Focus on connecting East Cape

Vodacom’s Vision 2020 strategy includes rolling out hi-tech communications network in rural areas

Connectivity is no longer a privilege but a right, according to Vodacom Eastern region managing executive Mpumelelo Khumalo.
Speaking at Vodacom’s regional office in Port Elizabeth on Tuesday, Khumalo highlighted key points in Vodacom’s Vision 2020 strategy to reorient the mobile communications firm into a fully digitally pivoted organisation.
In the last three years, Vodacom has invested R750m into its network rollout programme, with half the money spent in rural communities in the Eastern Cape.
“In our effort to provide coverage in these communities, in this year alone, we have built 23 sites in the Eastern Cape which could easily be serving about 42 communities.
“We have around 30 left to do, but we believe we can build more than that,” Khumalo said.
But the investments have not come without challenges.
Network operations head Christien Geldenhuys said vandalism and Eskom’s degraded infrastructure had been major problems in keeping the network up and growing it.
“For us to put new [network] sites in rural communities we have to wait for Eskom to electrify,” she said.
“But for some reason, telecommunications is not one of their highest priorities.
“This often delays the processes of bringing connectivity to rural communities.
“Of the R750m we have invested in the Eastern Cape, about half has gone into rural communities.”
Geldenhuys said the province’s metros and big towns were mostly covered by fibre internet connections and had good transmission and electricity, so Vodacom had been able to implement the best technologies in these areas.
“So what we are doing now is to take as much transmission capacity as possible and to implement the newest technologies in rural areas.
“Even though the uptake of 4G to a large extent in these communities is still low, we want to bring it into as many towns as possible to ensure that our customers in rural areas have the best experience on our network,” she said.
Approvals were another challenge, Khumalo said.
“Approvals are a constraint in this business. Municipalities need to approve and in the rural communities the land belongs to the community.
“So when it comes to payment for rent, we don’t know who to pay and it results in squabbles.”
Connectivity is further hindered and delayed through generators and batteries being stolen from the sites, and continued vandalism.
However, Vodacom is engaging with the various communities to come up with solutions to keep the sites safe and keep rural citizens connected to the world.
Commercial sales and marketing head Travis Goate said one way the company was trying to get communities on its side was by building business partner relationships.
“People in the community sell our prepaid sim cards, we give them a commission, so it’s in their best interest that the network stays up,” Goate said.
Khumalo said Vodacom was also cutting across business sectors, including health, agriculture and education, to improve service delivery.
Through its partnership with the department of education, Vodacom’s virtual classroom and e-school initiatives were driven to improve the learning experience of pupils in remote regions, he said.
“Quality education could actually alleviate poverty.
“Education can not only drive entrepreneurship but also communities to be more sustainable.
“Our virtual classes are a solution – think about two schools – one is an exceptional school excelling in maths and science and another school in, say, Qumbu that is struggling.
“While the teacher will be based at one school, using a big screen, he or she can also teach students at the other school,” Khumalo said.
“But what is closer to my heart is the e-school.
“Pupils from grade R to grade 12 can ask any question on our portal related to their subjects, post it and receive an answer within 24 hours.
“The data is zero-rated, so you have free education.”
Goate further highlighted the benefits for students.
“We zero-rate data for most universities in SA.
“So if you’re a student at Nelson Mandela University, and you go to your home in Motherwell, for example, you can access the student portal to see past papers [and] lectures free on Vodacom.”

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