Building full-blown cellphone towers in rural villages usually doesn’t make a whole lot of business sense. In far-flung communities with only a few thousand inhabitants, a standard tower costs about $100,000 to set up, meaning that a mobile operator will usually have to wait 10 years to see a return on its investment, as traffic on these networks is limited, according to Chinese technology company Huawei. For that reason, mobile operators have focused on more profitable urban areas in their initial network rollouts — which means close to 1-million people are still without coverage in SA, says Huawei Southern Africa vice-president David Chen. That’s a staggering number, considering that Vodacom and MTN, which are obligated to achieve 100% coverage by 2020, launched SA’s first cellular services nearly a quarter of a century ago. With the universal coverage deadline approaching, Huawei and MTN are trying out a cell tower made specifically for rural areas. Forget the 30m² sites that cos...

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