An analyst says that while the Census 2001 figures may highlight relevant trends in the telecoms sector, the changing nature of the industry has rendered the figures vastly outdated, writes Stephen Whitford of ItWeb.

Andre Wills, telecoms analyst at Africa Analysis, says the introduction of a third cellular operator and the fast-changing nature of the cellular industry mean there will be far more cellphone owners now compared to when the census was conducted. "The cellular industry is changing so rapidly that two years is a lifetime of change compared to another industry."

According to Census 2001, 2 million household heads owned a cellphone only, 1.1 million had a fixed-line phone, while 1.6 million of the country’s 11.2 million households had both a fixed-line and a cellphone. Almost 670 000 households had no access to a telephone or cellphone.

Wills says the introduction of Cell C into the market has driven down the price of phones and contracts, making it possible for people at the bottom end of the market to own a cellphone.

"Growth was rapid because of the marketing and advertising campaigns that were conducted as the cellular networks jostled for position and the discounts they offered to bring in more subscribers.

"The increase in the number of cellphone owners therefore renders the statistics from the census concerning cellphone ownership pretty much meaningless," Wills says.

However, he says although the Census 2001 statistics may not be current, they do highlight the trend of more people owning just a cellphone as opposed to those who have only a landline.

"With twice as many African-headed households owning cellphones (25%) compared to those with fixed-lines (12%), it is clear that the cellphone is preferred."

He says the reason for this is because of the ease with which one can purchase a cellphone, the mobility it provides and the relatively low cost of being a prepaid subscriber.

While the statistics of the number of people with landlines may be more up to date with the current situation, Wills says this is likely to change with the introduction of the second national operator (SNO).

"The growth in the fixed-line market has been steady at about 5% per annum over the last couple of years. However, the introduction of a SNO will have a similar effect on the landline market as Cell C had on the cellular market.

"We may therefore see an increase in the number of people having landlines at home as well as the number of people using the Internet because of lower dialup costs in a more competitive market," Wills says.

He says it is unlikely that increased competition within the landline market will have a negative impact on the cellular market.

"We have seen internationally that the introduction of a second fixed-line operator does not affect the cellular market because of the difference in the two markets and the services they offer."