Vodacom, a South African mobile communications company, has announced a further roll-out of network equipment into the poorest region of the southernmost country of the African continent as part of its pledge to create an inclusive digital society in the country.
The Vodacom Eastern Region network stretches from Albertinia in the Western Cape and covers all of the Eastern Cape, including Kokstad in KwaZulu Natal province.
“As part of Vodacom’s purpose-led strategy to extend digital inclusivity, we now have 400 base station sites in rural areas in the Eastern Cape, introducing 4G connectivity to more than 19 villages this past financial year,” said Mpumelelo Khumalo, Managing Executive for Vodacom Eastern Cape Region.
According to a press release from Vodacom, majority-owned by Britain's Vodafone, the region has seen broadband connectivity densified in 30 urban areas, and 5G rolled out to two metros, with plans to bring this next-generation technology to other areas of the region shortly. By expanding connectivity in both urban and rural areas, Vodacom Eastern Region boasts 86% 4G coverage, which is set to increase in the coming year.
Load-shedding is an ongoing challenge to the availability of network services across the region, exacerbated by a 76% increase in theft and vandalism at base station sites. Vodacom has invested more than ZAR 43 million in backup power and security to improve resilience to these issues. In addition, heavy storms at the end of 2021 caused extensive damage to network infrastructure, resulting in extended power outages and limited access to connectivity for many Eastern Cape residents.
“Despite these challenges, we have seen a 19.8% growth in our customer base, with our voice and data speeds outranking our competitors in independent benchmarking and customers voting us as the network of choice in a Net Promoter Score survey,” added Khumalo.
Socioeconomic development is another huge hurdle the region faces. The Eastern Cape has the highest unemployment rate of all the provinces in South Africa at 47.4%, according to the latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey released by Stats SA.
To encourage employment opportunities for young people, Vodacom Eastern Region launched the For Money programme, which enables youth to start their own microbusinesses, using their talents such as baking or fashion.