Winter is coming, and with it the threat of ever-increasing levels of loadshedding for South African businesses and consumers.
This puts huge challenges in the way of those that rely on networks, fibre and LTE, warns Theo van Zyl, head of wireless at Vox.
“Most of the operators providing these services can sustain them for up to six hours of a power outage at most,” he says. “If there aren’t generators on-site to power the equipment, then obviously the last mile is also seriously affected. If the power goes down, the fibre goes down because the batteries and their backups would just eventually die. This is just one of the problems facing last-mile connectivity.”
The second challenge is that even with on-site generators and alternative power support structures in place, as the outages grow longer and the country experiences 12 or 24-hour outages, these core networks are also going to be under strain. So, even if the networks planned for 234 days of diesel, if systems go down and demand goes up, they will be unable to access the fuel they need to maintain their services.
This also introduces a complex balance between what companies should order for fuel now, versus waiting to see what happens. After all, diesel is an expensive investment and has seen companies pay millions in unexpected costs.
“If loadshedding runs over a few days, the issues will compound,” adds van Zyl. “It won’t matter if you have wireless or fibre or LTE mobile, nothing is going to work, especially the last mile. People working from home are going to lose their connectivity first as they didn’t make provision for the last mile networks to last that long, although ADSL users may last for longer thanks to the capabilities of copper.
“However, every individual and office still has electronic equipment that relies on batteries and backup that, in turn, rely on generators. When the fuel ends, so will the office.”
He adds that satellite could work as a long-standing alternative, but not in South Africa if it has local breakout on the core networks. What companies actually want is international connectivity from satellite landing sites in Europe that have power and backboned to the internet there.
Then, if anything happens in South Africa, those who have a European-based solution will have internet connectivity. This should be further supported by investment in on-site solar power that can handle technology, equipment and connectivity. The latter doesn’t need a lot of power, but it does need reliable power to ensure that it continues to operate.
“If the country falls to a total blackout, solar and alternative power structures, along with trusted satellite, are the only options available to ensure that people, businesses and systems remain connected,” says van Zyl. “We are already seeing a lot of companies take up satellite for redundancy. This is a critical plan that has to be put in place, especially if companies want to protect their business and continue to run things in the cloud.”
He points out that, without connectivity, businesses will come to a complete halt – no email, no calls, no way of connecting reliably. A complete blackout means that even the most basic of business services will come to a slow, stuttering halt. It is a concern, and one that demands attention as the country teeters on the edge of disaster
“It isn’t all doom nor is it gloom,” concludes van Zyl. “The key is to plan now, invest now and ensure that your systems are ready for the worst. Then, if it doesn’t happen, you’re not only ahead in terms of disaster recovery, but you’re no longer as reliant on the grid as in the past. A win-win that will stand your business in good stead in the future.”
Satellite provider Twoobii is also gearing up to secure communications in the face of increasing loadshedding or grid failure.
The company has issued a statement pointing out that continued power disruptions have caused widespread mobile network signal degradation and, in some cases, a complete collapse of network services. The repeated power disruptions result in infrastructure failure on the towers, leading to service disruptions, which is particularly problematic for merchants and businesses that rely on 3G connectivity to transact and complete credit card payments.
Satellite networks offer a unique and attractive solution to this problem. By their very nature, satellite networks are extremely dependable and immune from terrestrial power disruptions or physical damage to infrastructure. This is because satellite communication networks require only a terminal to be installed on the end-user’s premises. This then communicates with a central gateway (or teleport) via the satellite in the sky. The satellite network gateway is then connected to the Internet to provide the user with broadband and business data connectivity services.
This means that as long as the user terminal is operational and powered, typically using a small generator or a solar-powered supply, the business will be fully connected and can trade as usual. In this way satellite communications offer a robust solution to the disruption of business communication networks caused by loadshedding.
Satellite network technology continues to evolve with the development of Smart Satellite Services such as the Twoobii service, developed and operated by the Q-KON Africa engineering team. Smart Satellite Services incorporate advanced quality-of-service features and additional security measures to enable integration with merchant credit card readers and point-of-sale trading systems. Smart Delivery ensures and end-to-end business model at an affordable price point.