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Ongoing network investment is crucial for any operator in any region in order to maintain service levels, roll out additional services and provide comprehensive coverage to areas that might previously have been underserviced. To this end South Africa’s largest operator, Vodacom, has allocated R1 billion for upgrades to its network infrastructure in Gauteng.

Increasing investment across South Africa

‘The areas where we’ll be focusing on increasing LTE coverage are the business hubs and urban areas such as Pretoria, Bryanston and Rosebank as well as the major townships.’

– Shane Hibbard, managing executive for Vodacom’s Gauteng operations

This forms part of Vodacom’s plan – announced earlier this year by Group CEO Shameel Joosub – to increase investment in Vodacom’s network across South Africa by 30%. This investment will be used to increase the number of base stations across the country (along with the fibre-optic infrastructure that serves them), expand data coverage into rural areas and deploy faster technology like LTE more widely.

This year alone Vodacom has added 293 3G-enabled sites to its national footprint, along with an additional 473 LTE-enabled sites, which represents an increase of more than 50% in the number of live LTE sites on the operator’s network.

Moreover, almost 75% of Vodacom’s sites are now connected using the operator’s own high-capacity transmission infrastructure. This added capacity means that even as network traffic grows on the back of falling prices, Vodacom can continue to offer its customers excellent network performance and quality of service.

R1 billion injection for Gauteng alone

‘I’m pleased to announce that in excess of R1 billion has been earmarked for network investment in Gauteng in the current financial year,’ says Shane Hibbard, managing executive for Vodacom’s Gauteng operations. ‘Of this amount, a large portion will be used to upgrade and increase Gauteng’s 3G coverage in the major townships. By the end of March 2015 we will have added more than 400 new 3G sites.’

Hibbard says the move means Vodacom will be bringing higher quality and higher speed data services ‘to thousands of people who currently only have voice services and limited data services. More specifically, the upgrade will increase network capacity and provide improved voice quality and mobile data speeds in areas such as Soweto, Orange Farm, Alexandra, Tembisa, Mamelodi, Atteridgeville and Soshanguve’.

Vodacom, which was the first South African operator to roll out commercial LTE services in 2012, is also working to expand its LTE footprint in Gauteng substantially. By April next year Vodacom expects to have 600 new LTE sites live, which will grow the province’s LTE coverage from approximately 25% of sites currently to 38% of sites in the region.

‘With LTE, video and music downloads can be accomplished in a fraction of the time of traditional 3G services,’ Hibbard explains. ‘The areas where we’ll be focusing on increasing LTE coverage are the business hubs and urban areas such as Pretoria, Bryanston and Rosebank as well as the major townships.’

Reducing costs sustainably

Though download speeds are important and form one of the key focus areas of the planned investment, simultaneously adding capacity is also important in order to ensure customers continue to receive excellent service, even when putting greater demands on Vodacom’s network.

Hibbard says one of Vodacom’s ‘major strategic objectives’ is to sustainably reduce the cost of communicating. ‘Just cutting prices without increasing capacity is a recipe for congestion and unhappy customers. To put all of this into perspective, data volumes on our network in South Africa increased around 70% over the past year. If that were road traffic, you could imagine the congestion and impact on traffic speeds.’

Hibbard explains that Vodacom’s approach has been to ‘significantly ramp up investment so that we can not only cater for the massive increase in data traffic on our network, but actually provide even more new capacity’. This, he says, is the only sustainable route to a lower cost to communicate, something that will benefit all South Africans.

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