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Vodacom to connect over 200 new rural network sites

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Vodacom group CTO Andries Delport.
Vodacom group CTO Andries Delport.

As part of its accelerated rural coverage programme, Vodacom plans to launch over 200 new rural network sites across all nine provinces in the year ahead.

This is according to Vodacom group CTO Andries Delport, speaking at a media roundtable in Johannesburg today.

The sites are located predominantly in Kwa-Zulu Natal, the Eastern Cape, Limpopo and Mpumalanga, he added.

Vodacom currently has 101 villages in its data coverage. Vodacom says it has focused on areas of no or low coverage where the network is most needed.

It also looked at rural areas with places of interest that would benefit from better connectivity; including hospitals, schools, police stations and transportation hubs.

Population coverage in urban areas is at 91%, with rural coverage at 48.5%, up from 43.5% a year ago, said Delport.

He noted 82 builds are already in progress and the villages were selected through an extensive prioritisation process.

"Vodacom's rural coverage acceleration programme has seen us make significant progress in connecting villages which have never experienced the various economic and societal benefits of cellphone connectivity."

In keeping with Vodacom's commitment to SMME development, the majority of the sites were allocated to small black-owned businesses to build, said Delport.

Vodacom is empowering these companies to become mobile tower operators, whereby they will build the sites and Vodacom will lease them back in return, he added.

All sites will be installed with 2G/3G capability, with the possibility to upgrade to 4G when spectrum becomes available. In villages with clinics, SASSA pay points or other important landmarks, Vodacom will prioritise 4G coverage, it adds.

However, Delport notes it is difficult to provide 4G coverage in rural areas.

"The reality is, we need more spectrum. You don't just need any type of spectrum, you need low frequency spectrum and the reason for that is low frequency spectrum provides better coverage.

"We do have low spectrum, we have 900MHZ, but it is being used for 2G. We can refarm it for 3G, but the truth is there is enough spectrum to dedicate it to 4G."

"You cannot provide coverage in rural areas without new spectrum," he points out, adding that lack of spectrum will limit 5G rollouts. "Spectrum is a key building block for 5G: if you don't have it, you don't have 5G."

Vodacom now provides 81.5% of South Africa's population with 4G coverage, with 99.4% of the population covered by 3G and 99,9% covered by 2G.

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