Vodacom to invest R500m in response to Eskom power cuts

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The Vodacom Group is set to spend a further R500 million on batteries, as SA’s biggest telco shields itself from the crippling effects of continuous power cuts.

CEO Shameel Joosub has decried the frequency of load-shedding by power utility Eskom, saying the power cuts have become a “big issue” for the telecoms industry, as it impacts on the quality of service.

Joosub’s concern follows the move by Eskom to implement an unprecedented frequent load-shedding programme in recent months, which has affected most businesses.

The power utility has been struggling with maintaining a steady power supply due to a myriad of issues, including aging infrastructure and other legacy issues.

Resultantly, mobile operators have been significantly impacted, increasing operational costs associated with keeping base stations alive and protected, as well as maintaining a decent customer experience.

“The frequency of it [load-shedding] is a big issue. The network is supposed to run on power and then you have batteries to back up the site. If we increase the levels of load-shedding, then effectively the batteries do not have enough time to recharge, which leads to network outages,” says Joosub.

“Last year, we spent over a billion rand just on upgrading batteries and this year we are spending again just to make sure we can cope. This year, we will probably be investing R500 million or so again; it’s a constant investment − if the situation gets worse, we have to up the level of investment.”

The telco has since begun implementing its plans on batteries, as evidenced with the recent rollout of solar-powered sites. There are now 1 088 solar-powered sites across all of Vodacom’s markets.

Additionally, last week, during the presentation of Vodacom’s half-year results, Joosub revealed that in the current financial year, the company will invest more than R10.5 billion in its network, in total.

“This is particularly relevant at a time when many of our customers continued to work, entertain and educate from home,” he said.

The planned investment is in addition to the R47 billion spent over the past five years.

In an interview with ITWeb last week, Joosub also raised concerns on the slow pace of allocating spectrum, as well as the implementation of digital migration.

“I think spectrum allocation is a fundamental issue that needs to be resolved, and of course, digital migration, moving people off analogue TV to digital so that spectrum becomes available. Those are the issues the industry is faced with.”

SA’s mobile operators have been battling with the regulator in recent months over the spectrum auction process.

However, last week, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), published an updated information memorandum for the licensing of the spectrum.

The move, it said, was to ensure “transparency” in the spectrum licensing process.

ICASA advised stakeholders of the truncated timetable and roadmap for the expedited licensing of the much-needed spectrum, which has been delayed for years.

“The consultative process in the form of publication of the second information memorandum is aimed at ensuring transparency in the licensing process, and is in compliance with the requirements for procedural fairness and administrative justice,” said ICASA chairperson Dr Keabetswe Modimoeng.

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