pretty simple looking device. Understated in black and dark brown, it looks good. The setup was easy ““ insert the SIM card included in the box, push out the USB plug using the slider, and plug it into your machine, be it PC or Mac. Both versions of Cell C‘s software is included on the stick. Just a tip Cell C ““ you might want to make it available on your site, I only see the updated Windows drivers there. It tried it on both platforms.
Now Cell C has a much better deal money wise ““ but what are the trade offs? Up until now the high speed 3G was only available in certain urban centres, but they have clearly made a big effort to improve their data coverage. For example, I live in Stellenbosch in the Western Cape, and in a low lying area that has always had pretty horrific cellular coverage. In fact my Vodacom phone still only gets Edge signal. The Cell C modem gets a full signal and very respectable performance. I also used it in Cape Town and in Bellville, and in all cases I got a full HSPA signal. So lets see how the Cell C network does.

My Speedtest results are as follows:

Local Connections: Cape Town and Johannesburg

International: UK and US

I did these tests with my unshaped 4Mbps ADSL connection as well afterwards, and the speeds were never the same, only reaching 3.5 Mbps maximum of course, but with ever so slightly faster ping times.
The tests were done over the weekend, so your speeds during business hours might differ. I will add them to this post soon. Of course the major concern is whether these speeds will be sustained once more people start using the network ““ and it is a valid concern. After all, Neotel also had very respectable wireless speeds when they first launched, but quickly that speed disappeared.
So here is what we will do ““ for the next 12 months I will occasionally post my speed results using the Cell C network, and in a variety of uses. (Update: You can find my first batch Cell C Speedtest results here) Only time will tell whether Cell C can deliver on their promise.
One has to applaud Cell C for the way they are heating up the mobile broadband market ““ finally some clear competition has arrived after years of very slow price decreases. With all the additional fibre running into SA recently, we have all been promised more affordable internet, and it seems we are inching closer and closer towards that. Cell C is also involved with this fibre rollout with Fibreco. Maybe this means that Cell C will become a dominant player in SA Broadband…
Keep it up Cell C.

  1. I am using the 7.2 stick all work well here in PE
    The only problem is if you ran out they charge you R400 per GB so what i do if i run out is stick my mtn sim in and then i get 2GB for R400
    Mark de Scande

    1. good point…with VC I was always able to add additional bundles at lower rates, but Cell C don’t seem to offer same….website says “coming soon” so lets wait & see
      Minaar: What tool do they provide to track data-usage? How good is it? realtime?

  2. Minaar
    This service currently looks like it is The Bomb, but for how long can it be before Voda and MTN start to roll-out their 21.1 service and modem?
    Do we know where these networks are?

    1. That is the question Cliffy – but that is one of the reasons I like the Cell C offering. I only have to use it 12 months, then I can switch to whomever I want. This is while Vodacom still insists on 36(!!!!) month contracts.

  3. Isn’t this what every single business on the planet does when they launch a new service? They make sure it works 100% and that as many people as possible can use it to the best of its ability. That’s the launch strategy of every new product since Adam.
    The real proof should lie in whether it still works and whether people are still just as as excited about it 90 days later. Let’s see then.

  4. The d/l speeds are great – problem is you run out of your 2 or 5gb cap so quickly and then its super expensive to buy additional gigs… great strategy by Cell C to charge up front and get money in to pay off their infrastructure investment
    Hopefully MTN and Voda follows… cheap/solid internet for all!

    1. But even for heavy mobile users the 5GB deal makes sense… For example, I have Wifi at home, wifi at work, and then I use 3G on the road. At this price its not a bad deal… Hopefully they will improve their out of bundle data options.

  5. I can confirm that I got 10.96 at Canal Walk Download & 5.23 Upload, for this deal I will use my vodacom sim for when i run out of Data, all these HD vids on Zoopy tend to chow my bandwidth!

  6. I’m not getting these numbers at all. (My testing’s still ongoing though. So far I’ve tried and/or repeat tested two Southern Suburbs locations, one CBD, two foreshore, and one Atlantic Seaboard.)

    1. What speeds are you getting Mandy? These speeds that I found was on a Sunday, and I do get lower speeds during office hours. I will post my (almost) daily speedtest results soon…

      1. I’m still compiling and obviously I will be doing a post for my own site but I’m averaging between 1 and 3 for downloads (best was 5.84 at The Cullinan hotel on the foreshore a few days ago). When I’m in the vicinity of an alternate high-speed or free connection I’m generally finding that the alternate gets better speeds (the exception being Truth Coffee’s wireless). I do seem to live in a bad spot, which doesn’t help, but the guys at the Cell C store nearby say that they are getting “good” speeds so I’m going to pay them a visit in a few days to compare.

          1. True Mandy, I also found that speeds can vary somewhat – especially during business hours, but which local connection doesnt right? I just posted my results for the last few weeks here: http://www.bandwidthblog.com/2010/11/30/cell-c-speedstick-real-world-tests-is-it-really-that-fast/
            Have you checked their reception map to see if the area you are in has proper HSPA speeds? Also, are you using the white slower USB modem, or the faster black one?

          2. Don’t patronise me dude. I have the black one.
            In the last two weeks the reception has become even worse. I am now stuck on EDGE most days (in the Southern Suburbs) for hours at a time, and resetting MIGHT get it back on HSPA, but sometimes only five minutes, or half an hour, if I’m lucky, except late, late, late at night, when it may stay on HSPA+ for hours.
            I’m posting this here (since I haven’t done my article yet) for other people in the Southern Suburbs so they know, before they spend a lot of money, that it’s not necessarily going to work well for them. I live in a lighter-red zone (one step down from dark?) on the map (it’s really hard to tell as it won’t let me zoom in close enough) but even in darkest red zones I’m still rarely hitting 4 or 5 Mbps. I even ran a test last week (on the weekend) in the Northern Suburbs and got 7 Mbps to JHB but under 4 to Cape Town, London, and New York, and upload speeds were horrible (1.01 (anomalous) to 0.13).
            I also still have to go to my local Cell C to test speeds and I might try to swap the unit, just in case I have the one-in-a-million faulty one.

          3. Sorry – did not mean to be patronizing at all Mandy. Very strange – I also noticed a slight dropoff in speeds over the last few weeks. My speeds in the Northen Subs are also better, but still the fastest in Stellenbosch (I guess the students havent started using it too much yet).
            I tested it in a lighter pink area in Durbanville, and I was also down to EDGE speeds there… I dont trust the light pink indications. Let us know how the swap out goes? I heard they will take the unit back within 7 days, no questions asked.

          4. Yeah. Unfortunately now, with the holidays, it’s going to skew all my testing for a few weeks because today, for example, I’ve had a lot of HSPA+ and WDCMA, and only a little EDGE. One-day miracle, one-day anomaly, or because no one’s using the network due to the holidays?

  7. If I worked for Cell C, I would find out which one was RICA’d to your name, and then make sure you get the most amazin’ speeds available. This site tends to draw traffic about the Cell C data promo like a first year student to a two-for-one pub.
    That being said, I’m getting mine tomorrow. Hah! Truly hoping for consistent decent speeds over the next 12 months.

  8. Service has been really bad. It works perfectly for 2 days say, then completely stops working for weeks on end. Absolutely pathetic. Impossible to get through to anyone at their call center. Several complaints logged, no follow through. Problem has been ongoing for 4 months.

  9. Glad it works so nicely for you. I sit on Edge pretty much all day, and have yet to make contact with a human being at Cell C. I can’t get feedback, an explanation or advice from them, other than form messages. CEO Lars Reichelt admitted to mybroadband that there is a software errors that cause the “Speedstick” to prioritise the Edge signal. Any bright ideas on how to get a response? Not even hellopeter lit a fire under them.

  10. Always been reluctant to get mine, sweet deals on contracts but also didn’t want the tie in when prices are dropping like this. MTN would have got 2GB but getting 3GB with Cell C. So far so good but seems like my surfing habits will have to change drastically, also pissed off 50 MB went away updating the software that comes with the stick.

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