Load-shedding does more than take down mobile networks

Cell C’s network went down recently after load-shedding caused a power surge at the Neotel Data Centre.

The outage affected mobile and fixed-LTE users, causing much frustration for customers.

The effects of load-shedding are more than just potential outages for short periods, however, after Cell C’s network was down for 2 hours.

A lack of reliable electricity means networks must prepare for the worst, which takes time and money.

Cost impact

MTN told MyBroadband that load-shedding affects many of its sites, but it has invested heavily in generators and backup batteries to keep services running.

“However, operational impact was still felt where the frequency of the load shedding exceeded the capacity of the backup devices,” said MTN of recent load-shedding.

“Our batteries generally have a capacity of 6-12 hours dependant on the site category and require 12-18 hours to recharge dependant on the battery technology type. Where consecutive load shedding took place, batteries were unable to fully recharge, resulting in reduced backup times.”

MTN has spent over R100 million in the past year dealing with acts of theft and vandalism, and these crimes “tend to spike during load shedding”, added MTN.

“MTN has had to deploy security teams around the country to protect the equipment, once again, at significant cost to the company.”

“We are doing all we can to ensure our batteries and generators remain fully functional so we can limit the impact this load shedding has on our customers,” said MTN.

The additional costs to deal with load-shedding ultimately have an impact on customers as they influence the income of networks.

Rain told MyBroadband that ensuring adequate backup power facilities are installed at towers introduces additional costs.

This limits its ability to drive the cost of data lower, it said.

“This is just another example of the negative effect poor electricity supply has on the country,” said Rain.

Cell C echoed these sentiments, stating that load shedding has a devastating effect on all mobile operators.

The significant increase in operational costs associated with keeping base stations on and protected is one of the major issues.

“We have all put in place as many measures as possible with respect to the national electricity grid. However, even on days when load shedding has not been implemented, operators face an incredible challenge,” said Cell C.

For example, Cell C said that on any given day 80% of the alarms on the network are related to power outages or power induced failures.

“This already has a financial impact on the company, given that it needs to ensure that as many sites as possible are furnished with battery backup. However, this process is hindered by the high rate of vandalism to network high-sites.”

There is also a knock-on effect that lingers after load shedding, and in certain cases transformers at substations trip and require Eskom to bring those back online.

“While Cell C continues to do everything it can to maintain customer connectivity, this is not always possible with the electricity issues the country faces.”

Telkom said that it also has battery backups for all Telkom sites and it continuously monitors the state of power supply.

Impact on the economy

It is not only mobile networks which are affected by power cuts, and South Africa as a whole is in a very bad spot thanks to Eskom.

Former Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene said Eskom is the single biggest risk to South Africa’s economy.

It huge debts and inability to turn a profit means the government must continually bail it out with taxpayer money, while the lack of reliable electricity supply hurts businesses and discourages investment in South Africa.

Calls have therefore been made to privatise the company, or at least its power plants, to ensure the power supply is stabilised.

Now read: How the ANC government broke Eskom – 2008 versus 2018

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Load-shedding does more than take down mobile networks