Vodacom tackles demand for mobile data in townships

2015-04-22 13:26

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Mobile operator Vodacom is testing shipping-container base stations to meet the growing demand for mobile data usage.

According to Vodacom, mobile data usage in townships has been accelerating rapidly, placing pressure on mobile networks. This is largely due to the growth of low-cost smart mobile devices.

“We’re seeing data volumes in Gauteng’s townships almost doubling year on year, which is well ahead of the average growth rate countrywide,” said Andries Delport, chief technology officer at Vodacom.

“Identifying and building new sites to cater for this in densely populated areas has been difficult and, on top of that, site security can be an issue.”

As of December 31 2014, Vodacom had 16.8 million active data customers and data traffic countrywide had grown 62% year on year.

The number of smartphones and tablets active on the network was 9.5 million devices, up 24% on the previous year. The average amount of data used per smartphone was 358 MB a month.

“Our engineers went back to the drawing board and developed an entirely different approach,” said Delport.

“They repackaged the base station equipment inside a compact steel structure that is then bolted to the roof of existing shipping container shops. This means that new sites can be rolled out quite literally within weeks as opposed to the typical 12- to 18-month lead time to build new base stations.”

In addition to having a smaller footprint of nine square meters and being able to utilise existing infrastructure, these new base stations are more energy efficient and cost less than half the amount needed to build a traditional site.

Vodacom plans to roll out five sites as an initial test, the first of which to go live is in Alexandra. These test sites provide mobile coverage over a radius of up to 1.5km and can service 5000 subscribers at peak times.

“This solution isn’t just about mobile coverage. The shops located in containers typically sell airtime, M-pesa and telephone services. With a base station located on their roof, we’ll support the shop with an additional source of income, and they in turn provide us with added site security,” said Delport.

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