Cape Town - “The way I explain it is if you think about the load shedding situation you're having in your house or your building, and then you multiply it by 20 000, that's the problem for the telco industry.”
That is how Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub articulated the challenge faced by the telecommunications (telco) industry in the country during Premier Alan Winde’s 26th Energy Digicon this week.
Joosub said that load shedding has been particularly disruptive to the telecommunications industry, which has more than 20 000 sites across the country. He explained that from Vodacom’s experience, they usually see an increase in traffic during load shedding, and to handle this they’ve had to invest quite heavily.
“As an industry, we’ve probably invested over R10 billion. At Vodacom we’ve invested R4bn in the last four years, and then another billion this year. Both into batteries, and of course we're getting an incremental cost in fuel, and as the fuel prices move that all has an impact on us, because now we are very dependent.
“Of course, we've been trying to reduce our carbon footprint, but this is delaying this quite significantly.”
Another challenge is the lifespan of cellphone tower batteries, which usually last three years, and battery theft. That is hugely disruptive because it affects your margins and so on, but we started with the responsibility that we need to keep customers connected, so we’ve had to be able to deal with that.”
Joosub added that load shedding stages greatly affect telecommunication companies, and that they need better planning from the government and Eskom.
“If we know what the load shedding schedule is going to be, even if it is not accurate, it does give us better tools to plan cause we know where we need to add more batteries and where we need additional generators.”
Joosub said he believes the only way to get over this is to “do so together”, with both the public and private sectors doing everything they can to alleviate the issues, because it has a huge impact on GDP growth for the country.
In his weekly energy status update Special Advisor to the Premier on Energy, Alwie Lester, pointed out that while everyone may have experienced euphoria after a short reprieve from load shedding last week, the system is quite volatile, and that “for this week ahead, I expect we will be in between stage 2 to stage 4 at least”.
“As we get closer to the end of the week, and it is anticipated that there are two units that will come back from Eskom, we should see an improvement toward the end of the week, and by next weekend we should have some reprieve coming in.
“Again, let’s prepare for the worst, being we should have some load shedding, even if it is Stage 2.”