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Vodacom pumps R320m into KZN network expansion push

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Ishmael Mathinya, executive head for operations for Vodacom KwaZulu-Natal.
Ishmael Mathinya, executive head for operations for Vodacom KwaZulu-Natal.

Vodacom is investing over R320 million in a broadband infrastructure buildout in the KwaZulu-Natal province, with the bigger chunk of the budget going to the underserved rural areas, during the 2020/2021 financial year.

The country’s leading mobile operator says this capital expenditure will go towards building new LTE base station sites in both urban and deep rural areas of the province, as well as help to reduce the digital divide.

Vodacom says the availability of high-speed broadband is critical to deep rural development, as these communities are lagging behind in terms of broadband connectivity, excluding many from the digital revolution.

This connectivity conundrum in rural SA affects nearly every province, and government as well as the private sector are eager to provide lasting solutions together.

Government is mulling subsidised broadband access for low-income earners across the country.

Vodacom says the allotted R320 million capital expenditure for the KwaZulu-Natal region will go towards the deployment of more than 50 new base stations across the province; 27 of those have since been switched on.

An additional 19 are planned until the end of the 2021 financial year in deep rural areas. Some of the district municipalities that stand to benefit from the rural network programme include eThekwini (8), Ugu (1), Umhlabuyalingana (2), Umkhanyakude (1), uThungulu (1) and Zululand (1).

“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. This is why we are deploying more sites in rural areas in this financial period in areas which did not previously have network access,” says Ishmael Mathinya, executive head for operations for Vodacom KwaZulu-Natal.

“There has been a massive focus on broadband connectivity in the rural areas, with LTE coverage specifically in the rural segment at just over 80% and plans to address remaining areas by the end of the 2021 financial year. Critically, the region crossed the 2 000 base station mark in mid-year. Furthermore, we’ve completed an additional 625 sites as part of bandwidth expansion in order to provide far more improved data experience largely targeted in eThekwini and Pietermaritzburg.”

Supersonic fibre

According to Vodacom, a share of the capital expenditure will be used to roll out ultra-fast fibre, also to accelerate digital inclusion.

It says 56km of fibre will be installed in Newcastle, running from Newcastle, Madadeni, Oswezwini and Blaauwbousch, back to Newcastle.

This project, Vodacom says, will be completed on 22 December and the national long route fibre in construction running from Durban, Scottsburg, Port Shepstone, Harding to Kokstad will be completed by the end of the 2021 financial year.

“The upgrades will increase network capacity, allowing the region to provide 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 the Internet for the first time through 4G/LTE and super-fast fibre networks,” says Vodacom.

The KwaZulu-Natal region investment comes on the back of another multimillion-rand rural network expansion in the Eastern Cape.

Vodacom announced an extra R200 million in August for the Eastern Cape, which will go towards the deployment of 20 new base stations in urban areas and 18 new base stations in rural areas.

The telco said at the time it will also invest in the modernisation of over 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.

More than 90 new broadband microwave connections to rural towers will also be installed.

Vodacom accelerated its rural coverage programme over a year ago to cater for more than 16 million people in areas where there has 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.

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