After months of speculation, SA's fourth mobile operator, Virgin Mobile, has arrived, officially entering the local telecommunications market. Speaking via video link yesterday, Virgin Group chairman Sir Richard Branson unveiled plans to introduce “true competition” into the mobile telephony market. Sajeed Sacranie, CEO of Virgin Mobile SA, said the company aims to remove "clutter and fog in the market".

The bottom line is cheaper calls, handsets unbundled from airtime and no mandatory two-year contracts, he claimed. Virgin is offering three plans: V0, V100 and V500, representing the amount subscribers commit to spending on a monthly basis (R0, R100 and R500). Tariffs start at R2.35, R1.95 and R1.75 per minute for the first five minutes every day. Thereafter, the rate drops on all three packages to R1.55 per minute. Virgin also said it will offer “true per-second billing”, which it claims can reduce airtime costs by as much as 60%.

Protracted negotiations and the hammering out of a "comfortable" deal with Cell C delayed the company's SA launch, says Virgin Group chairman Sir Richard Branson.

 "We've unbundled the handsets from the airtime. We are selling month-to-month contracts and, if you don't like us, you are free to leave," Sacranie stressed. Virgin Mobile is not coming in as a fourth network, but is piggybacking off Cell C's network and positioning itself as an "enhanced service provider".

Branson said Virgin's arrival had been delayed by protracted negotiations with incumbents and that it took a while to do a "comfortable" deal with Cell C. He also commented on the lack of mobile number portability (MNP) in SA. "I find it incredible that MNP is not in SA. And if it doesn't happen when it has been promised, somebody should question the Competition Commission. It's a very simple thing that can be done in four weeks; it doesn't need three months."