Eskom’s rolling blackouts are placing severe strain on mobile network operators trying to keep base stations up and running.
MTN South Africa said on Tuesday that despite “significant” investments in battery backup systems and generators, its sites are under threat due to stage-three and stage-four load shedding. And criminals are also taking advantage.
In a statement, the company said most of its sites have been equipped with battery backup systems to ensure its base stations can continue running when local power goes down. However, the frequency of the blackouts is resulting in batteries not having enough time to recharge.
“These batteries generally have a capacity of six to 12 hours, depending on the site category and require 12 to 18 hours to recharge, which in stage-three and -four load shedding is simply not happening,” said MTN South Africa executive for corporate affairs Jacqui O’Sullivan in the statement.
Excluding the amount spent on new batteries for new cellular sites, MTN spent around R300 million in 2018 on batteries for existing sites. In addition to the batteries, MTN has 1 800 generators in use and the company spent more than R120-million on diesel in 2018 to power the generators.
“Another significant additional cost of the load shedding is the extra on-site security that is needed to protect the batteries, generators and general site equipment from thieves and vandals,” MTN said.
“Network operators across the country have been battling sophisticated syndicates that have been stealing batteries daily. However, load shedding is seeing entire neighbourhoods cloaked in darkness at predictable times, which is offering criminals greater cover for their thieving.”
O’Sullivan said the result is a high cost to network providers and their customers each time a battery is stolen. “We have, for instance, had to spend in the region of R11-million to replace batteries at 100 sites in Gauteng. More broadly, we have had to spend R285-million on additional infrastructure to fix what was broken during the theft.”
MTN’s Jacqui O’Sullivan
Additional security is also required where mobile generators are deployed to stop them from being stolen.
“The extent of the outages has placed a significant strain on MTN’s overall network resources and teams have had to be reassigned from growth projects to emergency management of sites due to the load shedding.”
The problems don’t end there. The constant outages are also having a direct impact on the performance of the batteries, MTN said. With stage-four blackouts, the batteries’ integrity is compromised because of the insufficient time to recharge and due to the excessive drain on their power.”