Vodacom: More spectrum crucial to meeting SA broadband targets

Vodacom officials say that the South African government’s Vision 2020 target of 100 percent broadband penetration will not be met without more spectrum, which is unlikely in the near future.

Chief Technology Officer Andries Delport told HumanIPO in an interview that, though the company’s LTE rollout was key to meeting the targets, further penetration was unlikely without further expansion measures.

“In Vision 2020, the government wants 100 per cent penetration or coverage,” said Delport. “They’re not going to achieve that without more spectrum capacity.”

Delport said that Vodacom has not received any official communication from industry regulator the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) as to whether such an addition will occur.

Vodacom is currently operating 70 LTE sites around Johannesburg using refarmed spectrum of 1,800 megaHertz. The company has promised to set up at least another 450 sites before the end of the year, and has promised that services will be taken countrywide over the next twelve months.

Yet officials say that, in the long-term, the network will not be able to handle increasing levels of use if reliance continues to be placed on refarmed bandwidth. They say that the provision and functioning of extensive 4G services across the country will not be successful unless more spectrum is made available by the regulator.

“South Africa is a country measuring 1,219,090 square kilometres,” said Delport. “To provide broadband coverage to a country of that size you need a lot of it [spectrum].”

He concluded that with respect to a potential countrywide switch to an LTE network, “the biggest issue is spectrum”, while speculating that delays that would come with adding extra spectrum to the network, even if the regulator did decide to go ahead.

“It won’t come soon,” he said. “Adding spectrum first requires the launch of digital TV, which is taking some time in South Africa. To be honest, I think it will take years before we get more spectrum. We will just need to refarm for now.”

Meanwhile, Head of Corporate Communications Richard Boorman considered the importance of mobile technology to achieving Vision 2020 targets. Citing the 1 million ADSL lines currently active in South Africa, he noted that broadband penetration is limited to 10 per cent of the country’s population.

He went on to discuss the World Bank’s 2009 report entitled Information and Communication for Development, which following studies conducted between 1980 and 2006 revealed a direct connection between broadband internet coverage and a country’s economic growth.

Boorman told HumanIPO: “Mobile penetration is the only way to achieve 100 per cent penetration. By providing mobile internet services we [Vodacom] can help economic development in line with the targets set out in Vision 2020”.

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