Vodacom and MTN are fighting to be crowned the best network in South Africa, with MTN reigning supreme in the latest rankings.
Vodacom is, however, looking to turn the tables on MTN, and is investing heavily in its network to achieve this.
To improve its network, Vodacom is using a combination of network optimisation and the introduction of new features.
Vodacom highlighted three key features which it has deployed across a large part of its 4G network, which has increased data speeds and voice quality, a Vodacom spokesperson told MyBroadband.
- 256 Quadrature Amplitude Modulation (256QAM) – Transmits more data into the same amount of spectrum, thereby increasing spectral efficiency.
- 4G carrier aggregation (CA) – Enables customers to use more than one spectrum band at the same time to transmit data.
- New antennas and radios – Support Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) technology.
To enable 4G carrier aggregation, Vodacom systematically re-farmed spectrum from its 2G and 3G networks and used it for 4G.
“We continue to expand the footprint of 4G carrier aggregation sites, but there are limits to how much of the network can be addressed due to the spectrum constraints,” said Vodacom.
The company still has to serve its 2G and 3G customers who do not have 4G devices, however, which creates a delicate balancing-act.
In addition to this, MIMO offers improved data speeds using advanced signal processing techniques to send and receive multiple data streams across different data paths at the same time.
This allows customers to send and receive more data in the same amount of time, thereby increasing the data speeds which they experience.
It is also possible to improve the signal-to-noise ratio by exploiting the different amounts of interference which each radio path experiences.
“We are also continuously upgrading the software on our network to enable newer features to further improve the customer experience,” said Vodacom.
Monitoring network performance
Vodacom also has dedicated teams of engineers who analyse the network to proactively find faults and areas of poor performance.
“This is done by using a combination of network data obtained from performance statistics, drive testing, and crowd-sourced measurements,” said Vodacom.
Vodacom said it strives to fix the issues it finds, before they become apparent to customers.
The introduction of Self-Optimising Network (SON) technology to automate tasks like tilting antennas and fine-tuning network parameter settings are another asset used by Vodacom.
“This has increased our engineers’ productivity and we have seen significant improvements in important customer experience KPIs such as the dropped call rate.”
Vodacom is aggressively growing its 4G coverage and recently exceeded the 80% population coverage mark in South Africa.
While certain network improvements and new features are rolled out across the entire network quickly, other changes are more complex.
“To implement the changes, our network operations team ensures that there is minimal disruption to users,”said Vodacom.
To achieve this, improvements are made during low-usage periods – typically in the early hours of the morning.
“After we implement changes to the live network, we closely monitor the impact to ensure there are no adverse effects.”
Vodacom said it is also focussed on network deployment in rural areas, which is carried out through site solutions that can be deployed in challenging terrain.