Vodacom plays down uncapped mobile broadband

Pieter Uys

Vodacom has played down the idea of uncapped broadband plans on its network, especially if it can’t get access to more radio frequency spectrum. This is despite rival MTN’s moves to offer uncapped data in some tariff plans, subject to certain terms and conditions.

“It’s technically very difficult to build enough base stations with the available spectrum in the universe,” says Vodacom Group CEO Pieter Uys. “God only created so much spectrum. You can’t go to the hardware store and buy more spectrum.”

Uys was speaking at a Vodacom-sponsored conference hosted by MyBroadband, a consumer forum website, in Midrand on Wednesday.

Referring to the network capacity problems operators experienced in the US when Apple allowed iPhone users to tether their devices with computers, Uys says that as long as there’s a “scarce resource like spectrum and uncertainty as to who will have what spectrum, it’s difficult to see a world where mobile data is completely uncapped”.

Uys says Vodacom has experienced problems offering unlimited data on BlackBerry devices because users have figured out how to use the phones to download huge amounts of data. The BlackBerry Internet Service is meant for on-device browsing and e-mail only, but Uys says “some very smart customers” have managed to use the service to download vast amounts of data.

“The current record is 332GB for [the user’s] R59/month [BlackBerry subscription],” he says. “Five hundred guys are downloading more than 500 000 ‘normal’ users. There must be a balance.”

Uys claims Vodacom is adding 100Mbit/s a week to the international link to BlackBerry maker Research in Motion’s data centre in the UK and the line now has throughput of 1,5Gbit/s.

Vodacom is rumoured to be planning to offer flat-rated service for Android smartphones and other devices, but Uys won’t be drawn on the company’s plans. “You will see more and more of these bundled services where you pay X and get Y. It’s a trend around the world and you will see it in SA. It will be a bundle of things. It’s going to be in the bundle.”

Uys revealed that Vodacom now has more than 4m smartphones active on its network, of which 1,5m are BlackBerrys and 200 000 are Apple iPhones. About 15m of phones on its network are data-capable.  — Duncan McLeod, TechCentral

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