Vodacom KwaZulu-Natal will spend over R1-billion into the mobile network this year, to improve regional coverage reach, capacity and network resilience, and accelerate access to connectivity throughout the province, particularly in deep rural areas and townships.

“This significant investment into the region’s mobile network drives our goal of building an inclusive, digital society. By increasing access to reliable, quality connectivity, such as the deployment of more sites and network upgrades, as well as continuing to deliver an exceptional network experience to our customers, we can help to ensure the benefits of digitalisation are within the reach of all communities we serve,” says Imran Khan, Managing Executive for Vodacom KwaZulu-Natal.

Bridging the digital divide by expanding rural coverage

From this capital expenditure, R444 million will go towards radio access network related projects, R135 million has been allocated for regional network capacity and upgrades, with R85 million to be spent on improving network resilience, optimisation and operations, and R17.5 million on core network infrastructure upgrades and projects. In addition, Vodacom plans to expand LTE capacity to 704 base station sites in KwaZulu-Natal in the current financial year.

“An impressive 99.5% of the region’s population have access to our 3G coverage, while we provide 97.6% with 4G. We are rolling out 27 new urban sites and 43 new deep rural sites across KwaZulu-Natal this financial year to expand this reach, and, importantly, connect the unconnected to online resources, such as education, healthcare and financial services, that have the potential to transform lives,” adds Khan.

Looking towards a 5G-enabled future

The KwaZulu-Natal region now has over 200 sites on 5G, with the rollout ongoing in the current financial year to add another 61 sites. 5G connectivity will deliver even greater benefits, supporting more widespread use of technologies like the Internet of Things and Software-Defined Wide-Area Networking. For businesses, in particular, 5G has the potential to unlock data-driven productivity that will fuel our economy.

“We are hoping to increase this 5G site count even more as the spectrum implementation process continues. At the moment, metro and high-demand areas in the region are benefiting from 5G, but our aim is to expand the coverage reach and capacity, so that all sectors of the economy, from agriculture to small businesses, can widely utilise new technologies, such as the Internet of Things, to boost sustainable productivity,” says Khan.

Overcoming network disruptions

“Load shedding, battery theft and vandalism at base stations, and the recent floods all have had an enormous effect on our network infrastructure in the region. Keeping our customers connected when they need it most remains a priority for Vodacom, and we have managed to overcome these obstacles through our increased investment in back-up energy solutions,” adds Khan.

Due to the R70 million investment into back-up energy projects, Vodacom KwaZulu-Natal has been able to increase site power standby time from four to eight hours, which has a significant impact on network availability during longer outages of stage 4-6 load shedding, as well as after the recent flood damage in the region. Vodacom KwaZulu-Natal has also deployed over 180 generators across sites to assist with back-up power in the event of any disruption, with the procurement of 75 more in progress to increase network capacity.

Enhancing customer network experience

As a result of a R150 million spend on core network voice and data engineering services and roll-out, and other network optimisation upgrades, Vodacom KwaZulu-Natal boasts a call drop rate of 0.2% and a call setup success rate of 99.5%. The region has also seen an additional 300 000 active data users joining the customer base in the last financial year.

“Our customers are experiencing excellent service for voice calls, as well as quality connectivity, whether it’s for school, work and play. But we want this customer experience to be affordable for all, which is why we have introduced initiatives in the region that bring down the cost to communicate, such as a decrease in 1GB bundle pricing in April from R95 to R85, our Just4YourTown pricing for prepaid data bundles in every town in KwaZulu-Natal, data value-adds to youth customers on our NXT LVL products, and RED price plans with much larger data allocations at excellent value monthly pricing,” says Khan.

Driving digital inclusion

Vodacom’s zero-rated e-learning and ConnectU platforms are furthering digital inclusion at no extra cost, while offering education and employment opportunities to support socio-economic development in KwaZulu-Natal.

The region also assisted small businesses in becoming operational again after the July 2021 unrest, by replacing network routers free of charge so that they could get connected to the internet and their network timeously, educating affected business customers on data back-up to the cloud, and creating a network of customers that could provide security, essential services and food to those in need.

To further support small businesses in the region, Vodacom’s Fast Forward Series, in partnership with FaceBook (Meta), Google, SmartXchange and Business Doctors, has trained SMMEs across the province in various business skills such as financial health and social media marketing, to encourage sustainable enterprise growth and foster digital and financial inclusion.

“The last financial year has not been without its challenges, but Vodacom KwaZulu-Natal region has continued to make headway on our technology company’s promise of connecting for a better future. This is more important than ever as we move into an increasingly digitalised post-Covid landscape, where our investment in network performance and coverage reach, delivery of quality customer experience and affordable, inclusive digital services and solutions will help to ensure no one is left behind,” concludes Khan.