MTN wants to use state of disaster to bring in electrical engineers to fight load-shedding
MTN hopes the national state of disaster over Eskom will allow it to bring in electrical engineers working in other African countries to help manage its towers during load-shedding.
During the company’s financial results presentation for the 2022 financial year, MTN Group CEO Ralph Mupita said that the skills required to improve its tower uptime during load-shedding were in short supply in South Africa.
“We have to bring in people from Egypt and Nigeria, but the challenge is the visa process,” Mupita said.
“Under the national state of disaster, we will seek special dispensation around the visa regime to enable us to bring skill sets to manage sites that are largely off-grid.”
Mupita explained they want to hire experts in solutions that perform well in off-grid setups or situations where the power supply is less predictable.
Mupita said the state of disaster created a “unique opportunity” for improving resilience across mobile networks in South Africa.
“We are already sharing sites, and there is an opportunity to look at how to share power,” Mupita said.
In that regard, mobile networks are hoping that the state of disaster will introduce special dispensations to allow them to work together, Sunday Times reports.
That would require the participation of regulatory bodies like the Competition Commission.
Vodacom spokesperson Byron Kennedy told the publication among the benefits that could bring is eliminating double- spending on generators at base stations and enabling sharing of batteries and other renewable energy solutions.
In the past few years, mobile network operators have spent billions on battery backup systems and fuel for generators to power towers during load-shedding.
The high street value of batteries has also seen thieves targeting the sites, some of which are located in remote areas or outside of the general public’s view.
To prevent theft and vandalism, the networks had to invest substantially in physical security systems and monitoring.
Among the elaborate measures they have implemented are placing batteries in steel and concrete bunkers and cementing them within their racks.
The downtime due to load-shedding has also had a knock-on effect on service revenue.
MTN estimated the cost of load-shedding on its South African business was around R695 million in 2022, equal to about 3.4% of its earnings before interest, tax, deductions, and amortisation.
Recently-appointed electricity minister Kgosientso Ramokgopa met with Vodacom, MTN, Telkom, and Liquid Intelligent Technologies CEOs last week to discuss their energy needs.
That was focused on how networks protected their assets from criminals and how load-shedding or a lack of power generation affected the efficiency of their operations.
Ramokgopa said the meeting also looked at ways network operators could help solve the country’s power generation issues and contribute to the grid.