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Minister, telcos in joint effort to restore connectivity in KZN

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Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni (middle) is flanked by the CEOs and senior executives of MTN SA, Vodacom and Sentech. (Image source: Twitter)
Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni (middle) is flanked by the CEOs and senior executives of MTN SA, Vodacom and Sentech. (Image source: Twitter)

Communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni yesterday visited KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) to assess the damage to ICT infrastructure as a result of the recent devastating floods.

This, as the deadly floods in KZN caused widespread damage to critical ICT infrastructure, disrupting essential connectivity.

Mobile operators' telecoms infrastructure was knocked out by the flooding, with both Vodacom and MTN saying that over 900 base stations were affected by the incessant rains.

The major areas impacted include Durban South, South Coast, Umlazi, Malagazi, Amanzimtoti, Ballito and Salt Rock.

The minister was joined on-site by representatives and CEOs of the major telcos, including Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub and MTN SA CEO Charles Molapisi, as well as senior executives of state-owned entities Broadband Infraco (BBI), Sentech and SITA.

Speaking during a media briefing broadcast on SABC, Ntshavheni said the parties agreed to set up a joint technical team − composed of MTN, Vodacom, Liquid Intelligent, Rain, BBI, Sentech and SITA − to assess the progress of restoring the sites that are down.

The minister said work is ongoing to restore the sites that remain down. “We may not be first responders, but in the telecoms and ICT space, we are the business continuity team.

“It’s important that we come in immediately with the stability that has been established by the first responders…to make sure the communication links are re-established. Even the teams that are doing the relief efforts will need connectivity to reach those communities.”

She pointed out that the areas most affected by the floods are in KZN and the northern part of the Eastern Cape, noting similar efforts will be made for the latter.

“In the meantime, we have dispatched the acting MD of SITA to go to the Eastern Cape today, to re-establish the connections there.”

The minister also said, regretfully, during this period of plight, communities continue to vandalise the telecoms infrastructure. She called on the public to be patriotic and work together, especially in times of crisis.

“It’s not time that we vandalise, it’s time that we work to rebuild. We must be the first security of that infrastructure because when communities are cut off, it means loss of life in some instances because they will not be able to access health services.”

Responding to ITWeb’s queries about progress made to restore Vodacom’s network infrastructure, spokesperson Byron Kennedy says over 270 of the 400 affected sites are now operational.

This, according to Kennedy, has been made possible by deploying generators. As a result, network availability has improved by more than 90% across the province, he states.

“Our team of engineers continue to work hard to restore connectivity as quickly and safely as possible. We are averaging a repair rate of 40 base station sites per day. Some of our biggest challenges that are preventing us from doing work on some of our sites include road closures, damaged roads, as well as continued power outages.

“The impact of electricity outages is that we have a total of 155 generators operating on a 24/7 basis to power some of our sites. We remain positive that as the rains subside that we will able to do bring more sites back online.”

MTN SA saw over 500 of its sites down in the region, the operator revealed at the time.

Jacqui O’Sullivan, MTN SA’s executive for corporate affairs, states: “MTN has restored connectivity to most of its towers that were impacted by the heavy rains in KwaZulu-Natal that caused widespread infrastructure damage and power outages, resulting in over 500 MTN sites down in the region last week.

“Currently, MTN has just on 50 sites that remain inoperable due to the flooding. These 50 sites are largely affected by access issues, where roads have been washed away or severely damaged.

“As a contingency and to ensure our customers are connected, MTN has deployed 190 temporary generators and rerouted its network traffic away from the affected sites to areas that are more accessible. Some of these areas include parts of Umlazi, Amanzimtoti and Isipingo.

“MTN wishes to assure impacted customers that our technicians are working around the clock to restore connectivity in their area,” concludes O’Sullivan.

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