Mobile Network Providers’ Base Stations Dilemma As power Cuts Persist

With the current ZESA outage (load shedding) running close to 18hrs per day and possible fuel and power price increase, mobile networks will soon have to switch off base stations as they face huge operational bills due to power outages.

Experts in the sector have bemoaned the costs of maintaining the networks in the dark hours with heavy demand for diesel to run the base station, pushing the average costs in this long winter.

Besides the power issue, experts said there are more operational and maintenance costs when there is no power supply, which is ballooning their Opex by more than 50%, while revenue is already declining due to low usage.

Speaking on the power issue, the expert acknowledged efforts by the country’s leading network provider, Econet, which is the installation of solar power mechanisms at base stations.

“Yes, we have alternatives like solar powered mechanisms which Econet has already installed and have proved ideal, but these also demand more batteries to store the charge, which comes in very heavy as capital expenditure to maintain the network fully,” said the expert.

He added, “Besides the Econet exception, other mobile networks do not run solar farms to maintain their own networks, relying on generators and diesel costs.”

Network uptime by all the mobile service operators has remained above 90%, while maintaining service provision in such times comes at a much higher cost, but the mobile service providers fear that they won’t be able to maintain this uptime for longer.

“It does not also make any business sense to continuously run diesel based base stations for a community that is highly likely to be disconnected and powered off, meaning these same hours would soon not warranty such support as there is low user uptake,” added the expert.

More technical support is now needed to run and maintain the network base stations with downtime in the dark and overtime on outage based maintenance, the operation costs are skyrocketing.

The expert added that more security is also now needed as automated facilities are now more often turned off, needing so much human intervention and manual checkups, which is more expensive.

“Where cameras would ordinarily help with CCTV for security and remote monitoring plus footage back up, most stations are now switched off due to the power outage, requiring physical security on the ground, ballooning costs.”

Normal mobile usage has drastically dropped as most subscribers are switched off, or at most keep their mobile phones only for urgent call and data services as they try to save battery power for the night.

The Average Revenue Per User ARPU has drastically dropped as well, the cost of living is biting subscribers, shifting connectivity essence to a luxury, while it has always been a basic necessity.

“Unfortunately, connectivity blackout looms, this will soon be inevitable as operators are only going to consider maintaining costs in profitable areas, which in Zimbabwe, has been worsened by lack of affordable power supply,” he said.