South Africa has a problem. We call it load shedding. You might have heard of it. We’ve spent the last decade or so suffering at the hands of Eskom, and it’s only going to get worse. If you’ve managed to avoid all that, we don’t like you very much.
South Africa’s network operators have had it particularly bad. When higher stages of load shedding kick in, the operators often don’t see enough electricity in a day to keep their backup batteries charged. This means paying for generators and fuel (which is at least a bit cheaper as of today) or losing coverage for customers entirely.
MyBroadband spoke to the five biggest operators in the country and asked them what their aims for 2023 were. Many mentioned that escaping Eskom’s tyranny would be a focal point in their strategies. They also gave some insight into how they would be working to expand 5G coverage around the country and how they plan to give back to make user experiences better.
MTN has a big year ahead. Jacqui O’Sullivan, MTN executive for corporate affairs, said the company would be spending big on improving its network infrastructure and improving the customer experience. Specifically, MTN is continuing the modernisation of its network by adding new features and 5G abilities.
Possibly its biggest spend of the year will be purchasing bigger and better batteries to keep its towers running. “Millions” are expected to be spent on upgrading both batteries and base station security over the coming year.
MTN’s ‘Ultra-Rural Rollout’ is another big project in the works. As you might have guessed, the goal of the Ultra-Rural Rollout is to expand MTN’s presence in remote communities, building infrastructure where it’s needed and improving on already-built infrastructure.
And finally, we could see reduced data prices along with the expansion of Mobile Money.
Vodacom failed to go in-depth when asked about its plans. It stated that it wanted to become the market leader in all the countries it operates in, South Africa included. (Well, duh).
“Looking ahead, we have a number of propositions lined up on our roadmap for 2023, which we cannot reveal until we are ready,” Vodacom said. “This is purely due to the competitive nature of our industry.”
5G coverage is being expanded, though the exact scale of Vodacom’s upgrade is unknown. It didn’t elaborate on how many sites it has planted around the country, and how many more it would be adding. Gotta avoid the criminals, we guess.
What Vodacom could talk about is its upcoming merging of fibre assets with CIVH’s Vumatel and DFA. This isn’t a done deal, as it’s still awaiting approval by regulatory authorities. Should it go through, it’ll be huge for Vodacom, expanding its fibre footprint in the country massively.
Raining Cats and Dogs
As it stands, Rain currently offers fixed 4G and 5G services, coupled with 4G-only mobile services. That could be changing soon, with co-CEO Johan van Zyl confirming plans for a 5G mobile network, set to (hopefully) launch in September.
On top of that, Rain is opting to use its new radio frequency spectrum to increase coverage for all its services and products. Oh, and Rain is launching and hosting GeForce Now, South Africa’s first cloud gaming service. But we already knew that.
Cell C doesn’t have much going on in 2023. It has goals to complete the decommissioning of its physical radio access, and finish moving all its customers moving onto either Vodacom or MTN’s networks. At least it doesn’t have to stress about batteries and generators and thieves. Let MTN and Vodacom deal with that.
There are plans in place to finally offer 5G, though it couldn’t go into any detail about how or when that might happen. Fingers crossed for 2023!
After Telkom’s rather late arrival to the 5G party, the company has plans to add to its current 136 5G sites around the country. “We believe that 5G will be another step towards ensuring everyone has access to connectivity, irrespective of where they are situated in the country,” said a Telkom spokesperson.
“…We have been laser-focused on delivering on our strategy to provide shareholder value by ensuring long-term, sustainable growth.”
It also said that it expects to continue dealing with the load shedding crisis. Telkom didn’t say whether it would spend the money on upgrading those facilities like MTN has done, though we can be sure some money will flow in that direction.
Speaking of MTN, Telkom has said it’s still open to talks with MTN about a potential sale, though we’re pretty sure that’ll never happen. A more likely option is the sale of Rain to Telkom, something that both parties are looking into. “The plan is to finalise these discussions by end of December,” Telkom said.