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JOHANNESBURG-South Africa had no cellular telephones when Joan Joffe became Vodacom's general manager for marketing in January 1994. Now the country has possibly the world's fastest-growing cellular network.

With 260,000 subscribers, Vodacom this year reached a target it had forecast would take 10 years. And with about a 65% market share, Ms. Joffe is comfortably ahead of her goal of becoming the majority choice.

South Africa was ready for cellular in 1994, she said, with a strong business community needing communications. "There was pent-up demand" for cellular communications, she said.

Trial service started just before the April 1994 elections that made Nelson Mandela president. The transition was peaceful, but many found security in cellular phones-still widely seen as a safety measure against violence, she said.

Vodacom secured its market share by viewing cellular phones as "a commodity from the word go" and ensuring mass retail distribution, Ms. Joffe said.

Vodacom also took a successful gamble to build consumer confidence by providing service along all national roads, though relatively few calls are made there.

Vodacom kept its educational campaign brief and went to retail distribution immediately for, Ms. Joffe said, a "flat-out"-and bitter-battle against its chief rival, Johannesburg's MTN Mobile Telephone Networks.

Ads began with an educational campaign before full service started June 1, 1994. The next series focused on the network's "power and strength" around launch time, Ms. Joffe said. "Then we went after hearts and minds."

Along with humorous TV ads by Lindsay Smithers-FCB, Vodacom raised its profile with sponsorships, including that of the 1995 Rugby World Cup, and a radio program describing hijacked cars to drivers who can call police on their cellular phones.

Looking ahead, Ms. Joffe sees slower but steady growth, with a surge if South Africa institutes tariffs on use that would provide cheaper low-volume consumer rates. In 1997, Vodacom expects to link with a low-earth-orbit satellite system, allowing worldwide use. The company hopes to market itself elsewhere, submitting bids to help set up cellular networks in the region, as it has in a joint venture in neighboring Lesotho.

"When we hit 50,000 subscribers we had a huge party. But when we got to 100,000 we were too busy," Ms. Joffe said. "Now we figure we will wait for 500,000."

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