Vodacom, SA's largest mobile operator, said on Wednesday it would spend more than R500m within two months to add network capacity during the national state of disaster.

Vodacom said its SA unit had accelerated investment spend in recent weeks to ensure that its network “remains resilient despite increases in traffic across both its mobile and fixed networks since the start of the national emergency lockdown.”

More than R500m will be spent over a two-month period to “add network capacity and increase network resilience during the lockdown period and to help cope with any possible load-shedding.” 

The operator expects network traffic to increase even further as customers connect for longer after dropping mobile data prices by up to 40% on its 30-day data bundles in response to pressure by competition authorities, together with the launch of free access to essential online services through its zero-rated ConnectU platform from the start of April.

Vodacom said that that process included accelerating the installation of smart energy management solutions and supplementary network capacity.

The operator confirmed that it had applied to the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) for temporary spectrum and was waiting for the application to be evaluated. Last week, the regulator said it had received 35 applications for the temporary spectrum allocation.

Vodacom acknowledged that large international content providers such as Netflix, YouTube and Facebook had also reduced the resolution of video content to help ease the burden on networks across the world during the crisis.

Before the lockdown, traffic typically peaked during certain hours of the day, but the network operator is now experiencing sustained peak traffic patterns for almost the entire day “as South Africans are dependent on the network to stay in touch, work from home and keep entertained”.

Group chief technology officer at Vodacom Andries Delport said in a statement: “Vodacom is doing everything possible to ensure that we maintain our network service quality during this unprecedented time, with a notable increase in traffic already under way. We are monitoring all traffic patterns daily and prioritising key network upgrades to add capacity and maintain the quality of services delivered to our customers where required.”

“We are hopeful that we will be able to gain temporary access to spectrum to enable additional capacity to be added in the quickest and most cost-effective manner as traffic increases further. Vodacom’s priority is ensuring that all possible measures are in place to support SA’s efforts to combat the outbreak of Covid-19.”

“We will continue to increase our network investment spend to manage the extraordinary traffic increases in the short term. We remain ready to support governments through our various operations across the continent in whatever way we can,” he said.

Vodacom has not experienced any major network outages since the national lockdown began, the company said.


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