Vodacom exhausted its spectrum in South Africa, delaying its rollout of 4G in rural areas and limiting urban availability of LTE-Advanced (LTE-A), the operator said.
In an interview with TechCentral, Vodacom CTO Andries Delport (pictured) said its rural 4G coverage reached 44 per cent of the population, but it was unable to expand any further until more bandwidth is released by the country’s authorities.
The company’s head of innovation Jannie van Zyl added its LTE-A rollout was also being constrained by the lack of spectrum assets available.
South Africa’s operators have long bemoaned the slow release of the country’s airwaves, amid internal squabbles about how and when new spectrum should be allocated.
In his interview, Delport pointed to delays in clearing sub-900MHz airwaves currently used for analogue broadcast.
Clearing the band has been a long process, with South Africa’s authorities originally working to a deadline of January 2011 for switching off analogue TV signals.
The deadline moved several times since, with the switch to digital only beginning in February 2016. No new deadline for freeing-up the airwaves was offered, though the process is expected to take at least two years.
Vodacom said access to the airwaves would allow it to quickly and dramatically increase 4G availability in rural areas.
Delays in allocating new bandwidth for wireless services have been a constant theme in South Africa during recent years.
Earlier this year, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa was under pressure from operators and other government departments about its long-awaited 4G auction. The process was postponed from its earmarked date of January 2017 following a row over communications ownership in the country. A new schedule is yet to be announced.
While waiting for the release of wireless 4G capacity, in an attempt to increase broadband coverage in the country, the government announced a shared network deal in May. This would see an open access network created which any operator could access through wholesale agreements.