Telcos hit by severe power cuts in South Africa

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South African Telecoms
South African Telecoms

MTN and Vodacom have reportedly been hit hard by severe load shedding in South Africa. 

The situation is said to be having a big impact on their networks, with flat batteries impacting service availability.

MTN South Africa chief technology & information officer Michele Gamberini said the severity of the power cuts means batteries deployed at base stations don’t have time to recover fully before the next power interruption.

In Johannesburg, for example, where City Power normally cuts electricity during load shedding in two-and-a-half hour blocks, these blocks have now been extended to up to five hours each.

“Despite us having placed thousands of batteries at our sites across the country, the efficacy of those batteries greatly reduces once we pass stage-4 load shedding,” Gamberini said in a statement.

MTN said it is “aggressively” rolling out batteries, generators and alternative power supplies. “MTN has upgraded its battery backup solutions on over 70% of the sites already this year and is currently deploying more additional batteries,” said Gamberini.

“However, MTN is still faced with the challenge that the current outage schedule does not allow enough time for batteries to charge. Battery backup systems generally take 12-18 hours to recharge, while batteries have a capacity of about six to 12 hours, depending on the site category. Consistent outages therefore have a direct impact on the performance of the batteries, while consistent theft of the batteries themselves means replacements need to be installed.”

The operator said that to deal with the severe power cuts, it has:

  • Established “war rooms” in each region around the country with dedicated staff and network partners, focused on restoring transmission infrastructure and base stations;
  • Deployed additional emergency generators and optimised the existing fleet of mobile generators;
  • Withdrawn field maintenance teams to allow them to be redeployed to focus exclusively on site restorations; and
  • Ensured the delivery of fuel to critical facilities, including data centres.

Vodacom, meanwhile, warned that “some customers” could experience issues connecting to its network, especially during stage-6 outages.

“Vodacom is proactively doing all we can to mitigate the effects of widespread load shedding. This includes deploying backup power solutions, such as generators, to as many sites across the country as possible.

“Vodacom has spent about R2-billion on batteries alone over the past two years to enhance power resilience to our base stations during load shedding. Stage-6 load shedding does, however, mean more frequent and protracted power outages, which impacts the ability of our batteries to recharge fully.

“This means that in certain coverage areas around the country, some customers may only receive intermittent service at times,” Vodacom said.

TechCentral has also asked Telkom for comment and will update this article once feedback is received from the company.

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