Impact on Supersonic Products
- Why does it affect Supersonic Fixed-LTE, Home 5G and On-the-go Internet (Mobile broadband)?
Most mobile network base stations have batteries, but they are still affected under the following circumstances:
- When there is constant load shedding, the base station batteries do not have sufficient time to recharge. Especially when there is continuous Stage 4+ load shedding. The time between power cuts is simply not enough to recharge the batteries.
- Theft is unfortunately a reality we cannot ignore. Batteries at base stations often get stolen and whilst these are replaced, it does mean downtime to you, our customer, when batteries are simply no longer there when the power goes out.
- Capacity bursts due to change in user behaviour causes a serious issue during load shedding. Let’s explain: All mobile operators build coverage based on the expected users in an area, their typical usage profiles and then add some room for natural expansion – basically a base station is built to handle the capacity around it (with some room to expand). But during load shedding, road traffic often becomes grid-locked and there are suddenly thousands of users that start using their mobile data, whilst stuck in their cars. Another thousand home users in the area, who are also affected by load shedding, pick up their mobile devices, because their TV (as an example) goes out with the power. And many businesses whose stores’ does not have any back-up, turn to mobile services once the power goes out. Hence, mobile operators’ base stations are simply pushed beyond its planned capacity and become congested – the end result is that you, as a customer, simply cannot connect any longer or services become significantly slower during load shedding.
- Another scenario is where your primary tower (typically closest to you) goes down due to insufficient battery capacity and then you end up connecting to a tower further away – all this happens automatically in the background, as your device searches for the best (or sometimes only) available signal, which is now weak. However, this is once again compounded by capacity bursts, where a large number of other users also connect to this tower causing even more congestion, and you are at the very edge of the towers coverage – resulting in erratic weak signal that constantly drops.
- Why does it affect Home Fibre?
Fibre networks are often built with a combination of passive and active equipment, where passive equipment does not typically require batteries, but active equipment does. Supersonic partners with multiple Fibre Network Operators (FNO’s) who also have these diverse networks in place. The issue is that when these networks were built many years ago, very few predicted the levels of load shedding we have today. Whilst some active components of the fibre network do have batteries, others do not. Where there are batteries, they do not have sufficient time to recharge during continuous load shedding (in a similar manner to mobile networks). Some FNO’s also made a conscious decision not to place expensive batteries in manholes/street boxes around many South African neighbourhoods, simply due to the theft risk. The location and associated logistics make it impossible to protect thousands of these boxes spread out in all areas of the city. Often when batteries are stolen, equipment is also vandalised, resulting in days of downtime to restore services – hence, if batteries are not there, FNO’s have seen that their equipment is not as “attractive” to theft/vandalism. But without batteries, the service does go down during load shedding and ultimately affects you, as the customer.
- For Home Fibre, why are some areas affected more than others
We’ve often heard that some Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are affected more than others (E.g. Neighbouring suburbs with ISP X are still up, whilst others on ISP Y are down). This is usually not due to the ISP, but the Fibre Network Operator. Whilst Supersonic makes every effort to partner with reliable FNO’s, we have minimum control over how their networks were built, particularly in residential areas/complexes. Some municipalities and residential areas do not allow FNO’s to retrench the road if someone rolled out fibre years ago – or did a poor job. The FNO is forced to connect your home, using fibre that is already there, without any power resiliency considerations, and in turn, Supersonic lights up that service using the FNO’s network.
- Is Air Fibre impacted by load shedding
First the good news: Air Fibre is not impacted by the typical congestion experienced by mobile networks during load shedding, as the capacity is generally dedicated between the cell tower and the Air Fibre node, at your home. This is also why Air Fibre is positioned as an alternative to Fibre – the quality of the connection is consistent. Now the bad news: The power is usually shared with the mobile equipment at the base station. Hence, if a base station eventually loses power, then the Air Fibre service will be affected and be down.
What is Supersonic doing about load shedding?
- Home Fibre
When Fibre Network Operators (FNO’s) inform us of issues, Supersonic sends out bulk messages to affected customers with some indication of restoration time frame. Where FNO’s do not inform us, and we start getting customer calls, we attempt to correlate the information (I.e. Is it a specific area or a specific FNO) and make every effort to escalate the matter. At the same time, we attempt to proactively inform you too.
- Alternate technology options for Fibre
Where there are issues with fibre, that is beyond our control, we do investigate alternative options with our customers’. For example, if the fibre is down and you has good MTN data coverage during load shedding times, we encourage you to purchase a Fixed-LTE or Home 5G service as a back-up option. This is particularly useful if you rely on their Home Fibre for work-from-home purposes, where downtime affects productivity. Because FNO issues in some areas affect all ISP’s (I.e. Even if you, as a customer changes ISP’s, the same FNO is still an issue), we encourage you to either migrate to, or purchase an Air Fibre solution as an alternative or as a back-up. Whilst it is still difficult to absolutely guarantee up-time, we have observed that customers who have multiple connectivity services with Supersonic do have a higher chance of staying connected during prolonged load shedding periods.
- Sometimes, it’s just not us
Ever heard the complaint that the WiFi is down, in some parts of your house only during load shedding? We have noticed that some of our customers roll out their own WiFi within their homes (or move into a home that already has it) – these are sometimes spotted by WiFi access points on the ceiling, usually in larger homes. These WiFi access points typically connect back to the Home Fibre service via the Supersonic router. During load shedding, we have discovered that the Supersonic Home Fibre router is running fine (where customers have connected it to a UPS) but the WiFi network is down within the home, as it is not connected to back-up power. In this instance, we try to help you by identifying where the issue lies and make every attempt to advise on how to rectify it. But ultimately, it would then be up to you to ensure that the independent WiFi network in your home is also protected with some type of back-up power option.
What is MTN doing about load shedding?
- Fixed-LTE, Home 5G, OTG Internet (Mobile Broadband) & Air Fibre
MTN has gone on a massive drive to upgrade batteries around the country, in terms of both the capacity of batteries and the overall number of batteries. Additionally, MTN has scaled up on an emergency response team to immediately deploy either generators or batteries, in areas facing severe load shedding. Where possible, MTN is also placing generators, with additional fuel reserves to ensure that there is further contingency in place, when batteries do not get enough time to re-charge.
Lastly, MTN is embarking on a strategic and tactical plan to reduce reliance on the Eskom power grid across it’s entire national footprint, along with increasing network capacity to cater for increased demand during load shedding periods.