Vodacom will invest an extra R200 million in the Eastern Cape, as it takes on rivals in an aggressive expansion in the rural areas.
The capital expenditure will go towards the deployment of 20 new base stations in urban areas and 18 new base stations in rural areas.
Vodacom says it will also invest in the modernisation of 80 sites in urban areas to unlock additional network capacity and higher download speeds.
It will perform 4G capacity upgrades on 102 urban towers and 48 rural towers, deploy new LTE on 27 rural towers and implement 3G capacity upgrades on 148 urban towers and 268 on rural towers.
More than 90 new broadband microwave connections to rural towers will also be installed.
The Vodacom Eastern Region network stretches from Albertinia in the Western Cape and covers all of the Eastern Cape, including Kokstad in the KwaZulu-Natal province covering 168 966km2.
Mpumelelo Khumalo, managing executive for Vodacom Eastern Cape, says: “The basis of our competitive advantage lies in the combination of our world-class network, customer satisfaction and competitive pricing.
“We believe investing in our network ensures 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.”
Vodacom says the planned investment during the 2020/2021 financial year will help the Eastern Cape in its efforts to bridge the digital divide, “so that citizens in deep rural and township areas have the same network experience as those who reside in urban areas of the province”.
The R200 million planned spend is in addition to the R250 million already spent on deploying network infrastructure in deep rural areas of the province in the last two years.
“The upgrades will increase network capacity and this will help us to provide our customers 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 the Internet for the first time through 4G/LTE networks at a time when data traffic growth since lockdown stands at 50%,” says Khumalo.
Furthermore, Vodacom says it is factoring the on-going power cuts into its plans and the investment will cater to minimising the impact of load-shedding on its network.
It says 70% of all towers will receive replacement backup power sources, renewal of rectifiers on 400 sites to stabilise power supply and multiple static standby generators.
The investment in the Eastern Cape comes on the back of increased spend on network upgrades by the mobile operator, which now covers over 97% of the South African population living in rural areas, with 4G coverage now sitting at over 75%.
Vodacom accelerated its rural coverage programme over a year ago to cater for more than 16 million people in areas where there had previously been under-investment by mobile network operators.
Six years ago, Vodacom’s 4G service covered only 1% of SA’s rural population, while its 3G network covered 64%.
According to the mobile operator, the final piece of the funding puzzle for the next phase of improving connectivity in rural SA is now in place, with the announcement last year that it will contribute more than R9 billion to a network modernisation programme to improve mobile broadband and cure cellular dead zones.
Then chief technology officer Andries Delport told ITWeb: “Despite the lack of available spectrum, Vodacom has made substantial progress in improving network coverage in both rural and deep rural areas of South Africa. With rural land making up 98.6% of the total land area in SA, Vodacom has prioritised connectivity in these regions, facilitating access to the digital resources which many of us take for granted in cities.
“Vodacom recognises the need to support rural development by enabling remote communities to access the full economic and social benefits of the Internet. In the year ahead, our plan is to prioritise closing the rural digital divide and help support the South African government’s 4IR [fourth industrial revolution] objectives.”