(Bloomberg) --

South Africa is rushing to boost radio spectrum for its main telecommunications companies to avoid a network breakdown as Africa’s most industrialized 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 Group Ltd. and MTN Group Ltd. 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 1 billion rand ($57 million), 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.”

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