MTN South Africa is targeting 99% network availability during stage-6 load shedding, Ralph Mupita, CEO of parent MTN Group, said this week.
Mupita, speaking to journalists at a press conference following publication of the group’s results for the six months to end-June 2023, said the mobile operator has invested billions of rand into making its network more reliable during Eskom’s regular power cuts that have been bedeviling the economy for more than a decade.
Load shedding has intensified dramatically in the past year, making it difficult for mobile operators – including MTN South Africa and its rivals, Vodacom South Africa and Telkom – to keep their networks functioning optimally, leading to lost revenue as well as frustration for customers.
Mupita said MTN South Africa’s investment in network resilience, which it’s deploying nationwide, has already resulted in big improvements in availability – and, as a result, in revenue for the operator – in the second quarter of 2023, compared to the first quarter.
Given the urgency of addressing the challenge of intensified load shedding, MTN has bought back the power components at most of the base station sites it outsourced last year to tower operator IHS.
Mupita said some 1 700 of its South African sites are managed by American Tower Corporation, which will continue to provide power solutions to those towers.
For IHS, though, converting all the sites it manages to other sources of power would have taken far longer than MTN could afford. “The job was too big and needed to be done quickly,” he said.
MTN earlier this year brought in Chinese vendors Huawei and ZTE and tasked them with rolling out power resilience solutions to specific provinces, including Gauteng and the Western Cape.
“All 12 900 sites must provide network availability at 99% availability level at stage 6. We have had to rebuild the network from a power point of view,” Mupita said.
He said that when MTN built its network in South Africa, it was done based on the assumption of an “always-on grid”, something the country can no longer boast about. “In Nigeria, every site has a diesel generator. Our network in South Africa was not built that way.”
MTN sites in South Africa that have been made resilient to the vagaries of Eskom are already delivering at least 99% availability, Mupita added. “We just have to keep on executing.”
He said the company will complete these investments by early next year.
Mupita also said MTN is “committed” to investing R10-billion in its network in South Africa annually “to sustain our position and ensure customers have high-quality access”. He expects the company to spend “at least R50-billion” on its network in the next five years