Cell phone reception
(Getty Images)
  • Vodacom has invested R100 million in its Rural Coverage Acceleration Programme.
  • This has brought mobile network coverage to remote regions in South Africa, with 82 cell phone towers deployed in KwaZulu-Natal alone since 2018.
  • These base stations are strategically placed to cover rural schools, community halls, and taxi ranks.
  • The newfound reception is also making a dent in cross-border crimes, with better communication around Lesotho, Mozambique, and eSwatini.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Mobile network coverage is being brought to far-flung regions of KwaZulu-Natal as part of Vodacom's Rural Coverage Acceleration Programme. Nearly R100 million has already been invested in 84 new base station sites, with the company targeting 95% 4G coverage in the province by the end of 2022.

South Africa's biggest mobile network provider is on a mission to cover the most remote regions of KwaZulu-Natal over a three-year period. The programme has already benefited nine district municipalities and 14 local municipalities which previously had no mobile network connectivity.

The programme was introduced in 2018 with the aim of connecting "villages which have never experienced the various economic and societal benefits of cell phone connectivity." The rollout began with the installation of 2G/3G capable sites in the Eastern Cape, Limpopo, and Mpumalanga. These base stations were quickly upgraded to 4G, with faster and more reliable coverage expanding into KwaZulu-Natal.

"The majority of the sites were allocated to small black-owned businesses to build," noted Vodacom in detailing its rural programme and the inclusion of small, medium, and micro-sized enterprises (SMME).

"Vodacom is empowering these companies to become mobile tower operators, whereby they will build the sites and Vodacom will lease them back in return."

Remote regions which have recently been connected to Vodacom's mobile coverage network include the uMhlabuyalingana local municipality, in the northern most part of KwaZulu-Natal which borders Mozambique, and Mandeni, between Richard's Bay and Durban.

Vodacom is deploying a further 29 towers to 14 municipalities within the next year, with a specific focus on covering rural schools, community halls, and taxi ranks. This includes extending the network to rural areas within the uPhongolo municipality, which borders eSwatini, and Okhahlamba in the Drakensberg mountains which borders Lesotho.

Pupils in rural schools near Kwamshudu, Sithembile, and Mathulini have, for the first time, been able to connect to the internet via their smartphones. In addition to creating new educational opportunities, the coverage is also assisting job hunters who can now access listings and correspond with potential employers on their mobile phones.

It's also introduced the ease of mobile banking, reducing the need for residents to travel long distances from rural settlements into town.

Extending mobile network coverage to remote areas also aids crimefighting operations, according to Vodacom. Community Service Centres are now able to communicate more effectively, especially with regards to cross-border crimes around eSwatini, Mozambique, and Lesotho.

(Compiled by Luke Daniel)

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