Briefing Document:

Rudi Matjokana, ME for Vodacom Business Public Enterprise  

Date: Wednesday 17 April 2019

Time: 14:00 Ballroom

Panel discussion: Samantha Barnard, Phambano Technology Development Centre | Kerryn Krige, International Labour Organisation |


Trialogue is one of only a few consultancies in South Africa that focus exclusively on corporate responsibility issues. Over 17 years of experience puts us at the forefront of new developments in sustainability and corporate social investment (CSI).

We are a 51% black-owned company and the southern African Local Authority of the CECP Global Exchange.

We share our knowledge through our publications, conference, training programs and forums, and use our expertise to support clients through our consulting and reporting services. From our offices in Cape Town and Johannesburg, we serve clients across South Africa.

Suggested Approach for Rudi’s preparation:

There is a natural link between how Vodacom, a digital telco at the core of its business, is leveraging on emerging technologies for Sustainable Development.

The recommendation is that we select a few of the emerging technologies that can be leveraged for sustainable development where the links are the strongest with Vodacom Business.


Leveraging Emerging Technologies for Sustainable Development

Our networked society is changing the way we live. The impact and implications of the digital revolution are becoming more evident with each passing hour. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognizes the great potential of global connectivity to spur human progress. It challenges us to ensure universal and affordable Internet access for all.


Fast-forward progress leveraging tech to achieve the global goals #ICT4SDGs


1. 5G

Vodacom Group last year launched Africa’s first commercial 5G service. This is “Africa’s first standards-based, commercial 5G service”, which is being used in Lesotho. The 5G service uses 3.5GHz spectrum to deliver fixed-wireless access to two enterprise customers in the country. The immediate benefit of 5G technology for Vodacom subscribers in Lesotho includes the quicker deployment of broadband services with fibre-like speeds.

We deployed the same standards-based 5G technology in South Africa, with speeds more than 700Mbit/s and latencies of less than 10ms. This will exceed 1Gbit/s as new software versions and devices become available. However, until 3.5GHz spectrum becomes available to Vodacom South Africa, this network will not be available to its customers.

The immediate benefit of 5G technology for Vodacom subscribers in Lesotho includes the quicker deployment of broadband services with fibre-like speeds. With early access to this new technology, entrepreneurs, industry shapers and government will in future be able to work with Vodacom to develop and incubate innovative applications to power digital transformation in Lesotho.

What we’ve accomplished in Lesotho is an example of what can be achieved in Africa, should the requisite spectrum also be made available.

More needs to be done. We need to expand 4G coverage and keep pace with an increase of more than 45% in sustained data traffic demand. Both of these come at a cost and we have invested R32, 7 billion over the past four years.

However, lack of access to spectrum is hampering our ability to drive down infrastructure costs and in turn, enable us to pass savings to the consumer.

2. AI & Big Data Analysis

Big data is one of our biggest bets and we’re investing a lot of money in this space, along with machine learning.

It’s important for a business like ours to do so to remain relevant. Artificial intelligence is also quite critical. If you take an area like our call centres, for instance, we are a business with over 39 million customers, and a lot of time is taken by customers trying to identify themselves when they call us. We need predictive analytics to know why they are calling us, and be able to solve their problems before they even call.

We need to be able to know our customers through voice recognition, for instance, and anticipate why they are calling the moment we pick up their voice; look back on the other times you have called us to know the pattern of what you are calling about; and be able to route you automatically to the agent who will best serve you. And all of that requires machine learning.

Driverless car technology is also a key area of interest for us. If you look at the areas where we have already invested, it goes without saying that driverless vehicles are a big opportunity for us and we are collaborating with developers on a global scale for those opportunities. Because a driverless car cannot work without the right network, it’s not for the car manufacturers to create the network, they have to work with us to do that.

3. IOT

Vodacom Business has capabilities beyond fixed and mobile services that could be applied in communities in order to help address challenges affecting communities across the country. Some of these capabilities include Internet of Things (IoT), a platform for aggregation and analytics, digital Health capability to help support health screening at the edge and Big Data as a Service. Vodacom has strong generic IoT capabilities and would like to work with Government in order to define specific solutions that can help address specific challenges amongst these health and safety services and to help save costs.

Our prime example of a transformation technology is Connected Farmer; the result of an estimated combined investment of R21 million over three years. The cloud-based web and mobile software solution, which was launched by Vodacom Business, has connected thousands of smallholder farmers to the agriculture value chain.

This small business model has achieved its purpose of turning smallholder farmers into a sustainable realistic and executable food manufacturers and retail businesses, increasing the number of smallholder subsistence farmers in commercial agriculture value chains within South Africa.

We’re already doing quite a lot of IoT, but we started with enterprise. So we are working with various municipalities, for example, on smart metering projects. We are working with the Department of Health on areas like the replenishing of stock for hospitals using our IoT system. We are working with some of the financial services companies in terms of payments and ordering systems. We recently launched the Citizen Engagement application, a mobile digital app that assists government and citizens with service delivery communication.  

In the consumer space we have also announced the global launch of consumer IoT through Vodafone and of course this work lends itself to a bigger focus on different business units. So you can expect that we will be diversifying our business as a result of this.

4. Virtual Reality

Vodacom Business has recently introduced Virtual Teacher technology in partnership with the Department of Education to address some of the challenges facing our education system, particularly in rural and underperforming schools.

The solution is about bringing innovative technology to those who need it most in order to improve learning outcomes for all education segments in our country. The future of the South African education system is digital and we must embrace the opportunities this offers to leapfrog infrastructural backlogs and legacy issues in our schools.

Virtual Teacher is a new interactive technology platform which allows an individual teacher or lecturer to deliver lessons in real-time to multiple remote classrooms or locations simultaneously. Through a range of smart devices, learners can join classes from anywhere and at any time. For the first time in South Africa, the technology can be accessed through any personal device.

For example, in order to improve the matric pass rate in the Eastern Cape Province, the Department of Education is using the Virtual Teacher platform to provide extra classes to students at selected districts in the province. Lessons are delivered remotely by some of the country’s best teachers, with an emphasis on Mathematics, Science and Accounting. Students from various locations are transported to teaching sites in the Eastern Cape, including Mdantsane, Maluti, Lusikisiki and Mt Frere.

Sustainable Development

When it comes to Sustainable Development, we have to make sure that as the Fourth Industrial Revolution is being embraced by South African companies, we must make sure that nobody is left behind.

Accelerating and sustaining progress: ICTs can help overcome bottlenecks to progress, so as to catalyze and sustain development gains. ICTs are increasingly facilitating efforts to prevent and recover from setbacks that disproportionally affect marginalized and poor populations.

During disease outbreaks, for example, big data from mobile phones can help track the movement of people, helping to prevent, predict and prepare for the spread of deadly diseases, as was the case in the Ebola crisis in West Africa. Mobile phones were also vital to ensure timely, accurate payments to those who provided health and other critical services on the frontlines of the Ebola response, enabling them to meet their own needs and provide continuous care.

More generally, mobile phones have the potential to enable real-time tracking and guide recovery measures in crisis-affected countries, to ensure crisis response interventions are more effective. After Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, UNDP partnered with private telecom companies to implement emergency cash for work schemes for debris management in poor communities. Participants paid through mobile phones have continued to benefit from mobile banking although the scheme has ended.

Governments can foster the use of digital payments and mobile money in ways that expand financial services to poor and marginalized populations, helping them build assets and weather financial shocks. In Africa, 12 percent of adults now have mobile bank accounts, compared with just 2 percent globally, in large part due to the innovation of M-Pesa in Kenya10. In China, digital payments through social networks and e-commerce platforms are bringing financial services to millions, helping low-income populations invest, save and build credit scores. As of September 2016, China’s Alipay platform had provided financing to over 4.11 million small and microenterprises and entrepreneurs.

Globally, decision-makers should work together to identify technologies vital to SDG achievement and take steps to remove obstacles to their adoption. More work is needed, including in research and development, to unleash the potential of big data. Acceptable standards and agreed privacy safeguards are needed to overcome the reluctance to share data and fully tap the vast potential to improve policies, get results, and build the capacity of stakeholders to use and apply data and information to poverty-related interventions.

As a company, Vodacom is transforming into a digital business. We’re also looking at what does the Fourth Industrial Revolution mean for our customers. We looking at what does access to broadband and internet access mean to base of the pyramid customers and how do we make sure that they have sufficient digital literacy so that they know how to use the internet and that they are not excluded because they don’t know how to use it.

The majority of people in SA access the internet through their smartphones, so we have to make sure that people have smartphones, we have to make sure that they know how to use it and we have to make sure that there is sufficient education around our products and services that are meant for people who live in rural areas.

In terms of access to education, for instance, we introduced our free educational portal called the Vodacom e-School. This is a free internet educational content platform. We recently, introduced free internet for Universities. This means University educational content is now available for students for free. Access to health care information, in this regard, we have Siyakha which is a platform that provides free access to content for the bottom of the pyramid. Through these platforms people can have free internet access to information anytime and anywhere.

Digital inclusion has to go with education in respect of how to use and access the internet. Our strategy around the Fourth Industrial Revolution is to make sure that people who are remote have access and they benefit from our products and services.

When it comes to Affordability, we have to make sure that our customers can afford our products and services.

Our customers who live in rural areas can’t afford our products and services. As a result, we have now introduced a strategy around smart phones, we’ve introduced a range of smart and affordable low-cost devices. This in order to help encourage the use of smartphones and help bridge the digital divide.

We want to move away from phones that were only 2G enabled to 3G and 4G network because we know the impact of smart penetration, what it can do for people and how their lives can change if they had access to smart phones.

So, we’ve introduced a strategy for devices in order to make sure that each person has a smart phone. Vodacom is committed to reducing data tariffs through our bundled and personalised data prices. We also have a strategy around pricing and in this regard, we want to make sure that our pricing structures talk to the affordability of our products and services.

Vodacom has recently introduced a series of measures to encourage in-bundle adoption and minimise out-of-bundle usage. These include sending in-bundle data usage notifications, which include personalised Just4You offers, which provide better value, and sending customers out-of-bundle data usage reminders which carry the actual rand value.

All customers receive the first notification once R10 has been spent out-of-bundle, and depending on the customer profile, they can be sent up to 10 trigger notifications to encourage in-bundle data usage. Our Just4You platform provides personalised offers for customers and helps drive down costs. More than 40% of our customers used voice or data bundles in the past financial year, an increase of around 25% and our aim is to increase usage further. Accelerating price reductions for data creates greater value for customers.

In all our development efforts in terms of accessibility, affordability, inclusiveness and transformation, we have to prioritise the needs of today and of the future.


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