Vodacom Eastern Cape Region is planning to invest just over R200 million ($11.6 million) into the network across the province during the 2020/2021 financial year. This substantial investment in the network will help the region in its efforts to bridge the digital divide, so that citizens in deep rural and township areas have the same network experience with those who reside in urban areas of the province. The investment of over R200 million ($11.6 million) on the network is on top of the R250 million ($14.5 million) the region spent in deploying network infrastructure in deep rural areas of the province in the last two years.
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 square kilometres is taking up 13.9% of South Africa’s land area and because of its vastness; it poses serious challenges for local network mobile providers to connect but Vodacom is making great strides.
Mpumelelo Khumalo, Managing Executive for Vodacom Eastern Cape Region said: “The basis of our competitive advantage lies in the combination of our world-class network, customer satisfaction and competitive pricing. At Vodacom we believe 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.”
Vodacom Eastern Cape Region’s capital expenditure of over R200 miilion (($11.6 million) will go towards the deployment of 20 new base stations in urban areas and 18 new base stations in rural areas. The region will also invest in the modernisation of 80+ sites in urban areas to unlock additional network capacity and higher download speeds. Additionally, the region will perform 4G capacity upgrades on 102 urban towers and on 48 rural towers, deploy new LTE on 27 rural towers and implement 3G capacity upgrades on 148 urban towers and 268 on rural towers. Critically, the region will install 90+ new broadband Microwave connections to rural towers.
Khumalo says: “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 internet for the first time through 4G/LTE networks at a time when data traffic growth since lockdown stands at 50%.”
The country is experiencing load shedding and when load shedding occurs, a cellphone tower remains fully functional for as long as the batteries last or the back-up generator keeps running. Once power is fully depleted, the tower stops working entirely and may cause a coverage area to black out entirely or for customers to experience intermittent service. The region is planning for this eventuality and its investment will minimise the impact of load-shedding on its network. For instance, 70% of all towers will receive replacement back-up power sources, renewal of rectifiers on over 400 sites to stabilise power supply and invest in multiple static standby generators.
The region is battling base station vandalism and battery theft. Currently, two to three sites are being vandalised per day across the province. Local cellphone network providers lose hundreds millions of rands worth of damage to its base stations annually because of theft and vandalism, with criminals cutting off entire communities.
The region has ramped up the fight against this criminal activity, and is working closely with law enforcement agencies and security companies to arrest thieves for prosecution. Just this past week the region received a tip-off from a member of the community in the rural surround of East London, police were called, and an arrest was made.
Last month, a man who stole equipment from mobile phone base stations in the Western Cape was handed a 500-year prison sentence by a regional court in Cape Town.
“The number one line of defence is the local community. We urge anyone who sees suspicious activity around our base stations to report it to the police,” concluded Khumalo.