Eskom blackouts push MTN to burn through fuel

Samuel Mungadze
By Samuel Mungadze, Africa editor
Johannesburg, 30 Jun 2022
Charles Molapisi, MTNSA CEO.
Charles Molapisi, MTNSA CEO.

As the disruptive power cuts continue across the country, MTN is now burning more than 400 000 litres of fuel per month to maintain connectivity and provide a decent customer experience.

The mobile operator disclosed its fuel spend yesterday, as it started implementing an aggressive battery rollout, while inviting small businesses to supply generators for its operations.

MTN has so far deployed over 2 000 generators to counter the impact of stage four (and higher) load-shedding.

The telco says it is exploring practical and innovative solutions to the power crisis, including expedited rollout of batteries, generators and alternate power supplies.

Eskom has implemented an unprecedented load-shedding programme in recent months, which has negatively impacted most businesses.

The power utility has been struggling with maintaining a steady power supply and this week it heightened the power cuts, announcing stage six load-shedding, which means South Africans face at least six hours of darkness per day.

For telcos, it means increasing operational costs associated with keeping base stations alive and protected and ensuring service provision.

To cushion its operations from these severe power cuts, MTN is inviting “all businesses that are in possession of generators”, to become potential suppliers.

“Whether the business has two or 20 generators, MTN is looking to partner,” it says.

Charles Molapisi, MTN SA CEO, comments: “There is no doubt the country is facing a power crisis but at MTN, we want to turn this crisis into an opportunity for small businesses by ‘crowd sourcing’ generators to further support our network.

“We need collective efforts to get us through this crisis and we believe that by partnering with businesses of all sizes and reach, we can support local businesses, while also maintaining our best network for all our customers.”

MTN says it has put power contingencies in place across its operations in all provinces, including the establishment of “war rooms” per region, with dedicated staff and network partners, focused on restoring major transmission infrastructure and base stations.

The telco has since also deployed additional emergency generators and an optimisation of the existing fleet of MTN mobile generators.

It has also ramped up the delivery of fuel to all critical facilities, to ensure all its data centres remain operational.

Detailing the challenges posed by the continuous power cuts to MTN operations, Michele Gamberini, chief technology and information officer, says: “Despite us having placed thousands of batteries at our sites across the country, the efficacy of those batteries greatly reduces once we pass stage four load-shedding.”

He says notwithstanding MTN upgrading its battery backup solutions at over 80% of the sites, it still has challenges with the power outages schedule, which 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 6-12 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.”