Load-shedding has a big negative effect on mobile network operators, as they are required to use batteries and generators to keep their networks running.
These power sources are also not always as reliable, which can result in downtime or reduced performance.
Load-shedding recently returned to South Africa because of high levels of unplanned breakdowns.
While it appears to be over for now, the threat of load-shedding continues to loom over the country and its economy.
MyBroadband spoke to major South African network operators to about how mobile and fixed-broadband data prices could be affected by load-shedding.
“Vodacom spends significant amounts on backup power solutions such as diesel generators and batteries to maintain power to our sites,” said a Vodacom spokesperson.
“Additional input costs and revenue losses amount to tens of millions of rand.”
Vodacom added that it has proactive measures in place to help mitigate the effects of widespread load-shedding.
“We have deployed additional resources, batteries, and generators at numerous sites across the country,” said Vodacom.
“We would like to appeal to customers to take note of Eskom’s load shedding schedule to try and plan around areas affected by scheduled outages.”
Vodacom said that its pricing is dependent on input costs, and needs to be considered with other factors which have an impact on the cost of providing services.
The network also said that its data prices have been coming down, and will continue to do so if it receives the right spectrum at reasonable, market-related rates.
MTN SA Executive for Corporate Affairs Jacqui O’Sullivan said the network’s cell phone towers come with battery backup systems to ensure there is enough power to run for several hours when load-shedding occurs.
“If power outages continue repeatedly, these back-up systems become imperative to keeping South Africa connected during load shedding,” O’Sullivan said.
The company added that battery theft and vandalism at cellphone towers are at a crisis level.
“This has reached a point where customers are affected, and operational impact is being experienced where the frequency of the load shedding exceeds the capacity of the back-up devices,” said O’Sullivan.
“Our batteries generally have a capacity of 6-12 hours dependent on the site category and require 12-18 hours to recharge dependent on the battery technology type. Where consecutive load shedding takes place, batteries are unable to fully recharge, resulting in reduced back-up times.”
MTN said that its data and product prices are determined by various input costs.
“It would be misleading to say MTN will increase its prices due to load shedding,” O’Sullivan said.
Rain CMO Khaya Dlanga said its 4G sites have backup batteries, which allows its network to continue functioning during load-shedding.
“However, if load-shedding continues until the batteries are drained, that affects users and the quality of service network providers can give,” said Dlanga.
Key sites also have generator backup, and these combined costs can amount to millions of rand, said Dlanga.
He added that Rain’s 5G sites do not yet have backup batteries, leaving them especially vulnerable.
Dlanga said that if load-shedding persists over an extended period, more batteries would have to be purchased to keep its sites running for longer periods.
“That would naturally have cost implications both for the network and the customer,” said Dlanga.
Simon Butler, commercial director at Vumatel, said that the cost of equipping networks with back-up power, coupled with the costs of running and maintaining backup power during load-shedding, is significant.
However, he said that Vumatel is committed to keeping its wholesale model to the ISP stable.
“Network and power redundancy is part of our existing business model and service offering,” said Butler.
He added that every point of presence on Vumatel’s national network has backup power that is sufficient to keep its network powered throughout load-shedding.
“However, the unpredictable nature and impact of inconsistent electricity supply will always remain a challenge.”
“Most of the major networks are focusing on additional measures to at least minimise the impact of potential future load-shedding,” said Butler.