Seems we shall continue discussing load shedding as more and more developments emerge. Recently I discussed how businesses are now experiencing a double scourge i.e. on the supply side and the demand side. The latest to join the wagons seem to be mobile network service providers who are now also feeling the heat. The thing is load shedding has gotten to a point where even big titans are now experiencing challenges in their operations. As you are well aware, the current situation is driving up operating costs for most businesses.

Operating Costs Now Sky High

So it’s been reported that local mobile networks are thinking of shutting down their base stations for 8 or more hours a day. In essence, they’ll be off during load shedding periods. This is being considered owing to the fact that keeping them running when power is unavailable has become too costly. Service providers are saying that coupled with costs incurred from other support operations during power outages has spiked operating costs tremendously.

Their Obligations

There are certain POTRAZ (Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe) requirements and quality-related stipulations that these service providers must adhere to. For instance, they must guarantee at least 90% uptime at all times i.e. there must be network availability for subscribers most of the time. There are also issues to do with the quality provision which if not provided make a service provider liable to penalization. Actually, in 2018 all local mobile networks service providers received penalties worth millions of dollars. This was because they had been found wanting regarding issues such as calls dropping whilst in session, interference emanating from call cross-links and general connectivity challenges. So in principle, these service providers are required by law to deliver top-notch quality service despite the incessant load shedding.

A Brief Look At The Spiking Costs

Let consider the number of total base stations available locally which is 8800 and assuming that one base station requires 20 litres of fuel daily. This ultimately translates into over RTGS$3 million dollars per month (only for fuel to run generators). If you factor in other administrative costs, human resources, amongst many others – the operating costs truly are becoming quite elusive. The other factor is that there’s a huge discrepancy between the total number of subscribers and those actively using their SIM cards. The other issue spans from the fact that most people now purchase airtime less or use their numbers less frequently due to load shedding. So you then get to realize that there is an element of revenue becoming eclipsed by costs and that’s never good for any business.

Implications For Startups Or Small Businesses

First of all, what mobile network service providers are contemplating is quite understandable. The load shedding nightmare is leaving no stone unturned and everyone is feeling the brunt. However, if the periodic shutdown of base stations ends up being approved, small businesses and startups (the whole business community) will suffer greatly. Here’s the thing, startups or small businesses are leveraging on the internet and social media to significantly minimize operating costs. Through websites or social media sites, these business players can easily reach many people through digital marketing. The majority of business communications (especially business to client and vice versa) are now majorly done through WhatsApp. Take, for instance, Fresh In A Box; their main ordering mechanism uses a WhatsApp number through which people can place orders. So you can imagine how doing business will become increasingly difficult for many. It reminds me of the time the internet was shut down for some days – you remember how excruciating that was? Now, picture no internet activity, no calls and no SMSes; that would be quite an ordeal.

What Can Be Done Then?

I’m kind of scratching my head to think of what can be done to address the concerns mobile network subscribers have cited. They are valid concerns and are necessitated by the quest to maintain business sanity. The only unfortunate thing is that possible solutions to those business concerns end up affecting the consumer the most. Over and above that, other businesses also end up on their knees. I do have some possible solutions (however temporary) that I think can be implemented. Why not provide electricity for base stations where it’s exclusively possible to do so and then offer the service providers to pay using a cost-recovery model. This might not be practicable for all base stations but it can be worth a try. I suggest this because such an initiative was recently approved by the government for the mining sector under the Zimbabwe Chamber of Mines. Then another one can be prioritizing fuel allocations for the base stations at subsidized costs. I’m sure that’s possible considering that such an approach is being done for the ZUPCO buses. The important thing at the end of the day I think is to ensure that mobile network service providers never get to a point where they contemplate periodically shutting down base stations. I strongly feel such a move will give birth to even worse problems that are far-reaching.

So, I would love to hear your thoughts on this burning subject because it affects us all. What do you think should be done to make things easier for the mobile networks service providers? Would also want to know your sentiments on whether or not as a nation we’re headed towards Day Zero – i.e. when everything from power to coms will be at a standstill due to this power crisis. Kindly share your thoughts in the comments below.