Vodacom South Africa is struggling to expand its 4G LTE network in rural areas due to a lack of spectrum, according to Vodacom Group’s Chief Technology Officer Andries Delport. TechCentral cited the executive as saying: ‘4G coverage in metro areas is around 91% of population, but it’s only 44% of the population in rural areas … When do we run out of spectrum? We have run out of spectrum. If you look at the 44% rural coverage and the reason we cannot expand it, it’s because we don’t have spectrum.’ Delport said that if Vodacom had access to the 800MHz band (currently used for television broadcasting due to delays in the country’s digital television migration project), it would be able to dramatically expand 4G coverage in rural areas ‘in the space of several months.’
Delport also revealed that Vodacom has 4,700 base transceiver stations (BTS) in rural areas providing 95% of the population with speeds in excess of 1Mbps. However, around one million South Africans live in areas where speeds are sub-1Mbps. Delport estimated that between 1,500 and 3,000 new sites need to be built to provide broadband to those underserved regions: ‘These are very low-density areas. At ZAR1.8 million [USD136,000] per base station (excluding transmission and other costs), it can become quite expensive.’ He said operators need to co-operate in order to solve the challenge.