The Competition Tribunal on Friday gave a conditional go-ahead for mobile operators Cell C, MTN and Vodacom to buy out their respective subscriber bases, as South Africa’s last independent service provider Altech Autopage calls it a day.
The Allied Electronics (Altron) subsidiary was the last remaining independent mobile cellular service provider for South Africa’s cellular networks since acquiring the now-shut Nashua Mobile’s 65 000 Cell C subscribers for R91.5-million in 2014.
Despite diversifying from a purely GSM base to converged services, integrating voice, data and multimedia, discussions to dispose of the subscriber bases and close its retail stores started in January last year after an anticipated recovery in Autopage’s performance failed to materialise in the second half of the 2015 financial year.
The unit, operating under Altron’s telecommunications, multimedia and information technology business, had been weighed down by market saturation, price deflation, declining revenue, falling returns and cash flow and decreasing average revenue per user, which had offset cost-saving gains, as well as the continuing negative impacts of lower mobile termination rates on the now-discontinued operation.
With some 250 employees facing retrenchment, the tribunal ordered, where reasonable, that the mobile operators give preference to former Autopage employees when any job vacancies opened up.
Altron, also subject to offering Autopage employees first rights to job vacancies, was required to make offers of redeployment to 86 employees and make a training initiative available to all Autopage employees until the merger concluded.