Picture: MAIK WOLLEBEN
Picture: MAIK WOLLEBEN

Memes and other social media posts abound about how March seems to have been written by Stephen King - the lockdowns and spiralling death rates invoke scenes from horror fiction.

Governments around the world, including SA, are clamping down on social and working life to slow the spread of Covid-19.

With people increasingly working at home, as well as the added pressure of children being at home streaming videos and other entertainment, there are worries about the effect this will have on the country's digital and voice communication infrastructure.

SA's biggest mobile operators said this week they were doing everything in their power to ensure stability in their networks.

"The commitment we make to SA is we will do everything to make sure the network remains resilient and accessible, whether you're in a village or in Sandton," Godfrey Motsa, CEO of MTN SA, told Business Times.

"In these times people are relying on the network for information, for direction, to run their businesses, to keep in touch with their loved ones. Whether you are a government or a company, the only way you can keep going is through communication and our infrastructure."

people are relying on the network for information for direction

Without giving figures, Motsa said there had been a "steady increase in traffic" on MTN's network, which had been "very resilient". He said the group had spent about R50bn over the past five years to ensure this and provide "scalability".

Motsa said that over and above the data price cuts MTN announced on Friday in response to the government's call for reductions, it hoped to introduce new voice and data packages in the next two to three weeks as part of efforts to facilitate communication during the Covid-19 crisis.

Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub said in a statement that Vodacom aimed to put measures in place to keep South Africans connected and to ensure businesses can continue to run using remote connections. It was also "ramping up efforts" to help pupils with their studies during longer school holidays.

Vodacom said it had not experienced significant device or hardware supply disruptions and was "putting further measures in place to avoid disruptions" and working closely with suppliers and partners.

In a statement this week Telkom CEO Sipho Maseko said: "Our significant investment in modernising the network, including fibre backhaul, gives us comfort in the resilience of our network to support the increases in broadband that we anticipate during this time."

Integrated ICT company and infrastructure provider Vox Telecom said that with SA shutting down, the focus would "turn to digital solutions to help people get on with their daily lives as best as possible".

CEO Jacques du Toit said fibre-to-business pricing was now more affordable than DSL, so it made sense to investigate going this route. "Digital engagement is only going to increase as a result of this week's government announcements as more companies are looking to ways to empower people to work remotely."

Even though many home users had installed fibre, in most instances this had "been geared for a download-first experience. Things like movie and music streaming are all designed to have fast download speeds with not many giving any thought to creating symmetry with uploads," he said.

More attention must be given to "configuring fibre to upload large work files and be conducive to video conferencing", he said.

"This will see the focus turn to the unlimited upscalability of fibre that delivers a cleaner internet experience as opposed to ADSL."

Rain, which provides 4G and 5G data services, said it had noticed an increase in traffic, but volumes were "well within the capacity of the network". CEO Willem Roos said the company had launched a number of 4G and 5G unlimited data packages.

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