Not even stage 8 load-shedding can take down South Africa’s fibre networks

Several fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) providers have upgraded their networks’ backup power to withstand stage 8 load-shedding or worse.

Being able to access an uncapped Internet connection is very useful during load-shedding.

FTTH is not only the fastest and most consistent form of broadband connectivity in South Africa but is often more likely to be online than mobile networks during power outages.

Mobile networks have a tough job providing sufficient backup capacity to the thousands of power-hungry towers scattered across the country, made more difficult by criminals often stealing their backup batteries.

To keep your home fibre connection online during load-shedding requires only a small uninterrupted power supply (UPS).

The optical network terminal (ONT) and Wi-Fi router that need electricity for your fibre connection to stay online demand very little power.

A mini UPS with 30Wh of storage is often sufficient for three or four hours of uptime.

Mini UPSs are readily available from major online stores and tech outlets and are typically priced between R500 and R1,000, depending on their capacity and features.

For example, the 36W Gizzu Mini Dual DC UPS can be bought for R845 on Takealot. There are also many other options from competing brands and retailers.

Some Internet service providers also offer mini UPSs with their packages.

Whether you will be able to access the Internet while your router and ONT have backup power will depend on your FNO.

When MyBroadband previously spoke with major FNOs about their resilience against load-shedding, many said they could only ensure continued connectivity up to stage 6.

Amid intensified load-shedding, we again asked the country’s biggest FNOs about the impact of load-shedding on their networks and what level of power cuts they could withstand.

Three of the nine major networks said they could handle continuous stage 8 load-shedding or even higher in certain instances.

A fourth operator said it could handle stage 6 load-shedding and “certain levels” over that with temporary backup systems.

Another operator that previously told us it could assure continuous connectivity under stage 5 to stage 6 load-shedding did not specify its latest load-shedding resistance level.

The table below provides an overview of the level of load-shedding each of the nine biggest FNOs in South Africa can handle.

Evotel, Herotel, and Vodacom did not provide feedback by the time of publication.

Where provided, we’ve included more details from the operators in the sections below the table.

Stage of load-shedding under which fibre network can provide end-user connectivity
Fibre network operator Load-shedding resistance
Evotel Unknown
Frogfoot Stage 8+
Herotel Unknown
MetroFibre Stage 8
Octotel Stage 8+
Openserve Stage 5–6*
Vodacom Unknown
Vumatel Stage 6+
Zoom Fibre Unknown
*Based on previous feedback in October 2022.

Frogfoot

Frogfoot chief product officer David Coleman said the operator had invested extensively in alternative power sources across all its nodes over the past 18 months.

“This includes Inverter/LFP at all nodes as well as generators at larger nodes,” Coleman said.

“As of May 2023, all our major nodes are able to withstand stage 8+ load-shedding.”

The FNO continues to increase capacity at all its nodes to ensure uptime for its customers.

“We have maintained 99.98% uptime across all our nodes for the past 12 months during load-shedding,” Coleman said.


MetroFibre

MetroFibre said it modified and added to its backup power infrastructure, including batteries and generators across its entire footprint, to be resilient up to and including persistent stage 8 load-shedding.

“It is our intent to further invest in backup power infrastructure to remain aligned with load-shedding stages,” MetroFibre stated.

“This means an increased cost of doing business with having unplanned and unbudgeted spending needed for power backup infrastructure.”


Octotel

Octotel chief operating officer Scott Cunningham said the operator performed an ongoing risk assessment around power resilience and availability in certain areas.

“We have enjoyed better uptime in certain regions, but like many other operators, we also experienced pressure from Eskom’s direct supply,” Cunningham said.

“Our network has been upgraded to stage 8-ready with an additional 40–60% buffer should power restoration be a challenge post-load shedding.”

Cunningham said although this came at an exorbitant cost, Octotel regarded network uptime as being of utmost importance.


Openserve

Openserve would not get specific about its load-shedding resilience.

On the topic of power outages, the country’s second-largest home fibre network would only say it had sound business continuity plans to mitigate the effects of prolonged load-shedding.


Vumatel

Vumatel said it had power management solutions that provided the capacity to deal with load-shedding up to stage 6 and “certain levels” beyond.

“Additionally, mobile options are in place to accommodate further load-shedding or unscheduled power outages,” the operator stated.

The main challenge fibre network operators face is cases where the quality of the power supply is impacted.

This puts additional strain on equipment and could lead to unplanned power management equipment failure.


Zoom Fibre

Zoom Fibre told MyBroadband it had also taken measures to ensure the reliability of its network in the face of power outages.

“We designed our network with redundancy in mind, and our Points of Presence (PoPs) are specifically equipped to handle these situations,” the company said.

“We are constantly planning ahead to ensure that our network remains operational at all times.”

The operator did not share specific details about the severity of load-shedding that its network could handle.


Now read: ADSL vs fibre prices in South Africa — the winner is clear

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Not even stage 8 load-shedding can take down South Africa’s fibre networks