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By 16 August 2019 | Categories: news

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Vodacom gave a frank, revealing, sometimes concerning and mostly reassuring overview of where the telco giant is at the moment. Elaborated on at a media breakfast this week in Sandton were the hefty investments that Vodacom is making into South Africa, as well as some of the major challenges it faces.  

The company began by noting that in 2018 it invested R9.6 billion worth into capital expenditure (capex), and this year its capex will be above the R9 billion mark again. Chief technology officer for Vodacom Group, Andries Delport, explained that this is spread across three areas – its network, IT and cybersecurity. 

Connected the isolated

Vodacom’s first priority on the network side of things is providing coverage to deep rural sites, which previously were completely isolated.

To this end, the company explained that it has extended its rural and deep rural 4G (LTE) coverage to over 16 million people. 

As well, thanks to a rural coverage acceleration programme, Vodacom has made rapid progress, with its 3G network now available to more than 97% of the South African population living in rural areas. 

As for rural 4G population coverage, this has now exceeded 75%, which, the company noted, is a “considerable improvement” from the 1% of the rural population that had 4G in 2013.

Keeping up with the times

As well, network modernisation is also a focus, according to Delport, which includes preparing for 5G.However, the company made it clear that we shouldn’t expect  5G to replace 4G anytime soon, and thus improving capacity on the latter remains a large part of their operations.   

While there has been progress there have also been challenges. Chief amongst these is Eskom and its woes, and the resulting load shedding that the country has periodically experienced. (Delport explains the essence of the power outage dilemma in the video below.) Exacerbating matters is that base tower batteries are frequently stolen, with some 1500 to 2000 batteries being lost to theft every month.

This, along with the theft of copper cables, presents issues that the company is working to address. One way that Vodacom plans to do so, elaborated Delport, is by moving away from acid batteries to the second version of lithium ones that, if disconnected, will not work with a supplier’s code.

This, he hopes, will become more well known to syndicates to realise that there is no point in stealing batteries that they cannot use or sell.  

Moving ahead

Also earning a share of that R9 billion investment is the focus on IT. “We’ve seen the IT budget in Vodacom increase significantly over the past several years. Today we spend two to three times as much on IT as did a few years ago,” he continued.

The reason for this is that Vodacom is no longer solely a telco, investing in financial services, and tourism. “If I look at the products and services that we launch, we implemented some 400 to 450 new features with regards to video, gaming, and music, which were things that we didn’t do traditionally,” he added.

Staying safe

Last but not least, Delport continued that, a great deal of investment is going into cybersecurity. “Cybercrime is our number one risk, and protecting the network, and our customer information, is paramount. Our strategy is quite simple - spend a lot of money to prevent people from hacking our network, which ranges from  nation states to cyber criminals,” he explained.

He added that while prevention is top of mind, the company has also invested a lot of money into being able to detect an attacker immediately should a breach occur. “Combating cybercrime is a never-ending battle; this is not something where you arrive at the finish line. Every week we get information about new malware, and new vulnerabilities,” he stressed.

In short, Vodacom’s state of operations seems to be optimistic, even as it faces challenges of power outages, cybercrime and theft, with the company putting serious money behind continuing its operations into the near and far future. 

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