Connecting Africa is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 3099067.


Opensignal: SA networks have worst 4G signal strength at night

Article Image
South African operators use less spectrum and carrier bands at night, while the 4G signal strength is also the weakest at night.

That's according to a new report from mobile analytics company Opensignal, which analyzed how energy usage changes on South African networks throughout the day.

Opensignal looked at the average amount of mobile spectrum that its users see when connecting to 4G services across four national operators in South Africa over the period of 180 days between November 1, 2022, and April 29, 2023.

"We observe much lower bandwidths used at night, between midnight and 6 a.m., than at other times of the day. At night, our users on Cell C, MTN, and Vodacomís networks see 18.7%, 14.9%, and 13% less spectrum bandwidth connected to their devices than in the mornings, between 6 a.m. and 12 p.m.," said Opensignal analyst and the report's author, Robert Wyrzykowski. "Meanwhile, our Telkom users see no statistically significant difference in the amount of bandwidth used for 4G connectivity throughout the whole day."

Source: Opensignal
Source: Opensignal

Operators often set networks to offer users less mobile spectrum at night, as there are lower levels of network traffic and so not as much spectrum is needed to offer a good experience.

By switching off spectrum bands, operators can save network energy costs. However, Opensignal users on MTN and Vodacom's networks observed the fastest average 4G speeds between midnight and 6 a.m.

"MTN and Vodacom's speeds gradually slow over the day, dropping to the lowest levels in the evenings, between 6 p.m. and midnight. Cell C and Telkom users also experience the lowest average 4G download speeds in the evenings – noteworthily, our Cell C users observe no statistically significant differences in average 4G download speeds between night, morning and afternoon," Wyrzykowski added.

The impact of load shedding blackouts

Scheduled power cuts by the South African government – known as load shedding – have become a major issue in the country and are impacting the times that networks are completely without signal in SA.

Opensignal looked at the times that users have no signal throughout the day across the nine provinces of South Africa.

It found that smartphone users in the Eastern Cape and Northern Cape provinces spend the most time with no signal in the mornings, while those in KwaZulu-Natal are without signal mostly in the afternoon.

However, some provinces like Gauteng or the Western Cape don't observe substantial differences in time with no signal throughout the day. These provinces also have the lowest time with no signal throughout the day, while Limpopo and Northern Cape see significantly more time with no signal.

Source: Opensignal
Source: Opensignal

These regional differentiations can be partly explained by load shedding schedules and when different provinces are hardest hit on a daily basis. Provinces with big urban areas, like Gauteng and the Western Cape, are also more likely to have better backup power systems for towers compared to rural areas.

"Mobile operators use backup batteries to keep their sites operating in the case of planned blackouts. But while they invest in costly power backup options to retain the resilience of their networks, mobile sites are frequently plagued with battery thefts, which forces the operators to install additional elaborate safeguarding measures," Wyrzykowski explained.

MTN estimated that load shedding cost its South African operations around R695 million ($35.5 million) in 2022.

MTN said in March 2023 that it will invest R1.5 billion (US$76.5 million) in South Africa to help mitigate ongoing power blackouts in the country.

Earlier this month, Vodacom said it had spent R4 billion ($205 million) "on energy resilience capex" over the last four years and in the past financial year R300 million ($15.3 million) worth of operating costs went mostly to diesel purchases.

"Unfortunately, this R4 billion investment was a clear trade-off with new capacity and could have accelerated network expansion in 5G in South Africa," said Vodacom Group CEO Shameel Joosub.

Telecom operators have been dealing with the ramifications of load shedding for years, but over the past 18 months the country has had to endure far more power cuts than in the past. South Africa had over 200 days of load shedding during 2022 and has already endured 142 days in 2023 so far.

Related posts:

*Top image source: Cell tower photo created by aopsan -

ó Paula Gilbert, Editor, Connecting Africa

Innovation hub


Over 5K African SMBs graduate from Google's Hustle Academy

Around 5,300 small and midsized businesses (SMBs) from Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa have graduated from the Google Hustle Academy.


Orange launches super-app 'Max it' for Africa

Telecoms operator Orange has launched its own super-app, called Max it, in five African countries with plans to roll it out across its operations in Africa and the Middle East.

More Innovation hub

Latest video

More videos

Industry announcements

More Industry announcements

Sponsored video

More videos

Africa Tech Perspectives


Uber's Marjorie Saint-Lot on inclusion and sustainability in Africa

Uber's Country Manager for Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire, Marjorie Saint-Lot, shares how the ride-hailing company is approaching public-private partnerships, environmentally friendly initiatives and gender inclusion in Africa.


The 100 most influential African leaders in 2023

A new report from Africa Tech Festival and Connecting Africa puts a spotlight on the top 100 African leaders in the telecoms and technology sector in 2023.


Deep dive into East Africa's tech startup ecosystem

New survey reveals a lack of access to investors, reliance on international VCs and global recession trends as the biggest barriers for East African tech startups to access funds.

More Africa Tech perspectives

Partner perspectives

All Partner Perspectives

Guest Perspectives


Omdia View: September 2023

By Omdia Analysts

Highlights in September 2023 in the Middle East and Africa included more 5G spectrum licenses, vendor and operator strategies, and partnerships – that and more in this month's Omdia View.


Omdia View: August 2023

By Omdia Analysts

Highlights in August 2023 in the Middle East and Africa included a commercial 5G launch from Ethio Telecom and the signing of a virtual wheeling agreement between Vodacom South Africa and Eskom – that and more in this month's Omdia View.

More Guest Perspectives

Like us on Facebook

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign Up
Tag id I-0000192