- It's no longer viable to rely on cellphone towers and mobile networks to keep you connected during load shedding.
- Extended outages and tower battery thefts mean mobile towers often go down entirely, or slow dramatically, during power cuts.
- But if you have fibre internet in your home, you can keep your data connection alive - for under R1 000
- Here's how fibre UPS devices compare - and why it's a good add-on even if you already have a bigger UPS.
- For more stories, go to the Tech and Trends front page.
2023 is likely to be the worst year on record for load shedding in South Africa. Last year, the country experienced at least 200 days of power cuts - and just three months into 2023, we've already clocked up one-third of that tally. And things aren't about to get better anytime soon.
This impact is far-reaching - particularly if you're eager to stay connected during extended Stage 6 bouts, when most cellphone networks can't keep up with call and data demands.
Mobile networks unreliable during load shedding
South Africa's leading mobile networks have warned for some time that connectivity blackouts loom as their tower batteries struggle to keep up with repeated outages and rampant theft.
Criminals are stealing hundreds of tower batteries each month - and if your local tower is a victim of this, you'll lose mobile and data connectivity the moment load shedding hits.
But even those with upgraded and secured batteries struggle, particularly during extended Stage 6 outages. That's because most tower batteries require about half a day to fully recharge, which is near impossible when the power cuts off for at least 11 of a day's 24 hours.
This amount of discharge and recharge is also causing batteries to deplete faster, and even healthy cellphone batteries are struggling to keep up as extended blackouts remain.
Innovation and price wars in the UPS market
The prolific nature of South Africa's power crisis has produced some admittedly perverse good news.
Unrelenting load shedding has led to plenty of innovation in the uninterruptible power supply (UPS) market - and as the market has gained confidence that the crisis isn't going anywhere anytime soon, these new products are at lower prices than when they first appeared.
There's also plenty of competition for these gadgets in online stores, so it pays to shop around.
UPDATE | Vumatel restores fibre service to parts of Gauteng after major outage
Although many reached for hulking multipurpose UPSs during the early days, many of these whirring, beeping, and rapidly depleting machines are pricey and outdated. And if it's purely connectivity you're after, or you want to ensure you stay online well into hour three of Stage 6, the hands-down winner in this category is the slew of fibre router battery packs that are now readily available at competitive prices.
These tiny boxes - most are no bigger or heavier than the router - operate on around four high-capacity lithium-ion batteries that should get you through a full four hours when healthy. They're silent and kick in automatically when the power goes down - most with no noticeable downtime.
- The most critical thing when buying a mini UPS for your fibre is compatibility with your setup, followed by battery power and quality.
- Most mini UPSs generally have two DC outputs or a splitter cable, which is critical for keeping the fibre router and Optical Network Terminal (ONT) powered up.
- If your router and ONT operate on different voltages (this information is usually on the device sticker), you'll want one with a dual voltage selection option.
- When it comes to battery power, more is usually better - though if all you're doing is powering up your router for four-hour stints, you don't need to go overboard. Most fibre UPS devices come in at about 8 800mAh and lithium-ion batteries, which is generally enough to power through a few Stage 6 bouts.
It's plug and play - for most
If you live in a home with fibre installed, it's as easy as plugging the router and ONT into the mini UPS - usually a flat, wall-mounted box.
But keeping your fibre alive is more challenging if you live in a housing estate with a centralised solution, ElectroMechanica's Clayton Vosloo previously told News24.
In this case, you'll need to petition the body corporate to install a UPS at the site of the global ONT, which by this stage of the crisis should already be in place. And even in this case, you'll need a little fibre UPS to fire up your router.
Don't expect more than an internet connection
The mini UPSs can't power up much more than your router, ONT, CCTV camera, or cellphone - and not all simultaneously. At most, you should look to them as a way to keep your router and ONT connected.
But while UPSs with larger batteries can take several hours to recharge, these little powerhouses can usually be back up and running during even the most unrelenting cuts, which makes them an excellent failsafe to stay connected.
As with most UPSs, not all are created equal. And they're only as good as the batteries inside. But by picking a reputable brand with at least four 2 200mAh batteries, you should be in the clear for keeping your fibre internet powered up for a few hours at a time for at least 18 months, when, given South Africa's power crisis, you may need to look for a replacement due to battery degradation.
Here's how four mini fibre UPS options compare:
Gizzu 36W 32Wh 8800mAh Mini Dual DC UPS
- 8 800mAh lithium-ion batteries
- Dual DC outputs
- Voltage selection
- Online rating: 9.6/10 (2 200+ reviews)
- Price: Wootware (R899); Computer Mania (R999); Incredible (R1 099); Matrix (R999)
UltraLAN Mini UPS
Vizia WiFi UPS
- 15 600mAh lithium-ion
- Single DC output with splitter cable
- Voltage selection
- Online rating: 9.4/10 (840+ reviews)
- Price: Builders (R1 399); Takealot (R1 479); Incredible (R1 899)
Volkano Mini UPS
- 8 800mAh lithium-ion
- Dual DC outputs
- Voltage selection
- Online rating: 9.4/10 (660+ reviews)
- Price: Clicks (R719 on sale); Incredible (R799); Computer Mania (R899)