Vodacom will not be able to offer uncapped mobile data packages unless it gets more spectrum to expand its 5G network.
This is according to Vodacom Group CEO, Shameel Joosub who spoke to MyBroadband about the company’s plans for 5G, one year after it launched the first 5G mobile network in the country.
Joosub said Vodacom wanted to grow its 5G mobile network, which would enable it to offer uncapped or high data cap packages.
Vodacom’s 5G mobile network went live at 20 sites in Johannesburg, Pretoria, and Cape Town, in May 2020.
Since that time, it has incrementally extended coverage in these locations, while select parts of Durban have also been added to the 5G network.
Vodacom said the assignment of temporary emergency spectrum played a key part in this rollout, in addition to its roaming agreement with Liquid Telecom, which provided it with sufficient spectrum to support the 5G network.
The maps below show Vodacom 5G coverage in Pretoria, Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban.
The 5G expansion has been slow when compared to Vodacom’s LTE/4G rollout.
The operator launched the country’s first 4G mobile network in October 2012, with 70 base stations providing 4G connectivity to customers in Johannesburg.
By the next month, it had grown coverage to 400 sites across South Africa and by the end of March 2013, it had over 600 sites.
Around five years after the launch, it reached more than 75% population coverage. Today, the 4G network covers more than 95% of the population.
Based on this, many might assume Vodacom’s 4G network would be perfect for providing broadband services to those who cannot be reached by fixed solutions – like fibre.
Joosub said while mobile data plays a crucial role in bringing quality broadband to more South Africans, it was not a good idea for operators to offer uncapped packages on 4G networks due to the current contention of users on limited available spectrum.
Vodacom has 81MHz of spectrum which it has to use to provide services to 44 million subscribers.
That means it has more than 543,200 subscribers per MHz, more than any other network operator in the country.
Despite this, it still manages to outperform Telkom, Cell C, and Rain in network speed tests, showing that it uses its spectrum more efficiently.
Pushing the network even further by providing uncapped data at affordable rates would be to the detriment of the larger customer base, Joosub explained.
“Trying to provide an unlimited wireless service on a 4G network is not very economical and doesn’t really make sense,” Joosub said.
“It will not be long before all your customers will start suffering from those unlimited services, because you can’t keep up with the capacity.”
Joosub said that 5G was the crucial answer to these limits, as it would empower telecommunications companies to offer new types of mobile broadband packages.
“5G is a different technology, and can emulate fibre-like offerings and allow you to do bigger bundles and unlimited offerings,” Joosub stated.
However, it will not be possible to exponentially increase 5G availability until new spectrum was available.
With South Africa’s spectrum auction delayed due Telkom’s interdict against ICASA, it is unlikely that Vodacom would be able to significantly expand its 5G network in the near future.
Joosub called on stakeholders in the spectrum auction to stop “playing games” and do what’s best for the country.
“We do need certainty. The delays in the spectrum auction is holding the country back,” Joosub stated.
He added that aside from being able to provide more data to customers, the additional spectrum would enable operators to bring down data prices.