Vodacom rolls out 4G coverage in rural areas
Vodacom aims to connect a million people in rural areas to the high-speed internet network.
The company spent R1.8bn in the quarter to June expanding coverage and capacity on its 3G and 4G network. In the financial year to March 2018, it will spend up to 14% of revenue mainly on infrastructure.
Vodacom has 39.4-million subscribers in SA.
The rural high-speed network roll-out is expected to cost more per capita than in other areas because of the low population density in many areas. Each base station, a short-range radio transmitter that connects wireless devices to a network, may cost as much as R1.8m.
"We need to be smarter in how we cover rural areas," said chief technology officer Andries Delport.
He said the government’s proposed wireless open access network company might play a role in bringing high-speed internet connections to people in rural areas.
There was also a need to co-operate with other mobile network operators to connect the rural areas.
Vodacom says 75.9% of SA’s population has 4G coverage, while 99.2% has access to 3G. Vodacom added 463,000 4G customers in the June quarter, taking the total to 5.5-million.
Mobile operators are focusing more on metropolitan areas and other built-up areas, where returns on investment are higher. However, a shortage of radio spectrum is also making it difficult to extend the roll-out to rural areas.
In the absence of the spectrum required for 4G network, mobile network operators are refarming spectrum to ensure high-speed coverage in underserved areas.
Refarming is the process of redeploying spectrum from existing customers and relocating it to other users.
Operators are waiting for radio frequency spectrum within the 800HMz band, which will be freed up by television broadcasting migrating from analogue to digital signals.
Delport said if the company had access to the spectrum within that band, it would be able to expand 4G coverage in rural areas much faster.
As mobile network operators expand high-speed network coverage and capacity, the high price of data has also come under the spotlight.
Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub previously said the group was committed to reducing data tariffs through its bundled and personalised data prices.