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Huge Group makes headway in Cell C to MTN network migration

Admire Moyo
By Admire Moyo, ITWeb's news editor.
Johannesburg, 10 Nov 2020
James Herbst, CEO of Huge Group.
James Herbst, CEO of Huge Group.

Telecoms specialist Huge Group says it is close to completing what it dubs “probably the largest-ever physical migration of mobile telephone network services South Africa has ever seen”.

The JSE-listed Huge Group yesterday updated shareholders on subsidiary Huge Telecom’s migration of its customers to MTN’s mobile telephone network.

Huge Group is migrating the customers from former partner Cell C after the companies were embroiled in a financial dispute.

The case is under arbitration, and last year in November, Huge Group announced it had entered a partnership with mobile operator MTN to provide additional telecommunications services to the Huge Group of companies.

Yesterday, Huge Telecom also launched an all-inclusive service, which allows its customers who operate from a fixed location to make free and unlimited telephone calls to any local, national and mobile destination in SA for a fixed monthly amount of R500.

Says the company: “Naturally, terms and conditions apply, and the service excludes calls to premium numbers and calls to international destinations, but it really is an ‘eat as much as you like’ offer.”

According to the company, the offer only works with a Huge fixed-location device.

It is not a mobile consumer offering and is not sold directly, it notes, adding that customers can avail themselves of this offer by contacting one of Huge Telecom’s 800 business partners, located nationally.

“This is a first in corporate telephony,” says Rob Burger, MD of Huge Telecom. “We cannot contain our excitement.” Burger adds that “the interest from our business partners has been overwhelming”.

Leaving a telephony mark in SA

Huge Group says the launch of this new service coincides with Huge Telecom’s migration of its current customers, which number over 16 000, from Cell C’s mobile telephone network to MTN’s mobile telephone network.

Huge Group, the holding company of Huge Telecom, just published a Stock Exchange News Service announcement in which it confirmed the migration is 85% complete.

Huge Group CEO James Herbst says: “It has taken Huge Telecom over two decades to secure a competitive and sustainable supply framework with a first-tier mobile network operator like MTN, which provides extensive coverage, where the quality of service of calls on this mobile network is of the highest standard, where the cost structure of getting access to the mobile network is competitive and can provide a value for money service, and where the service provides for the full telephone functionality which SME and corporate South Africa expects.

“The time has arrived where everything is in place for Huge Telecom to significantly grow its presence and make its mark on telephony in South Africa. Huge Telecom’s founder, Anton Potgieter, would be proud of what we have achieved. He had this vision for Huge Telecom in 1993, when he started the company from his garage,” adds Herbst.

Stephen Morony, commercial director of Huge Telecom, says: “Huge Telecom’s corporate telephony service, which allows a customer to port-in and retain its geographic telephone number, has been expanded with the involvement of MTN to allow for the inclusion of many more telephone lines.”

Andy Openshaw, chief operating officer of Huge Group, says: “Huge Telecom is South Africa’s unknown mobile virtual network operator or MVNO [mobile virtual network operator] and is a successful one.”

The company explains that as an MVNO, Huge Telecom makes use of GSM networks to provide its fixed telephone lines, which takes the form of wireless GSM connection from a customer’s premises to the core of a mobile telephone network.

It adds that Huge Telecom’s principal service is substituting fixed-line voice infrastructure, like that provided by a public switched telephone network such as Telkom, or a voice over Internet protocol (VOIP) operator, with wireless GSM infrastructure.

“I don’t think Telkom and the VOIP operators will be able to compete with Huge Telecom’s all-inclusive service price point. There is not enough margin in it for a fixed-line operator or a VOIP operator to cover its installation, ongoing service and maintenance, and security costs,” says Openshaw, adding that “GSM is also un-hackable”.

Long-standing dispute

The group points out that Huge Telecom procures its access to MTN’s network through Huge Cellular, a black-empowered company associated with Huge, which carries Huge’s name.

It notes Huge Cellular has been involved in a long-standing dispute with Cell C, and this has placed the business of Huge Telecom at risk.

Huge Group says the dispute has threatened the ongoing access of Huge Telecom’s 16 000 customers, which are predominantly SME customers, to vital telephone services.

To mitigate this risk, Huge Cellular concluded an agreement with MTN on 18 November 2019.

According to Huge, in August 2020, Cell C informed Huge Cellular that it no longer wished to provide services to Huge Cellular and gave Huge Cellular until close of business on 31 October 2020 (which was later extended to 13 November 2020) to migrate its customers to an alternative mobile network.

These services provided by Huge Cellular to Huge Telecom, and on to over 16 000 customers, involves over 43 000 telephone lines, says the company.

On 30 August 2020, it adds, MTN agreed to assist Huge Cellular, and in turn Huge Telecom, in migrating the entire customer base to the MTN mobile telephone network. MTN is a provider of mobile virtual network enabler services.

Openshaw states “this is probably the largest ever physical migration of mobile telephone network services South Africa has ever seen” and has been substantially completed in record time.

“To physically visit 16 000 customers in 75 days was a near impossible task but thanks to an incredibly capable executive team, a committed workforce and MTN as an involved supplier, the migration has been very successful.”

The group also points out the impact COVID-19 has had on SA has been devastating, with the ongoing impact on SMEs being arguably worse.

Huge Cellular says in order to avoid any further negative impact, it is engaging with Cell C with a view to Cell C extending access to the Cell C mobile telephone network to ensure the final few remaining customers are migrated to MTN’s mobile telephone network without any loss of service.