It may come as little surprise to learn that mobile operator MTN South Africa is investing heavily to combat site vandalism and battery theft, but both are partly due to the problem of load shedding and power cuts, which MTN has also been forced to address.
Thus, the company has been briefing journalists on plans to invest more than ZAR1.5 billion (about US$84 million) to strengthen its network’s resilience to all of these challenges, by installing solar power, batteries and generators, and enhancing security features at base stations.
According to Reuters, South African state electricity utility Eskom is implementing the worst rolling blackouts on record as its ageing coal plants fail, leaving households and businesses in the country in the dark for up to ten hours a day.
However, load shedding isn’t just an issue in itself. It appears to be an indirect cause of vandalism and battery or generator theft at network sites. Break-ins target batteries and diesel, leaving sites open to further theft of copper and other materials.
According to data cited by South African news resource Independent Online, in the Eastern Cape alone, more than 390 sites had been vandalised since January 2022, often more than once.
IHS, MTN’s tower sites partner, is looking at various hardening solutions such as concrete blocks to secure batteries, concrete bunkers and high-security cabinets.
MTN SA is on-grid at the moment but expects eventually to be completely off the grid at most sites. In the meantime, the network availability plan has resulted in the upgrade of 3,253 sites by the end of February, with the May completion target likely to enable significant improvement to network availability in the second half of the year.
MTN’s recent annual results indicated that power outage costs were R695 million (US$39 million) or 3.4%, of MTN South Africa's earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation.