Data demand soars in Gauteng townships

Mobile network Vodacom is turning to shipping containers to provide data services in townships. (Vodacom)
Mobile network Vodacom is turning to shipping containers to provide data services in townships. (Vodacom)

Johannesburg - Internet data volumes for mobile network Vodacom are growing faster in Gauteng townships than the national average.

On a nationwide basis, Vodacom says the number of smartphones and tablets active on its network were registered at 9.5 million devices on December 31 2014, up 24% on the previous year.

Vodacom adds that nationwide it had 16.8 million active data customers in December last year and that data traffic countrywide had grown 62% year on year.

READ MORE: Digital tsunami to hit SA workplace

But the mobile network, which is South Africa’s biggest with an estimated 30 million subscribers, has said that data growth rates for Gauteng townships are outpacing the national average.

“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 Vodacom’s chief technology officer Andries Delport in a statement.

As a result, Vodacom is trying to cope with the demand.

And instead of building more mobile towers that can cost up to R1.5m to install, the company says it is turning instead to a shipping container solution to plug the gap.

“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,” Delport said.

“Our engineers went back to the drawing board and developed an entirely different approach. 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 12-18 month lead time to build new base stations,” he added.

Apart from taking quicker to build, the shipping containers also take up less space at nine square metres rather than traditional 15-25 metre tall towers that occupy 30 square metres or more.

Vodacom says the shipping container stations are also more energy efficient and cost less than half of traditional towers.

Vodacom's illustration of how it installs its container base stations. (Vodacom)

Vodacom plans to establish five sites as an initial test with the first site going live in Alexandra township in Johannesburg. Test sites are further planned to provide mobile coverage over a radius of up to 1.5km and service 5 000 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. It makes us part of the community,” said Delport.

Do you think container base stations are the way forward for boosting mobile phone signals and data services in SA? Let us know by clicking here or commenting below.

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