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Vodacom makes major rural 4G investment in South Africa’s poorest region

20 Aug 2020General

Vodacom, Vodafone’s largest African business, has announced a further roll-out of network equipment into South Africa’s poorest region as part of its pledge to create an inclusive digital society in the country.

The Vodacom Eastern Region network stretches from Albertinia in the Western Cape and covers all of the Eastern Cape, including Kokstad in KwaZulu Natal province. The Eastern Cape province, at
168,966 km2 is the second largest region in South Africa, covering nearly 14% of the country. The World Bank also says it is the poorest region in South Africa, with a 59.1% poverty rate in 2015. 

Vodacom has pledged to invest just over R200 million (€9.6m) into the Eastern Region network during the 2020/2021 financial year, building on R250 million (€12m) spent deploying network infrastructure in deep rural areas of the province in the past two years.

Mpumelelo Khumalo, Managing Executive for Vodacom Eastern Cape Region said: “Investing in our network ensures that we deliver best-in-class coverage and customer service, not only to urban areas, but to people who dwell in township and deep rural areas as well, so they are well positioned to take advantage of the benefits of the digital revolution.”

The network upgrades will see Vodacom’s 4G and 3G network expand in both urban and rural areas to deliver better coverage and stability. Existing mobile sites will also be upgraded and given more capacity to help manage growth in demand for calls and data services.   

Mpumelelo explained, “The upgrades will increase network capacity and this will help us to provide our customers with super-fast internet speeds, great quality voice and reduce dropped calls. In particular, the investment will ensure that many people, who only had access to 2G and 3G,  will be able to access internet for the first time through 4G networks at a time when data traffic growth since lockdown stands at 50%.”

Improving mobile networks in the region though will present several challenges to Vodacom engineers and not just because of the vastness of a region that is larger than the country of Tunisia.

The region is continuing to battle the vandalism of mobile sites and the theft of batteries that power them. Currently, two to three sites are being vandalised per day across the province, costing mobile providers hundreds of millions of Rand annually. Vodacom has stepped up its efforts to stop criminals from cutting off entire communities and is working closely with law enforcement agencies and security companies to arrest thieves.  

The power supply to mobile sites is a crucial issue in South Africa, where the country’s electricity network is load shedding – undergoing planned, rolling blackouts to manage excess demand. That can cause mobile coverage to cut out or become intermittent once the electricity supply to mobile towers runs out.  Vodacom’s investment will provide 70% of mobile towers in the Eastern Cape with additional back-up power sources, technology to stabilise power supply and multiple static standby generators, all to ensure that customers can get and stay connected.