Over the last six months, Vodacom spent R1 billion on batteries to ensure its network stayed up during load-shedding.
Speaking to The Money Show, Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub said the power outages this year forced them to increase their backup power investment.
South Africa experienced the worst ever load-shedding in 2020, with the total gigawatt-hours shed surpassing the 2019 record in August.
In September, the cumulative load-shedding for 2020 was already 23% worse than the whole of 2019.
What is particularly worrisome is that this record load-shedding took place despite the extended lockdown, which significantly lowered demand for electricity.
This caused havoc among telecoms operators, whose networks were not built to withstand hours of continuous power cuts.
To create a robust mobile network, Vodacom directed 20% of its R5-billion capital expenditure over the last six months towards backup power.
To buy and install new batteries at mobile sites is, however, only part of the challenge in South Africa.
Criminals are wrecking mobile networks to get their hands on these batteries, which are then sold on the black market.
Joosub said they are losing around R150 million per year because of battery theft, which is an ongoing battle.
Vodacom has gone “old school” to protect their batteries, which include putting epoxy and cut glass around the batteries, which cause grinders to break.
They are also implementing more advanced methods like geo-location tools to lock the batteries when they leave a site.
“It all takes time because we have 14,000 sites which we have to protect against criminals,” said Joosub.