South Africa finished Q1 09 with a penetration rate of 112.0%, but this was not the highest rate in Africa, let alone mainland Africa. The former honour went to the Seychelles with 142.9%; the latter went to Libya with 118.8%. In real terms the South African market finished Q1 09 with 48.87m customers, having grown by 15.5% year on year. This was actually an improvement on the year-earlier figure of 14.4%. Annual net additions were up from 5.32m to 6.54m, with the increase in 3G uptake a key factor in this upturn. At the end of Q1 09, there were 4.7m W-CDMA users, up by 2.3m or 95.0% year on year.
Vodacom, the market leader in South Africa, had the majority of W-CDMA connections with a base of 2.8m at the end of Q1 09. Its share of the total was 59.4%, up from 53.8% a year earlier. This compared favourably with its share of the total market, which stood at 51.5%, down 1.1pp annually. Vodacom finished with 25.16m customers. It managed a market-leading annual gain of 2.89m thanks to three successive market-leading quarters, including an increase of 1.22m in Q1 09, the best result it has seen since Q2 07. However, on a proportionate basis it was the slowest growing with an annual rate of 13.0%, although this was at least an improvement on the year-earlier figure of 8.3%.u
Second-placed MTN managed a 14.9% uplift, beating its Q1 08 score by 0.1pp. It finished the quarter with 17.43m customers, of which an estimated 1.91m were W-CDMA users. However, Cell C, the third player in the market, was the fastest growing with a 28.4% annual increase. This was despite the net loss of 0.12m customers in Q1 09. At the end of the quarter it had 6.28m customers, giving it 12.9% market share compared to 11.6% a year earlier.
Cell C does not report an ARPU figure, but the other operators' results showed MTN on ZAR139 in Q1 09 and Vodacom on ZAR133. The gap narrowed considerably over the course of the year, with MTN dropping from ZAR144 in Q1 08, a 3.5% fall, while MTN was up from ZAR128, a 3.9% gain.