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Vodacom has spent more than R430 million this past year in improving network experience and extending coverage in the Eastern Cape. A large portion of this investment has been allocated to providing broadband connectivity in rural areas in the region to enable previously under-served communities to take advantage of the digital age and reap the associated benefits.
“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. This forms part of our ambition to improve the lives of all our customers, no matter where they live, through access to the life-changing benefits of digital technology and close the gap on existing inequalities,” says Mpumelelo Khumalo, Managing Executive for Vodacom Eastern Cape Region.
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 in the near future. 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 R43 million in back-up 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, Vodacom Eastern Region’s network teams continue to work against the odds to limit any service disruptions. These efforts, along with our significant investment into network capacity and coverage, ensures our Eastern Cape customers receive the best quality network performance under increased demand. In fact, we have seen an 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,” adds 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. Vodacom assisted these entrepreneurs with start-up stock and hosted live business tutorials on Facebook.
Providing further support for small to medium enterprises (SMEs), Vodacom Eastern Region extended its development programme for women-led SMEs in the information, communications and technology (ICT) space, offering technical advice, office space and access to facilities.
In a drive to bring down the cost to communicate, Vodacom Eastern Region has made connectivity more accessible and affordable through personalised data offers through Just4You and by raising awareness about its zero-rated online platforms, such as the Connect U portal. Free Wi-Fi access has been introduced in certain populated areas, such as taxi ranks, the centre of townships and restaurants, to accelerate digital inclusion.
Education and health are key focus areas for the region. As such, Vodacom has partnered with the Eastern Cape Department of Health to provide Internet of Things (IoT) solutions to manage data relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. The relationship between the technology company and Department of Basic Education has also been strengthened through the integration of ICT platforms in schools in the region to support access to quality education.
Other education initiatives in the region include the Vodacom Sustainable Living project, in which more than 70 schools have joined the Agriculture School Programme that aims to improve food security and inspire youth to enter the agriculture sector by leveraging digital technology. Furthermore, Vodacom Eastern Region donated scientific calculators to encourage greater participation in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects, as well as hygiene supplies and over 600 school shoes to local schools across the Eastern Cape.
“Our strategic partnerships with government and organisations in the region aim to harness the potential of digital technology to contribute to the economic prosperity and social development of not just the Eastern Cape, but for South Africa. Our purpose – to connect for a better future – remains at the heart of what we do, and we remain committed to creating an inclusive digital society where no one is left behind,” concludes Khumalo.