Vodacom pumps R100m into KZN rural connectivity drive

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Mobile operator Vodacom is moving forward with its drive to connect underserviced rural areas in SA.

Less than a month after the mobile network operator switched on 21 new 3G- and 4G-enabled base station sites in the Vodacom Central Region, Vodacom KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) has announced it has spent R100 million to build 84 new base stations for previously unconnected areas.

The investment comes as mobile operators have frequently been accused of under-investing in SA’s rural areas because of lack of commercial viability.

In a statement, Vodacom says the KZN region has accelerated its deep rural network investment to cover remote areas of the province that had no mobile network connectivity.

It notes that an investment of close to R100 million over three financial periods has led to the deployment of the new base station sites, ushering in a new era of mobile connectivity and successfully driving digital inclusion for all.

The new sites were rolled out in nine district municipalities and 14 local municipalities, including Jozini, uMhlabuyalingana, uMfolozi, uMlalazi, uMsinga, uMzumbe, uMgeni, Ray Nkonyeni, Mandeni, eNdumeni, eDumbe, Msunduzi, Newcastle and Nqutu.

The operator says this is part of Vodacom’s Rural Coverage Acceleration Programme aimed at expanding network coverage for people who live in deep rural areas of SA to augment the good work that Vodacom regions have done in ramping up network infrastructure outside of urban areas over many years.

“In a bid to ensure the widest and first-class network that is accessible to all South Africans, we made a deliberate decision to invest in the region and are making great progress so that we leave no one behind,” says Ishmael Mathinya, executive head for operations, Vodacom KZN.

“The R100 million investment in deep rural areas has enabled us to further expand our 3G and 4G network coverage, increase data speed, and help reduce our dropped-call rate, ensuring we continue to deliver on our ‘leading network’ promise. Critically, with these new base station sites, we have connected previously unconnected areas, enabling scores of people to use innovative digital services in their daily lives that will empower them in a digital age.”

Vodacom says its commitment to accelerate network coverage for people who live in deep rural areas has yielded significant positive societal impact.

It says within months of Vodacom having deployed new 3G and 4G sites, school-going children can now access the Internet for the first time, while those who are actively looking for jobs are using their smartphones so that they can apply for jobs online.

“They have the option of using Vodacom’s e-school and jobs portals that are both zero-rated for Vodacom subscribers. Those who previously had to travel long distances to do banking are now doing this on their devices from the comfort of their homes,” the company says.

It points out that a World Bank study concluded that a 10-percentage point increase in fixed broadband penetration could increase GDP growth by 1.21% in developed economies and 1.38% in developing ones.

In this financial year (FY21/22), the region is planning to deploy 29 new deep rural base stations with all standard technologies across the KZN region to cover 14 municipalities.

The municipalities that will obtain a greater share in this financial year include uPhongolo, Umtshezi, Okhahlamba, uMZumbe, Ray Nkonyeni, uMhlabuyalinga, Umuziwabantu, Alfred Duma, Dannhauser, uMzimkhulu, uMsinga, uMhlathuze. The areas include Nyavini, Sitezi, Gansa, Bobweni, KwaNzimakwe, KwaMlamula, Manyampisi, KwaMasondo, Shemula Gata, Phakamisa and Sitilo, Vodacom says.

According to Vodacom, the new investment is going to bolster local economic development, including empowering SMMEs as well as benefiting over 80 communities.

Secondly, it adds, by deploying 3G and 4G in nine district municipalities of KZN, “we continue to help bridge the digital divide and foster digitalisation in the rural communities.

“These sites will also address the crime challenges in various areas, including cross-border through reliable communication with Community Service Centres. Critically, by the end of FY21/22, the region has an ambition of achieving 95% 4G population coverage in KZN.”

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