South African mobile networks are among the most affected by the national lockdown due to the massive increase in traffic on their networks.
Major operators also recently cut their data prices in line with recommendations by the Competition Commission.
These factors have led to concerns about network congestion and the emergency allocation of temporary spectrum to maintain the quality of service provided by mobile networks.
As mobile operators are categorised as an essential service, many of their operations – including site maintenance and call centres – continue to function throughout the lockdown.
MyBroadband spoke to South African mobile networks about the effects of the lockdown on their businesses, and what steps they were taking to account for big increases in mobile data usage.
Cell told MyBroadband the overall traffic on its network has increased as expected following the implementation of the lockdown.
“The higher-than-usual network traffic trend is continuing and we expect that it will hold for the remainder of the lockdown,” Cell C said.
The company did not confirm whether it would implement salary cuts to account for the effects of the lockdown, stating that it was looking at all cost optimisations.
“We continue to look at various innovative ways to optimise overall operational cost as we have done before the lockdown and will continue to do going forward.”
“All our physical stores are closed for the period of the lockdown,” the company added.
“As a result of this, there has been a shift in user buying behaviour whereby they utilise other channels i.e. online, digital, ATMs as well as other retailers classified as essential services during this period.”
Cell C also expects the increased traffic on its network to continue after the lockdown.
“We believe we are able to accommodate and manage the steep increase in traffic seen on our network as a result of the lockdown using current available capacity,” Cell C said.
“We will continue to monitor the network and implement measures to support the traffic patterns to ensure user experiences remain at a high level.”
MTN SA executive for corporate affairs Jacqui O’Sullivan told MyBroadband the national lockdown has been a major disruption to parts of the mobile operator’s business and has complicated some operations.
“While we are seeing increases in data traffic, the geographic spread of the traffic has moved, with traffic obviously now focused in suburbs and townships rather than CBDs. This has required real-time active management of the network to manage the different traffic flows by geography,” O’Sullivan said.
“The smooth transition to work-from-home protocols has meant we have been able to maintain all functional support and many operational interventions are also being successfully managed off-site,” O’Sullivan said.
“MTN SA’s significant investment in its network quality and capacity in the past five years (R50 billion) has placed us in a strong position to manage the current traffic flow.”
“There was also some initial disruption to our call centres prior to confirmation that call centres were allowed to be open.”
“We are placing a heavy focus on getting our call centres back to full capacity, with many agents working from home, to ensure we can continue to support our customers with all their requirements.”
As operators are allowed to make use of courier services, MTN is also offering customers upgrades and support to ensure they have access to devices during the lockdown.
When it comes to salary and job cuts, O’Sullivan said that MTN SA’s executive team have made contributions from their salaries to fund an employee support initiative.
“Our employees are facing the same pressures in their households as are being felt across the country and we felt the need to deliver on the bonus was vital in this time of great economic pressure,” she said.
“MTN is making every effort to ensure that we retain operational stability for our customers so that we can keep our customers connected, protect the company and thereby our employees.”
The mobile operator’s physical stores remain closed during the lockdown, in line with the regulations.
FNB Connect has experienced a substantial year-on-year increase in data and voice usage over the lockdown period.
FNB Connect product head Shadrack Palmer told MyBroadband that it has seen an increase in mobile traffic, but its network remains stable.
“We can confirm that our network stability remains robust despite the increased volumes and we continue to support demand for data and voice through free benefits,” Palmer said.
“In our efforts to provide customers with more value for their money, we’ve allocated 1GB of free data for our full base during the national lockdown.”
“The free data for lockdown is in addition to the Free Connect allocations that customers with qualifying transactional accounts receive monthly,” Palmer said.
FNB has also repriced all of its once-off data bundles, reducing prices by up to 55% and increasing the data allocations of Lifestyle and data-only packages.
“In terms of long-term business/financial impact of the coronavirus outbreak on our business, our view is that it is too early to quantify, with certainty, any potential impact,” Palmer said.