Only one mobile network says its customers use more data during load-shedding

Despite South Africa’s mobile operators investing huge sums of money in backup power for their network infrastructure, load-shedding still profoundly impacts data traffic.

MyBroadband asked Cell C, MTN, Telkom, and Vodacom to shed light on the impact of load-shedding on their mobile data traffic.

A Vodacom spokesperson said its investment in backup power solutions has allowed it to carry more mobile traffic through load-shedding, adding that it sees increased data usage during power cuts.

However, it said that it wasn’t able to provide specific details due to the competitive nature of the mobile network market in South Africa.

“There are some notable and interesting traffic trend behaviours in the network when there is load-shedding, which we won’t disclose due to the competitive nature of our environment,” they said.

“It is safe to say that when the power goes off, people turn to their phones which results in an uplift in data utilisation.”

The spokesperson said Vodacom had invested R2 billion in batteries over the past two years to keep its network online during load-shedding.

“This means that we carry more mobile traffic during load-shedding now than we did, say, a year ago,” they said.

Jacqui O’Sullivan, MTN corporate affairs executive

Cell C, MTN, and Telkom said the impact on mobile data traffic on their networks is significantly different.

MTN’s corporate affairs executive Jacqui O’Sullivan told MyBroadband that they observe declining national traffic volumes during power cuts.

“MTN, like many operators, can experience a decline in national traffic volumes, when compared to historic trends, during load shedding,” she said.

O’Sullivan said higher stages of load-shedding — stage 4 and above — can cause concern as it shortens the time between power cuts to recharge MTN’s backup batteries.

“Stage 4, 5 and 6 load shedding creates additional concerns, as the shortened time period between power outages reduces the amount of time to recharge onsite battery backup solutions,” she said.

She added that MTN has a “war room” that operates around the clock to manage the network performance and optimise availability.

Cell C chief technology officer Schalk Visser

Cell C’s chief technology officer Schalk Visser said the mobile operator had observed a correlation between declining data traffic and rotational power cuts.

“Data traffic decreases during the load-shedding, especially during extended periods such as stage four and above as the backup power does not receive sufficient time to recharge,” Visser said.

Telkom, like Cell C and MTN, also said the higher stages of load-shedding are concerning and can result in a decline in data traffic, adding that stage 6 doesn’t provide enough time for its battery backups to recharge.

“Load-shedding has a huge impact on site availability, particularly on sites without backup power, and with the introduction of stage 6, we have seen sites with backup power not having adequate time to recharge or last the extended periods,” it said.

“The higher load-shedding schedules adversely impact data traffic on the network, which results in a decrease in data traffic.”

Telkom said it had invested significant amounts of money in upgrading its backup power systems to keep its network online.

Load-shedding crushing mobile Internet speeds

In September 2022, a MyBroadband analysis revealed that load-shedding directly impacts mobile networks, resulting in a drop in mobile Internet speeds.

Our testing revealed that Telkom and Vodacom’s customers suffered the most significant decline, with mobile speeds dropping to within 84% of the typical values on both networks.

MTN performed reasonably well, with its speeds only dropping by around 5% during load-shedding.

The analysis revealed that Cell C and Rain performed exceptionally during load-shedding, with mobile Internet speeds increasing to 184% and 161% of the typical values, respectively.

Now read: Eskom gives flood-stricken Johannesburg break from load-shedding

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Only one mobile network says its customers use more data during load-shedding