How Vodacom grows its network despite red tape

A major obstacle to network infrastructure expansion for mobile operators is the municipal policies surrounding the erection of base stations.

Getting approval from municipalities to erect new base stations can be a time-consuming process and can have an effect on network rollout schedules.

A base station erected by Telkom in Cape Town was recently found to be built unlawfully, as the mobile operator did not comply fully with the re-zoning procedures of the municipality.

To combat this, Vodacom stated that it obtains all the necessary approvals from local municipal councils when erecting base stations.

The company also hosts public participation processes as required by the council, where residents are notified about its intention to erect a base station.

While it acknowledged that municipal policies can slow down infrastructure rollout, Vodacom said it is working with local councils to make this process easier.

Speaking at an event in Sandton, Johannesburg, Vodacom chief technical officer Andries Delport outlined how the mobile operator optimises its rollout strategy to reduce the impact of municipal policies on the pace of its expansion.

Expansion strategy

“[Municipal policy] does make it more difficult to roll out infrastructure quickly,” said Delport.

“Some municipalities are easier than others and some go quicker than others. Some municipalities have more restrictive policies,” he added.

“For instance, some of the municipalities state that there must be a minimum distance between masts.”

He said residents can also hinder the rollout speed of network infrastructure, as many deliberate the perceived health and property value effects of a cellphone mast close to their home.

Vodacom has implemented a number of strategies to reduce the effect of this red tape surrounding infrastructure expansion.

“We share a lot of base stations with other mobile network operators. Where you can, you rather build on a high building – removing the need for a mast.”

“There are also tower companies which have existing masts, removing the need to seek approval for the erection of a new mast.”

Delport said Vodacom is an advocate of more infrastructure sharing between mobile operators, as this improves efficiency for all parties involved.

“We would definitely be an advocate of more aggressive forms of infrastructure sharing. We could potentially share radios and go even deeper into the infrastructure.”

Now read: Vodacom to connect over 200 new rural network sites

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How Vodacom grows its network despite red tape