Since the implementation of load shedding in 2008, South Africa has been experiencing energy problems. A number of causes, including inadequate investment in new power production capacity, deteriorating infrastructure, and operational issues at power plants, have contributed to this sad state of affairs.
The loss of internet access and disruption of mobile phone service is one of loadshedding's most annoying effects for many South Africans. Exactly why is this?
The science behind cell phone towers
Cell phone towers are in charge of delivering and receiving signals that allow mobile phones to work. This transmission happens via an antenna. The towers are fitted with transmitters, receivers, amplifiers, and filters, which work together to guarantee that signals are delivered and received with little interference and distortion.
The signal from your mobile phone travels to the closest cell phone tower whenever you make a call or send a text message. The tower receives the signal and sends it to the closests base station. This base station is typically housed in a structure known as a central office or switching station. The call or message is sent to the appropriate network, such as a landline phone network or another mobile phone network, by the base station.
The loadshedding effect
Loadshedding entirely destroys service in a grid region where a base station is situated and severely limits the cell phone tower's ability to transmit data. Tower operators must power transmitters, receivers, amplifiers, and filters using alternative energy sources in order to mitigate this.
During loadshedding disruptions, emergency power therefore becomes crucial. Watch how calls are dropped and data flow is disrupted when a cell phone tower loses power, even for a little period of time, while base station equipment goes through a reboot process. The system is additionally susceptible to reboot-related faults.
When utility power is lost, a controller switches tower and base station equipment to back-up battery supply. The backup generator fires up. A controller that converts from backup battery power to emergency generator power is supplied with generator power via an Automatic Transfer Switch (ATS). The ATS switches off the generator power and connects the utility electricity to the grid after the utility power has been restored. The generator starts to shut down.
The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) detailed how tower operators spent R2.6 billion on batteries and R873 million on generators to prevent signal interruption during 2022 loadshedding's in their State of the ICT Sector report. The research also reveals that just in the 2022 fiscal year, operators purchased 16,660 generators and 98,733 batteries.