ICASA interrogates Cell C, MTN roaming deal

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ICASA CEO Willington Ngwepe.
ICASA CEO Willington Ngwepe.

The Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) has begun interrogating the new roaming agreement between Cell C and MTN announced on Monday.

Both carriers announced yesterday the new roaming agreement will kick in from early 2020 and the transition is expected to take up to 36 months to complete.

Today, ICASA confirmed being informed by both parties, adding that it has – in terms of regulation 8(1) (a) schedule 2 on standard terms and conditions for individual licences of 2010, amended in 2016 – requested more information on the deal.

Contrary to media reports that suggested the new wholesale roaming agreement between MTN and Cell C does not require any regulatory approval, ICASA says it has commenced discussions with the parties to clarify their arrangement to the authority.

“ICASA has requested both parties to provide all agreements and associated information on the roaming transaction to the authority for review and to assess compliance with the applicable law and regulation,” the regulator said in a statement.

Furthermore, ICASA CEO Willington Ngwepe says: “The question of whether any agreement that pertains to regulated service or use of licensed resources such as spectrum requires approval or triggers regulatory compliance requirements is one which the authority can never leave to parties alone to determine.”

Yesterday, the telcos said the roaming agreement adheres to all applicable legal and regulatory requirements.

“Cell C and MTN will maintain their spectrum and each party will use its own frequencies. Cell C will still have all of its licences and control its core network, transmission, billing system and subscriber management,” said Cell C in a statement.

Similarly, MTN said it was looking forward to transparent engagement with relevant stakeholders regarding this important industry milestone.

It said: “As noted in our quarterly trading update for the period ended September 2019, MTN SA continues to account for Cell C roaming revenue on a cash basis, and payments received since June 2019 have remained on schedule.”

According to Cell C, the agreement is in line with shifts in the global telecoms industry towards more cost-effective network strategies that drive down costs and deliver greater operational efficiencies that ultimately benefit consumers.

The roaming deal was sealed at a precarious time for Cell C as the company desperately needed saving grace.

SA’s third largest operator has failed to compete meaningfully against leading carriers, Vodacom and MTN, which have superior network infrastructure and have deep pockets for sizable capex investments.

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