What happens to South African networks when load-shedding returns

Load-shedding has a big negative effect on South African businesses, homes, and industries.

According to the OUTA, load-shedding costs South Africa up to R5 billion per day.

Without electricity, businesses can’t operate, which sees them lose large amounts of revenue – all due to failures at Eskom.

South African broadband networks are also affected by load-shedding, further impacting the running of businesses which have backup power.

Vumatel customers recently reported significant downtime thanks to load-shedding, as even when the power returns providers take time to get their systems up and running.

To learn more, MyBroadband spoke to several South African broadband providers about how load-shedding affects their network operations.


Vodacom

Vodacom said it has put proactive measures in place to help mitigate the effects of widespread load-shedding.

These include additional batteries and generators that have been installed across sites nationwide. Vodacom added that it is also prepared to deal with an extended period of load-shedding.

“We have multiple layers of protection on our core facilities. On our base stations we have battery backup, which we continuously upgrade based on battery life cycles. ”

However, Vodacom added that this costs the company tens of millions of rands, which impacts the cost of operating the network.


MTN

MTN claims to be the network least affected by load-shedding due to its R43-billion investment in its network over the past four years.

It has installed backup batteries and/or generators at most of its cellphone sites, which should keep MTN customers connected.

However, MTN noted that stage 3 and 4 load-shedding bring with them greater risk to network consistency and delivery.

“The more severe load-shedding, where power goes out in a particular area more than once a day or for extended periods of time, can result in the batteries simply not having enough time to fully recharge before the next outage.”

“While MTN has largely been able to mitigate this, stage 3 and 4 load shedding has resulted in some intermittent network outages.”


Cell C

Cell C said that even when load-shedding does not take place, mobile networks face significant electricity-based challenges locally.

“On any given day 80% of the alarms on the Cell C network are related to power outages or power-induced failures in various areas around the country,” said Cell C.

“Load-shedding compounds these problems exponentially, with vandalism doubling during these periods.”

The mobile network added that load-shedding also affects the efficacy of their batteries, as they are not given adequate time to recharge.

Cell C said that it had made “several attempts” to engage with Eskom regarding energy solutions for mobile networks, but these efforts have been unsuccessful.


Rain

Khaya Dlanga, CMO at Rain, said they have battery backups at all towers.

Key sites also have generators, but according to Dlanga, these provisions aren’t always enough.

“Some towers are affected as the duration of load-shedding exceeds the time available on batteries for towers with no generators,” said Dlanga.

“It would be extremely expensive to install and maintain generators at all towers,” he added.

Dlanga said that load-shedding is a big issue for the entire industry.

“Should it continue it will significantly impact our ability to drive the costs of data down, as our underlying costs will be higher.”


Openserve

Openserve told MyBroadband that it has substantial battery backup and diesel power generation facilities throughout its fibre network.

However, the provider added that its ability to keep its infrastructure running during load-shedding differs from site to site.

“Depending on the frequency and duration of load-shedding, we may lose some access network elements which can impact services especially in our smaller and remote infrastructure sites,” said Openserve.

It added that it anticipates an “exponential” increase in operational costs due to the additional resources it requires to support its network during load-shedding.


Broadband Infraco

Broadband Infraco has permanent generator backups at all of its critical points of presence, as well as a “significant number” of mobile generators deployed at all of its regional offices.

“All PoP sites have Environmental Monitoring Systems which detect any changes to the normal AC power supply,” said Broadband Infraco.

It said that while its sites are designed to have enough battery backup capacity for individual outages, its systems are not designed to deal with regular and extended outages.

“Most remote sites are designed to withstand electrical power outages for less than 16 hours, but not persistent and wide power outages.”

“A long power outage would certainly have huge negative impact on Broadband Infraco’s operations and service delivery.”

Broadband Infraco added that extended power outages will force it to invest in higher capacity backup batteries and diesel for its generators, which will mean increased network costs.


DFA

DFA said it has secured its power supply on multiple levels, while it is prepared for “virtually any length of power failure” from a facilities point of view.

“We have a proper AC/DC backup system,” said DFA.

“This can keep the site going for 6-24 hours, depending on the load from the facility.”

DFA also has remote monitoring so that it can keep track of its power levels, and if these levels sink too low, DFA dispatches mobile generators to these sites within 90 minutes.

The company’s  Network Operations Centre also has backup solar power, ensuring that it is capable of dealing with extended power issues.


Now read: The best uncapped fibre deals in South Africa

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What happens to South African networks when load-shedding returns