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How load-shedding is killing our cellphone signals



“It is an industry problem and it cannot be left to the companies to deal with alone. Although we have improved security and are assisting the police in making arrests, everyone needs to step up and report this before it becomes a bigger problem. While we are making strides in patrolling key sites and helping the police catch criminals, it ultimately needs broader participation.”

Says O’Sullivan: “We understand that this can be a frustrating time for most South Africans. By fitting our towers with these batteries, we are striving to ensure that our customers remain connected with loved ones and can access the various services they need.”

MTN says it has beefed up security significantly and has achieved immense recent successes in the fight against theft and vandalism, but the battle is far from over.

“There is a high cost to customers and the network providers each time a battery is stolen,” says Paul. “We have, for instance, had to spend in the region of R11m to replace batteries at 100 sites in Gauteng. More broadly, we have had to spend R285m on additional infrastructure to fix what was broken.”

Initiatives like the criminal vetting of suppliers is already bearing fruit. MTN also plans to have full detection and monitoring on all base transceiver station (BTS) sites by May this year, which will bring about full monitoring and protection. 

“However, everyone out there needs to help in the fight – if you know something then tell us or the police,” says Paul.

This could entail seeing “something fishy” on a site when travelling past a tower.  Potential buyers for batteries in commercial use should make sure they know the origin of what they are buying, he says. 

“If someone is installing a battery commercially then ask where it comes from. If it potentially has any markings or may look used and doesn’t physically come out of a sealed box, then it could be suspicious. Don’t buy batteries if not supplied by a reputable supplier. We often find criminals selling these batteries on social media platforms like Facebook.”

Cellphone tower batteries are often black, with a red trim on top, as depicted in the accompanying picture. Other batteries in use are mainly red in colour with a small black trim but the black or grey lead acid 12V battery in the next picture is one to watch out for as it is a popular target for syndicates because it can be used to power household appliances like televisions or microwave ovens. While most household equipment won’t work on a 48-volt Lithium ion battery, 48-12-volt convertors are being used.

Says Paul: “This is an opportunistic crime and many of these batteries seem to leave the country – which is interesting as it means criminals in other countries are choosing not to steal from their own networks. We are making inroads through a lot of interventions, but everyone has a role to play. With further Eskom power cuts likely in the future, it is time we all tried to cut out the scourge of battery theft.”

O’Sullivan says MTN has prioritised battery theft at a national level. 

“Tasks teams have been deployed and support and maintenance crews are working additional shifts to restore connectivity as quickly as possible. We are making inroads through a lot of interventions, but we encourage members of the public to report any suspicious behaviour or activity as it relates to battery theft.”

Efforts to address the issue through harsher sentences for copper theft and amendments to the Second-Hand Goods Act, to regulate buying and selling of copper, appear to have had little impact. Such efforts require more active policing, which is a challenge in its own right.

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Gadget goes to Hollywood

Gadget visited the Netflix studios last week. In the first of a series, ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK talks to CEO Reed Hastings.



Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is no stranger to Africa. He has travelled throughout South Africa, taught maths in Swaziland for two years with the Peace Corps, and visits close family in Maputo. As a result, he is keenly aware of the South African entertainment and connectivity landscape.

In an exclusive interview at the Netflix studios in Hollywood, Los Angeles, last week, he revealed that Netflix had no intentions of challenging MultiChoice’s dominance of live sports broadcasting on the continent.

“Other firms will do sport and news; we are trying to focus on movies and TV shows,” he said. “There are a lot of areas that are video that we are not doing: sports, news, video gaming, user-generated content. We don’t have live sport.

Reed Hastings at the Netflix studios in Hollywood last week. Pic: ADAM ROSE

“We’re not replacing MultiChoice at all. Their subscriber growth is steady in South Africa. They serve a need that’s independent of the Internet, via low-price satellite. There is no intention of capturing that audience. If they’re growing, it’s because they serve a need.”

While Reed ruled out any collaboration with MultiChoice on its satellite delivery platform, despite its collaboration with another pay-TV service, Sky TV in the United Kingdom, he did not close the door. He stressed that Netflix saw itself as an Internet-based service, and would pursue the opportunities offered by evolving broadband in Africa.

“If you look in other markets like the USA, how Comcast carries us on set-top boxes with their other services, it could happen with MultiChoice, the same as with all the pay-TV providers.

“We’re really focused on being a service over the Internet and not over satellite. Our service doesn’t work on satellite. Where we work with Sky is on Internet-connected devices. We’re happy to work on Internet-connected devices. We tend to work on smart TVs, but need broadband Internet for that.

“Broadband is getting faster in Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa – we can see the positive trendlines – so it’s more likely we will work with broadband Internet companies.”

Hastings is a firm believer in the idea that one content provider’s success does not depend on pushing another down.

“HBO has grown at the same time as we have, so can see our success doesn’t determine their success. What matters is amazing content with which the world falls in love.”

Click here to read on about Hastings’ views on international expansion, and how the streaming service selects content for its platform.

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Take these 5 steps to digital



By MARK WALKER, Associate Vice President for Sub-Saharan Africa at IDC Middle East, Africa and Turkey.

Digital transformation isn’t a buzz word because it sounds nice and looks good on the business CV. It is fundamental to long-term business success. IDC anticipates that 75% of enterprises will be on the path to digital transformation by 2027. 

However, digital transformation is not a process that ticks a box and moves to the next item on the agenda – it is defined by the organisation’s shift towards a digitally empowered infrastructure and employee. It is an evolution across system, infrastructure, process, individual and leadership and should follow clear pathways to ensure sustainable success.

The nature of the enterprise has changed completely with the influence of digital, cloud and the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), and success is reliant on strategic change.

There is a lot more ownership and transparency throughout the organisation and there is a responsibility that comes with that – employees want access to information, there has to be speed in knowledge, transactions and engagement. To ensure that the organisation evolves alongside digital and demand, it has to follow five very clear pathways to long-term, achievable success.

The first of these is to evaluate where the enterprise sits right now in terms of its digital journey. This will differ by organisation size and industry, as well as its reliance on technology. A smaller organisation that only needs a basic accounting function or the internet for email will have far different considerations to a small organisation that requires high-end technology to manage hedge funds or drive cloud solutions. The same comparisons apply to the enterprise-level organisation. The mining sector will have a completely different sub-set of technology requirements and infrastructure limitations to the retail or finance sectors.

Ultimately, every organisation, regardless of size or industry, is reliant on technology to grow or deliver customer service, but their digital transformation requirements are different. To ensure that investment into artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, knowledge engines, automation and connectivity are accurately placed within the business and know exactly where the business is going.

The second step is to examine what the business wants to achieve. Again, the goals of the organisation over the long and short term will be entirely sector dependent, but it is essential that it examine what the competitive environment looks like and what influences customer expectations. This understanding will allow for the business to hone its digital requirements accordingly.

The third step is to match expectations to reality. You need to see how you can move your digital transformation strategy forward and what areas require prioritisation, what funding models will support your digital aspirations, and how this tie into what the market wants. Ultimately, every step of the process has to be prioritised to ensure it maps back to where you are and the strategic steps that will take you to where you want to go.

The fourth step is to look at the operational side of the process. This is as critical as any other aspect of the transformation strategy as it maps budget to skills to infrastructure in such a way as to ensure that any project delivers return on investment. Budget and funding are always top of mind when it comes to digital transformation – these are understandably key issues for the business. How will it benefit from the investment? How will it influence the customer experience? What impact will this have on the ongoing bottom line? These questions tie neatly into the fifth step in the process – the feedback loop.

This is often the forgotten step, but it is the most important. The feedback loop is critical to ensuring that the digital transformation process is achieving the right results, that the right metrics are in place, and that the needle is moving in the right direction. It is within this feedback loop that the organisation can consistently refine the process to ensure that it moves to each successive step with the right metrics in place.

There is also one final element that every organisation should have in place throughout its digital evolution. An element that many overlook – engagement. There must be a real desire to change, from the top of the organisation right down to the bottom, and an understanding of what it means to undertake this change and why it is essential. This is why this will be a key discussion at the 2019 IDC South Africa CIO Summit taking place in April this year. With this in place, the five steps to digital transformation will make sense and deliver the right results.

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