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Picture: 123RF
Picture: 123RF

MTN has pushed up its network availability to 98% in the Free State, Northern Cape and parts of the North West as part of a wider effort to keep customers connected during bouts of load-shedding and boost overall connectivity. 

Mobile operators have struggled as extended power cuts have sometimes depleted the batteries of their cellphone towers, leading to customers losing their signals.

In 2023, SA’s second largest cellphone company set aside R1.5bn to keep its network up and running during load-shedding, as well as to protect network equipment and backup power from thieves.

On Thursday, the company said its network sites in the three areas are now achieving above 98% network availability daily, improving from 92%. This after addressing more than 1,400 sites through the programme. 

In an effort “to mitigate the  effect of load-shedding and bolster network resilience”, MTN’s SA unit has been going through a modernisation of its network sites across a number of provinces.

In telecoms, network availability refers to the percentage of time that the network is operational and accessible to users. It is a metric used to measure how reliable a network operator’s connectivity is.

“We have modernised over 50% of our sites in the region and plan to add further sites this year, including in rural areas. This will enhance capacity and drive quality,” said Machawe Dlamini, acting regional manager for central region at MTN SA.

Total network resilience completed now stands at 94.58% in the central region. 

In Gauteng, network sites with resilience are achieving a daily network availability of 95%-98%. MTN has completed 99.91% of resilience work in the province. The Western Cape is on track to reach an overall network resilience completion rate of 97% by the end of 2024.

In November, the company said it planned to modernise 317 sites in KwaZulu-Natal by the close of 2023, accompanied by the rollout of 28 new sites. In the Western Cape, 230 additional sites were deployed in 2023, totalling 429, and sites with enhanced resilience achieved 99.4% network availability. In addition MTN introduced 59 new 5G sites in Gauteng, bringing the total to 965 in the region. 

Like its competitors, it has had to increase spending on security as its network sites are targeted by criminals stealing and vandalising its generators, batteries, solar panels and network equipment.

According to estimates from its 2022 annual results, power outages cost MTN R695m. This amounts to 3.4% of local core earnings of the R242bn company. This expenditure eats up money that could be invested in network expansion or improving service quality.

During 2022, MTN deployed more than 2,000 additional generators to counter the effects of stage 4 and higher load-shedding. It now uses more than 400,000l of fuel a month to keep these generators going. Rival Vodacom has spent more than R4bn on backup equipment since 2020 and R300m on extra running costs in 2023.

gavazam@businesslive.co.za

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