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JOHANNESBURG – In September 2019, Vodacom Mpumalanga Region partnered with BPG Langfontein, a farming business that employs the majority of the people living in Wakkerstroom in Mpumalanga province to create SA's first smartphone only town. Vodacom deployed 3G and 4G sites in Wakkerstroom and later moved over 1500 farm workers from using 2G feature phones to 3G and 4G enabled smartphones.
In fact, Vodacom's commitment to accelerate network coverage for people who live in Wakkerstroom has already yielded a great number of results. Within months of Vodacom having moved farm workers in the area to faster 4G network, Wakkerstroom enjoys 100% internet access for all Vodacom customers and the area has seen a 40% increase in data usage. Internet activity in the area has seen data traffic grow by 205% year on year, with data active customers increasing by 82%.
As a result, school-going kids can now access the internet for the first time and are using Vodacom e-School free of charge, whilst those who actively looking for jobs are using their smartphones to apply for jobs over the internet on Vodacom's zero-rated platforms through Vodacom ConnectU. Those who used to travel long distances to do banking are doing this on their smartphones from the comfort of their homes.
Zakhele Jiyane, Managing Executive for Vodacom Mpumalanga, said: "We are excited with the positive results in Wakkerstroom as this demonstrates that Vodacom has been successful in driving digital inclusion and adoption in the area. Our long-term vision, to have the widest and best network accessible to all South Africans, irrespective of where they live, started many years ago with substantial capital investments in our infrastructure. To achieve this, it's important that we invest in deep rural areas as well as in the townships to make sure that nobody gets left behind."
There is a proven link between increased internet access and economic growth, so by providing connectivity in rural areas of our country, Vodacom is playing a crucial role in driving South Africa's economy. A recent study by the International Telecommunications Union found that a 10% increase in mobile broadband penetration yields a 1.8% increase in GDP in middle-income countries and a 2% increase in low-income countries. Thus, the deployment of networks in deep rural areas will help to enhance socio-economic development in rural areas and access to the internet will help rural dwellers access services such as eHealth, eEducation and eCommerce.
Vodacom Mpumalanga region invested just over R300 million into the network across the province during the 2019/2020 financial year. This large investment in the network helped the region to bridge the digital divide, especially in rural and township areas and fast-tracked digital inclusion, enabling many rural dwellers to participate in the digital economy for the first time.
Currently, over 95% of Vodacom Mpumalanga sites have 4G activated and the 4G population covered has increased from 90.9% in March 2019 to 92.8% at the end of March 2020. 3G coverage increased marginally to 99.8%. The region has now passed 13 243 households of which 40% are already connected on its fast fibre broadband infrastructure.