Vodacom South Africa has significantly accelerated investment spend in recent weeks to ensure that its network remains resilient despite increases in traffic across both its mobile and fixed networks since the start of the national emergency lockdown. Vodacom expects network traffic to increase even further as customers connect for longer after it implemented price cuts of up to 40% on its 30-day data bundles and launched a range of free essential services available through its zero-rated ConnectU platform on 1 April.
Over R500 million will be spent over a two-month period to add network capacity and increase network resilience during the lockdown period and to help cope with any possible load shedding. This includes accelerating the installation of smart energy management solutions and supplementary network capacity.
Telecommunications has been classified by the South African government as an essential service in the Disaster Management Act, and must continue operating during the lockdown. Vodacom has secured permits from government to enable its field teams to continue performing their critical duties during this time, such as repairs and upgrades to key communications infrastructure. Vodacom has also ordered spare parts needed for maintenance in advance.
Vodacom welcomes the Electronic Communications, Postal and Broadcasting directions issued by the Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies on 26 March, which proposes a number of measures to help operators cope with the increased traffic demand by proposing the temporary allocation of currently unused spectrum, and also helping to facilitate the rapid deployment of key communications infrastructure during the declared national disaster period. Vodacom has applied to ICASA for temporary spectrum and we are waiting for our application to be evaluated.
Large international content providers such as Netflix, YouTube and Facebook have also reduced the resolution of video content to help ease the burden on networks across the world during the crisis. Prior to the lockdown, traffic typically peaked during certain hours of the day, but Vodacom is now experiencing sustained peak traffic patterns for almost the entire day as South Africans are dependent on the network to stay in touch, work from home and keep entertained. Vodacom has not experienced any major network outages since the national lockdown began.
Vodacom Group Chief Technology Officer Andries Delport says “Vodacom is doing everything possible to ensure that we maintain our network service quality during this unprecedented time, with a notable increase in traffic already under way. We are monitoring all traffic patterns daily and prioritising key network upgrades to add capacity and maintain the quality of services delivered to our customers where required. We are hopeful that we will be able to gain temporary access to spectrum to enable additional capacity to be added in the quickest and most cost-effective manner as traffic increases further. Vodacom’s priority is ensuring that all possible measures are in place to support South Africa’s efforts to combat the outbreak of COVID-19. We will continue to increase our network investment spend to manage the extraordinary traffic increases in the short term. We remain ready to support governments through our various operations across the continent in whatever way we can.”
Vodacom recently announced various initiatives that came into effect from 1 April which will save customers R2,7 billion. These include a reduction in monthly data bundle tariffs of up to 40%, access to free SMSes and numerous free essential services through ConnectU. These initiatives are also expected to result in significantly increased traffic on the Vodacom network.