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MTN SA deploys 20 000 batteries to beat load-shedding woes

Admire Moyo
By Admire Moyo, ITWeb's news editor.
Johannesburg, 04 Oct 2023
Charles Molapisi, MTN SA CEO.
Charles Molapisi, MTN SA CEO.

As load-shedding continues to wreak havoc in South Africa, mobile operator MTN says it has invested in 20 000 batteries to keep its base stations on.

According to the telco, following the announcement of a R4.5 billion to R5 billion investment in its network to keep customers connected during the load-shedding crisis, MTN South Africa has deployed more than 20 000 batteries, 5 000 rectifiers and 900 generators to sites across the country.

Over the years, SA has suffered severe power cuts, as embattled power utility Eskom struggles to keep the lights on.

Telco operators have been lamenting the adverse effects of the rolling blackouts, which they say impact network quality. The telcos have been spending billions of rands to mitigate the chaos caused by load-shedding.

The power outages have also resulted in vandals and thieves increasingly targeting telco base stations while using the cover of darkness.

According to MTN, in May, South Africans experienced 29 days of stage five and six load-shedding, whereas in 2022 load-shedding never increased beyond stage three in the same period.

MTN SA CEO Charles Molapisi, says: “While there was a brief respite in the second quarter of 2023 with a reduction in load-shedding compared to the first quarter, power outages continued to pose a significant challenge to our operations.

“During the first half of 2022, there were 68 days with load-shedding, but this figure nearly tripled to 181 days in that same period this year.”

Molapisi adds that theft and vandalism remain a concern, saying load-shedding heightens the vulnerability of cellphone towers to acts of vandalism, as criminals often exploit the cover of darkness during these outages to target network sites.

He notes the equipment installed at these cellphone towers, including copper cables, batteries, air-conditioners and generators, is highly coveted by criminals, who inflict significant damage on network infrastructure, leading to tower malfunctions and disruptions.

“While we are doing well on all fronts in shoring up our network resilience during periods of load-shedding, and particularly during the higher stages, the criminal activity continues to inflict deteriorated network experiences on our valued customers,” says Molapisi.

“But looking at recent figures, we are seeing a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel,” he adds.

The telco says its network team, together with its network partners, have been working seven days a week to ensure customers can stay connected during bouts of load-shedding.

In August alone, MTN had completed in the region of 2 000 site enhancements, surpassing set targets, says MTN.

With new site enhancements coming on board almost daily, to date, more than 5 000 sites have been successfully upgraded, it notes.

As a result of this ongoing investment, the telecommunications company reported a 15% improvement of network availability.

It points out this follows steady increases in network availability throughout 2023, brought about by concerted resilience interventions.

The company explains that one of the key initiatives contributing to the improvement in MTN’s network availability has been rolling out a comprehensive national resilience programme in key regions, including Johannesburg, the Western Cape, Tshwane, KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape, and the Central region.

This programme encompasses several infrastructure enhancements such as battery upgrades, rectifier swaps, backup generator installations, and site security measures to safeguard both active and passive infrastructure.

“It’s an ongoing battle, but one that we’re committed to winning as we fight to provide our customers with a reliable and resilient network. Our efforts and the results we’re seeing underscore our dedication to ensuring uninterrupted connectivity, even in the face of load-shedding challenges, to ensure all can share in the benefits of a modern connected life,” concludes Molapisi.

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