These charts show how much money South Africa’s operators spend on their networks

South African operators’ investments in their networks have gradually declined over the past four years, with spending totalling R47.6 billion in 2017, compared with R34 billion in 2021.

This is according to the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa’s (Icasa) latest State of the ICT Sector report, which also showed that, while overall investment in the sector declined, mobile operators have been ramping up spending.

Despite the overall investment decline between 2017 and 2021, total telecommunications investments have increased by 43.7% since 2015.

This is primarily due to a significant increase in spending in 2017, which saw investments rise from R19 billion in 2016 to R47.6 billion the following year — an increase of 150%.

Therefore, spending remains higher than the levels reported in 2015 and 2016, despite significant declines following the R47.6 injection in 2017.

Total telecommunication investment for the 12 months ending 30 September each year

Icasa also provided a breakdown of spending between the different sectors of the industry in its report.

It revealed that fixed-line telephone and broadband investments dropped by 22.6% and 1.6%, respectively, in 2021.

On the other hand, annual investments in mobile communication services rose by 10.5% in 2021. However, mobile communication spending was still down almost 12% from 2017.

Looking at the seven-year reporting period as a whole, spending in the mobile communications sector has increased by 7.7% since 2015 — an average annual increase of 1.1% per year.

Mobile communication investments totalled R17.3 billion and made up 50.1% of total spending by telecommunications network operators in 2021.

Telecommunication investment breakdown for the 12 months ending 30 September each year

Maintenance spending in the telecommunications industry has declined steadily since 2017. Network operators spent R3.7 billion on maintenance in 2017, which decreased by 69% over four years to R1.1 billion in 2021.

It should be noted that, before 2017, Icasa reported that network operators did not invest in maintenance, and therefore maintenance spending is still up compared with 2015 and 2016.

Based on the reported figures, South Africa’s telecommunication operators undertook significant expansion projects in 2017, spending R16 billion to grow their networks.

Network expansion investments decreased to R1.1 billion in 2021 — a drop of 93% over four years.

During the same period, infrastructure spending increased by 55.6%, from R3.8 billion in 2017 to R8.5 billion in 2021.

One possible explanation for why infrastructure spending increased while expansion efforts decreased, is that operators stepped up investment into batteries and security improvements to guard against load-shedding and theft.

Now read: How much money South Africa’s cellphone networks make

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These charts show how much money South Africa’s operators spend on their networks