South Africans have been dealing with the recurring problem of load shedding for many years now. When these intermittent bouts of rolling blackouts occur, the whole economy takes a massive hit. Despite efforts to implement alternative energy sources at stations, South Africa’s telecommunications providers (telcos) and mobile network operators are still affected by power cuts.
Ookla, a US-based testing and diagnostics company, tracks mobile network performance in 10 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, DRC, Botswana and Nigeria. According to this business, some of the multinational telcos operating in SA are markedly affected by load shedding. Their data is directly compared to 10 other countries in the region.
Some parts of South Africa were recently escalated to Stage 6 load shedding, which means that the issue is likely to continue for some time before being resolved. This leaves consumers with no signal or access to mobile internet and is forcing telcos to invest heavily in solar energy or diesel generators to power their towers and facilities.
How mobile performance is affected
According to the principal analyst at Ookla, Sylwia Kechiche, mobile performance is affected by numerous factors, including reliable power supply, underlying infrastructure, access to fibre optic backhaul and spectrum availability.
“Despite being regional leaders when it comes to mobile performance, South African operators faced issues related to infrastructure reliability and availability over the past three months,” she says. “Operating conditions in South Africa were affected by increased incidents of rolling power outages and there are no signs of respite,” she adds.
Ookla uses an application called Downdetector, which is a user-reporting service for mobile performance, to assess the impact of load shedding. During the past few months, users have reported over 81 000 incidents of mobile network drops, whether a lack of signal or no access to mobile internet. Around six percent of these incidents were complete blackouts of mobile services.
How mobile operators respond to load shedding
Two major telcos, Vodacom and MTN, have invested billions of rands into alternative energy sources. These include solar panels, battery inverters and generators to supply electricity to their facilities. According to Kechiche, Vodacom has spent R1.7-billion on batteries and generators, but it is also in the process of piloting wind and solar projects.
MTN has also rolled out a comprehensive resilience plan to combat load shedding. This includes more batteries, inverters, generators and enhanced security features at its facilities nationwide. These are permanent solutions to the ongoing energy crisis, which means that major telcos are moving away from a reliance on the national grid.
According to Ookla’s most recent statistics, Vodacom holds a 41% market share in South Africa with 45.1 million subscribers. MTN is the second largest telco, with 35.3 million users, of which 837 000 signed up in the last three months. MTN is encouraged by this influx of new customers despite load shedding and its effect on services and systems.
4C can help telcos with their performance
4C Group supplies, services and supports high-volume data management and transaction processing for telcos in Africa. Our leading software, iNSight, provides real-time access to data that allows telcos to make informed decisions, improve efficiency and minimise costs. This platform is scalable and versatile, offering telcos a range of additional benefits and capabilities.
Since 2003, 4C has delivered thousands of projects to various enterprises, telcos and financial institutions in Africa. These projects ensure the digital and financial inclusion of end users and mobile subscribers. Our team of experts has extensive experience and can support telcos in managing their data, technology and businesses. For more information about our software or services, please contact us today.
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