MTN SA has set aside R1.5 billion for its network, to keep customers connected, while countering load-shedding, site vandalism and battery theft.
The mobile operator today took members of the media on a site tour in Soweto to see how its base stations are increasingly being targeted by criminal syndicates.
MTN also demonstrated the measures it is taking to make it difficult for the criminals to vandalise the critical infrastructure.
With persistent load-shedding and a rise in vandalism and theft aggravating SA’s fragile economic recovery and impacting service delivery, Michele Gamberini, MTN SA chief technology and information officer, said the R1.5 billion was the company’s move to “harden” the network and keep customers connected.
“Since the end of 2021, our network has really been stressed, just like all the networks in South Africa,” said Gamberini.
“But as MTN, we think that connectivity today is a human right, and it must be ensured to all our customers. We believe that all the people deserve a connected life.
“Our service is not only important in making people communicate but also to ensure basic services. Most of our public services rely on connectivity, so without connectivity, there is no public service. Our network has to be over 95% available all of the time.”
In a statement, MTN South Africa CEO Charles Molapisi says the nationwide programme is aimed at warding off the negative impact and frustration caused by power cuts, theft and vandalism, and will help enhance network availability and stability over the long-term.
“At MTN, we are doing all we can to contribute meaningfully to helping alleviate the adverse impact of this crisis on the nation, its people and the economy. This includes further progressing the rollout of our network availability plan and aiming to have all current sites upgraded by the end of May in this phase of the programme,” says Molapisi.
“The investment will see us installing solar power, batteries and generators, and enhancing security features at base stations to ensure improved network availability during load-shedding, when many instances of theft and vandalism occur. In future, we expect to be completely off the grid at most sites so that these problems do not affect the quality of our service.
“We are currently engaged with a number of critical role-players for collaborative solutions on matters related to the potential of any extended outages. Our focus is on our people and customers, fuel supply, fuel movements, security resourcing and sustaining national and emergency services,” says Molapisi.
According to the mobile operator, to date, the network availability plan has resulted in the upgrade of 3 253 sites by the end of February, with the May completion target likely to enable significant improvement to network availability in the second half of the year.
It notes statistics show bouts of load-shedding have a direct correlation with the spike in vandalism and battery or generator theft at network sites.
For instance, it explains, during the period of stage six load-shedding last year, there was a major escalation of attacks, and tower companies recorded a 250% increase in the loss of generators.
“Even during stage one and two load-shedding, which has a lesser impact on us as our batteries can still recharge, we still face the issue of vandalism and theft, which severely impacts our network and service delivery,” says Molapisi.
“We’re working to reinforce the strength of our network around the country to withstand the pressure and ongoing demand from our valued customers. Increasingly, South Africans are turning to the digital economy for work, business, education and entertainment, so the need for seamless connectivity has never been more important.”
MTN points out the element of crime is leading to ever-more dire consequences for the connectivity of people, the smooth running of small businesses, the effective delivery of digital government services, and the safety of individuals during load-shedding.
This problem is affecting all mobile operators and with the sharing of sites by multiple operators, damage to sites can impact many thousands of customers, across networks, it adds.