Vodacom connects rural area with solar

2012-09-04 10:41
Vodacom has connected a rural community to the network. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Vodacom has connected a rural community to the network. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Cape Town - Vodacom has completed a solar-powered base station is a rural area to ensure that an isolated community has access to the mobile network.

The community of Vleiland, near Laingsburg in the Western Cape province has had no cellphone access because of the isolation of the area and Vodacom has been engaging with the people living there to provide network services.

"We very desperately want to help the Vleiland community get connected and we started talking to them in 2006 to find a solution that was cost-effective as well as technically feasible," Suraya Hamdulay, head of corporate citizenship at Vodacom Group told News24.

The area is isolated in part because of difficult terrain that makes it hard to build infrastructure for the community of around 500 permanent residents.

Vodacom investigated the feasibility of implementing a connectivity solution before deciding on a solar power.


"We have a terrain that is extremely inaccessible; it's not your typical terrain to put up a base station and get a community connected. So it's that big challenge.

"It's absolutely feasible and I suppose that is why it took us almost six years to find a solution," said Hamdulay.

She insisted that costs were taken into account before deciding on solar power and that it allows the company to deliver this programme in areas where appropriate.

"Under normal circumstances, a solution like this would be extremely costly, and then what have driven us would have been: 'Let's just find a solution at all costs'.

"But in this particular instance, it took us a long time to find a solution because we wanted to make sure that the solution that we found was one that could be replicated and rolled out, especially in areas that are completely off-grid and don't have access to conventional electricity."

Rural populations in SA, though, should not expect an immediate mass roll-out of mobile infrastructure as Vodacom said it would carefully consider the merits of each case.

"I'm saying it's possible, but from the technical side, I don't know what the plans are for other scenarios that present themselves in exactly the same way as Vleiland, but it is definitely possible and cost-effective and can be rolled out," Hamdulay said.

Energy footprint

Vodacom is currently fitting its offices with solar panels and hopes to supplement up to 75% of its costs with renewable energy.

Companies are looking to reduce their energy footprint as electricity costs spiral upward in SA and Hamdulay argued that solar power has proved its viability as an alternative source.

"Absolutely, and I think another proof point to prove that is that if you look at the project we're busy with Century City where we're covering our entire roof with solar panels. It's proof that solar is a viable option."

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