Vodacom Group will spend R1-billion in its current financial year ensuring its network in South Africa is able to cope with Eskom’s rolling blackouts.
CEO Shameel Joosub told TechCentral in an interview on Monday that most of this investment will be used to secure and install additional batteries and generators to ensure its base stations continue to operate during load shedding.
The Eskom-enforced rolling blackouts have ceased during the national lockdown due to a huge decrease in the demand for electricity, but it’s expected they’ll return as the lockdown is eased and industries begin operating again.
The impact of load shedding on South Africa’s cellular operators has been “dramatic”, Joosub said. February’s rolling blackouts meant network availability was “severely impacted”. Though unavailability at the time didn’t sound high — at around 2-3% — “that’s huge for us”.
“In a telco network, that’s a disaster. It gives rise to poor customer experience, and customers don’t always appreciate that cellphone networks work on power. There is increased utilisation of mobile when the power goes down. But that can only last as long as the power lasts.”
The R1-billion earmarked to fight the impact of load shedding would otherwise have been spent on increased coverage and capacity of the Vodacom network, Joosub said. Vodacom spent R9.9-billion on its network in South Africa in the financial year ended 31 March 2020.
Joosub said IoT.nxt, a company acquired last year by Vodacom, is deploying technology at the operator’s sites that reduces power consumption by about 20%. The solution has already been deployed at 7 000 sites, and it plans to complete another 7 000 by March 2021.
Theft of batteries is another major problem, too, but here Vodacom is turning to low-tech solutions to fight the scourge. The company loses more than R160-million/year to battery theft.
“What we have done now is go old school. We put epoxy around the batteries and put cut glass into them. It looks crappy, but it’s working. When they come with an angle grinder, it breaks the blade,” Joosub said.
Vodacom is also exploring renewable energy sources, including the possibility of buying capacity in future from independent power producers to lessen its reliance on Eskom. It’s also considering solar as an alternative at some sites, but “nothing is better than being connected to the grid”. — © 2020 NewsCentral Media