SA rushes to boost mobile spectrum, while ISPs upgrade internet speeds for free during lockdown

By Loni Prinsloo

(Bloomberg) – South Africa is rushing to boost radio spectrum for its main telecommunications companies to avoid a network breakdown as Africa’s most industrialised nation prepares for a three-week lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa is in talks with companies including Vodacom and MTN to find ways to provide the wireless carriers with additional capacity, the regulator’s spokesman, Paseka Maleka, said by phone. The Department of Communications and Digital Technologies has almost finished finalizing directives to ensure it happens.

“This is in anticipation of a sharp increase in data and voice services during the period, and to try and ease congestion,” Maseka said.

Wireless carriers have been struggling with a lack of radio broadband for more than a decade in South Africa. The last time the government granted additional spectrum to Vodacom and MTN was in 2005 for the rollout of 3G. Since then, the provision of 4G services has constrained the system.

The government has regularly pledged to auction more spectrum, but the process has been hit by repeated delays.

With schools now closed, South Africa’s two largest operators have cut data prices and offered free services to its customers to help with services such as online education. Vodacom’s offers come into effect at the start of April and will help customers to stay connected longer, said Byron Kennedy, the spokesman for Vodacom, the nation’s largest operator.

The company is in the advanced stages of obtaining back-up equipment and extra batteries worth about R1bn ($57m), he said.

“Vodacom is now faced with a situation where we need to deal with increased traffic on our network as more people observe Covid-19 protocols and work from home,” Kennedy said. “We are working on network-capacity upgrades on our mobile and fixed networks.”


Free internet speed upgrades during lockdown in SA

Meanwhile, MyBroadband reports South African Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and fibre network operators are working together to upgrade internet speeds for free during the national lockdown in South Africa.

Vumatel first announced that it would upgrade the line speeds of existing users on its fibre network at no additional cost from 1 April until 31 May 2020.

To further assist ISPs, Vumatel and its interconnect partner have agreed to increase the bandwidth capacity of Network to Network Interface (NNI) at no additional charge for March, April, and May.

Other fibre network operators followed Vumatel’s example. Frogfoot said fibre-to-the-home customers will receive a free upgrade between 1 April 2020 and 30 June 2020.

Link Africa also upgraded its fibre line speeds between 17 March 2020 and 17 July 2020 through participating ISPs.

MetroFibre has remotely upgraded its subscribers’ FTTH packages with a bandwidth increase to help cope with increased daily demand. The upgrade will be at no cost to subscribers and will be in effect for two months from today, ending on 25 May.