Vodacom has seen continued growth across its 3G and 4G networks, with more users adopting 3G and 4G-compatible devices.
The network has also continued to expand its coverage across South Africa and will soon reach 85% 4G population coverage, Vodacom chief technical officer Andries Delport told SME Fusion.
4G adoption has been particularly high in urban areas, and Delport said Vodacom now covers 91.5% of South African’s urban population with its 4G network.
Delport said 4G rural coverage was still a challenge, however, due to a lack of low-frequency spectrum.
“You cannot efficiently build a 4G network on 1,800MHz in rural areas. We have 900MHz spectrum, but there is not enough to dedicate to 4G for rural rollout,” said Delport.
He added that mobile operators in South Africa have effectively run out of available spectrum.
A large amount of low-frequency spectrum remains allocated to television broadcasting, though, and may be allocated to mobile providers when the country’s migration to digital terrestrial television is complete.
Urban areas and 5G
Vodacom said its coverage and network performance in urban areas continues to improve and it is preparing its network in these areas for a 5G rollout by re-farming existing spectrum and upgrading infrastructure.
Delport said that while turning off 2G in areas where 5G rolls out to customers makes sense, there many obstacles in the way.
He said that as new technologies roll out on, operators will eventually need to phase out older technologies – with the generic strategy in Europe being the phasing out of 3G.
Switching off 2G would happen locally in areas such as Sandton or Cape Town, where there is increased adoption of technologies like 3G and 4G, but the widespread penetration of 2G devices remains a major problem.
“On 2G, you still have a lot of devices used for vehicle tracking, point of sale, and others, which means you have to upgrade these devices to be 3G-compatible,” said Delport.
Delport said that is logistically difficult, especially as 2G devices are cheaper than their more advanced counterparts.
He added that switching off 2G or 3G would have to be an industry-wide action, as a single operator migrating their network while others maintained 2G support would result in an imbalance in user experience.
“The largest portion of our data traffic is still carried on 3G, so it is also not easy to switch off 3G,” said Delport.
Delport said Vodacom was discussing its plans for the eventual migration from 2G and 3G to newer technologies like 5G in South Africa, however.
“We are having the discussion in areas like the Western Cape, where there is higher 4G device penetration.”
“If you effectively switch off 3G or 2G, there are still a number of devices which will not have the same level of service.”
2G devices such as point-of-sale systems could potentially migrate to Vodacom’s NB-IoT network, but there are still many logistical issues with upgrading devices to reduce the negative impact of switching off the older technologies.
Delport also noted that although places like Sandton have a high percentage of 4G-compatible devices, there is still a large number of users with 2G or 3G phones who frequent the area.