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.

Connectivity

Rolling blackouts negatively impact SA telcos

Article Image
Rolling power blackouts across South Africa are putting pressure on the country's mobile networks, costing operators money, and impacting services for mobile customers.

The blackouts are part of deliberate "load shedding" by state-owned power utility Eskom which it began implementing back in 2007.

An unprotected strike by the utility's critical staff over their working conditions has been blamed for the latest bout of load shedding and, over the past two weeks, blackouts have been increasing in frequency.

Backup power costs operators

The ongoing power cuts are impacting the South African economy, which includes telecoms network operators.

A Vodacom spokesperson told Connecting Africa that it estimates the telco would have to spend close to 8 billion South African rand (US$480 million) so that sites continue to run using only battery power through a sustained Stage 6 load shedding cycle.

The cost, however, excludes the likes of additional security costs that would be required to mitigate the increased risk of battery theft, the spokesperson added.

"Load shedding has a negative impact on our network, which causes poor customer experience in some areas, Stage 6 load shedding worsens the situation already created by Stage 4," Telkom said in response to questions from Connecting Africa.

"Most of our sites have backup time of 6 to 12 hours for normal operating conditions. The main challenge with prolonged outages is the charging and discharging cycles of batteries. The rate of discharge is so deep that batteries don't have time to fully charge for the following outages," the telco continued.

Telkom added that the costs of load shedding go beyond the current battery backup capacity, as the cost to repair and replace stolen batteries and security measures to prevent future vandalism need to be factored in.

"The cost is site-dependent and could run into hundreds of thousands of Rands. In the period from 20 June to 04 July Telkom spent over R20 million [US$1.2 million] in diesel costs alone," the mobile operator added.

South Africa has been experiencing sporadic load shedding since 2007. (Source: created by rosapuchalt - www.freepik.com
South Africa has been experiencing sporadic load shedding since 2007. (Source: created by rosapuchalt - www.freepik.com

In addition to battery rollout, MTN has also deployed over 2,000 generators to counter the impact of Stage 4 and higher load shedding, it said in a statement. The telco also revealed it has been using more than 400,000 liters of fuel per month to keep its generators operational.

"The challenge during excessive load shedding is the network, which is compromised and can result in downtime – multiple outages in a single day such as at stage four can affect how quickly batteries at sites (which serve as back-up) can recharge," added Cell C chief operations officer Andre Ittmann via email.

"We have generators at our premises and various BTS (Telecom Basestations) sites, which does come at a cost for the business, and we have factored that in our operational expenditure, and this figure will continue to increase with the diesel price fluctuations," Ittmann concluded.

Data only network, Rain, would not quantify how much the power cuts were costing it but simply said: "we are doing what we can to minimize this impact on our customers and keep them connected."

Strike delivers a power blow

The only other time the country has experienced Stage 6 load shedding was in December 2019 but in recent weeks South Africans have had to deal with daily fluctuations from Stage 2 up to Stage 6 load shedding.

Eskom spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshantsha said the labor strike had dealt the utility a heavy blow and had compelled the utility to continue taking precautionary measures to conserve generation capacity and safeguard plants from damage.

Since then, it has resulted in some areas going without power for up to eight hours in a day.

This is the deliberate shutdown of electric power in parts of the power distribution system to prevent the failure of the entire system when capacity is strained.

How it works differs: suburbs are turned off at different times – for two to four hours at a time – to try to manage the overall power supply in the country. The higher the load shedding "stage" the greater the number of customers without electricity across the country and the more frequently your power will be switched off each day.

At each stage, South Africa is forced to save 1,000 megawatts of power, so at Stage 2 the grid "sheds" 2,000MW of power and Stage 6 pushes that up to 6,000MW. If the system was to reach Stage 8 – the highest Eskom has planned for – it would mean that all South Africans would only have power for 50% of the day.

The eight stages of load shedding. (Source: Eskom's Twitter account).
The eight stages of load shedding. (Source: Eskom's Twitter account).

Related posts:

*Top image is of electricity high voltage pole and sky (Source: Power lines photo created by evening_tao - www.freepik.com).

—=— Matshepo Sehloho, Associate Editor, Connecting Africa

Innovation hub

Story

Hot startup of the month: South Africa's Botlhale AI

Connecting Africa's hot startup this month is South Africa's Botlhale AI, which creates conversational AI tools for African languages while helping businesses engage customers in languages they understand and trust.

Story

SA's Teraco to power data centers with 120MW solar plant

Teraco, the vendor-neutral data center provider, is planning the construction of a 120 megawatt (MW) utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) energy facility in the Free State province of South Africa.

More Innovation hub

Latest video

More videos

Upcoming events

Africa Tech Festival 2024
November 11-14, 2024
Cape Town, South Africa
More Upcoming events

Sponsored video

More videos

Industry announcements

More Industry announcements

Africa Tech Perspectives

Story

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.

Story

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.

Story

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

Story

Omdia View: January 2024

By Omdia Analysts

Highlights in January 2024 in the Middle East and Africa included a $200 million fintech deal between MTN and Mastercard as well as 5G network trials by Telecom Egypt – that and more in this month's Omdia View.

Story

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.

More Guest Perspectives

Like us on Facebook

Newsletter Sign Up


Sign Up
Tag id test-002