By James de Villiers for Business Insider SA

SA’s two largest cellular networks warn that network connection might be lost if load shedding continues.

Batteries take up to 18 hours to recharge, and if electricity is repeatedly disrupted, it may result in network downtime.

Cellular network connectivity might soon be disrupted if load shedding continues or worsens, South Africa’s two largest network providers said.

Eskom implemented stage four load shedding for the first time in history on Monday morning, after seven generating units tripped, leaving up to 20% of South Africa without electricity at a time. Load shedding (stage 3) continued on Tuesday and into Wednesday.

Jacqui O’Sullivan, MTN South Africa’s executive for corporate affairs, said the operational impact will first be felt where the frequency of the load shedding exceeded the capacity of the back-up batteries.

She said their batteries generally have a capacity for six to 12 hours and require roughly 12-18 hours to recharge.

“Where consecutive load shedding took place, batteries were unable to fully recharge, resulting in reduced back-up times,” O’Sullivan told Business Insider South Africa.

She said MTN spent more than R100 million in the past year dealing with acts of theft and vandalism, and had to deploy security teams to protect the equipment.

“These crimes tend to spike during load shedding when the lack of power sees substations being vandalised for copper wire which then further exacerbates the power supply problem.”

Vodacom said their clients will not be able to access any services when backup power at their towers becomes depleted.

It said when the power is restored, customers will be able to catch up on missed calls and messages which would not have come through.

“It is, however, worth noting that when compared with our total network traffic, the recent impact on Vodacom’s network has been limited due to our back-up power facilities,” a Vodacom spokesperson said.

MTN’s O’Sullivan said the uncertainty surrounding load shedding and the duration thereof, particularly, puts additional strain on their network.

She said the duration and frequency of load shedding compromised their batteries which increases operational costs.

“We want our customers to be able to continue communicating and working, despite the electricity interruptions and we have operations teams working 24 hours a day to mitigate the impact on our customers, as far as we possibly can,” O’Sullivan said.

New TymeBank signs up 50 000 users

Although the bank only soft-launched at the end of 2018, TymeBank has already signed up 50 000 customers. This is according to Business Tech, who heard from the company’s CEO, Sandile Shabalala, at the BusinessTech Digital Banking Conference on Wednesday.

Shabalala says that the new digital banking group is looking to radically change the way South Africans access banking services in the country – and has run its first full store activation in preparation for its official launch.

The bank’s soft-launch involved placing the group’s kiosks in selected areas. The bank operates on a partnership model with Pick n Pay and Boxer stores in South Africa. This provides an easy-to-access physical point of presence for customers in places they frequent.

The partnership gives the bank 750 points of presence through the retailers’ networks, and access to 10 000 cash till points. According to BusinessTech, this gives the bank access to an extensive network without having to spend a cent on building its own infrastructure

SA’s go-to loadshedding app

By James de Villiers for Business Insider SA

Load shedding application EskomSePush went from 2,500 active users a week ago to over 400,000 on Tuesday. This after Eskom implemented load shedding stage 4 for the first time in history.

Two friends created the application, which is currently the most downloaded South African application on iOS, as a side project in 2014.

Load shedding notification application EskomSePush went from 2,500 active users a week ago to over 400,000 users on Tuesday, co-creator Herman Maritz said.

This after embattled power utility Eskom, for the first time in history, implemented stage 4 load shedding on Monday morning, leaving up to 20% of the country without electricity. Around a third of Eskom’s 45,000 MW capacity is offline.

EskomSePush is now the most downloaded application on the South African iOS App store, and the second most downloaded application, behind WhatsApp, in the South African Google Play Store.

Maritz said the application is likely to reach 500,000 by the end of the week, when Eskom is reportedly set to suspend load shedding.

He said they’ve received some 1,400 emails every day since Monday, from three last week.

“Sorry, we’re not replying to all the emails anymore,” Maritz jokingly told Business Insider South Africa.

Maritz co-created EskomSePush with Dan Wells in 2014 while they were building banking apps.

“We wanted to know when load shedding was happening so that we could plan around it over our December holidays,” Maritz said.

“We laughed about making this simple push notification service.”

They originally used a service called PushBullet to send us notifications, and in 2015 – six weeks after launch – they had over 100,000 users.

“[We] peaked at around 250,000 active users before load shedding was suspended later that year,” Maritz said.

The app received awards at MTN’s 2015 App of the Year awards for both People’s Choice and Breakthrough Developer App.The application automatically detects and alerts users when load shedding stage changes occur. It provides detailed information of over 50,000 locations in South Africa.

“The system is 100% automated in terms of load shedding stage changes and push notifications,” Maritz said.

Maritz, who now works as a engineer for online Classifieds OLX in Germany, said the application was until recently fully funded by themselves, but they brought in a few ads to “keep the lights on”.

“I hate ads, and we’re thinking of different solutions, but Dan needs some cash flow to keep the app running,” Maritz said.

Wells added: “We enjoy keeping it running! It’s a rush!”

The duo encouraged anyone who is an experienced mobile or JavaScript developer who is keen to work on a useful side-project to contact them at iwanttohelp@sepush.co.za.

How to choose a UPS for your needs

Judging by the state of Eskom, loadshedding is here to stay. So what is the best solution to get you through the average 4-hour load shedding schedule? A generator, or a UPS with long life batteries?

It really all depends on your circumstances.

If your business or home is located in a low noise area, such as office blocks, flats or apartments, then a silent UPS solution is probably the best way to go, even though the initial capital investment may be three or more times that of a generator.

Of course, the new type inverter type generators are more silent, but the cost is more than double that of conventional generators of the same size.

What most people don’t realise is that even though the upfront cost of a generator may seem an attractive proposition, there are associated hidden costs in the form of fuel costs, maintenance costs and spare parts. If the generator is a “cheapie” from China without local support from an official distributor, then beware. You could be forced to dump it after only a few months.

Installation costs of a generator may also be slightly more than that of a UPS, as you would have to install a manual changeover switch, to switch to either generator power or to grid power, depending on the situation.

With most UPS systems, changeover is an automatic process; when Eskom or City Power fails, the system automatically switches to battery power through an inverter.

Yes, it is true that a generator can be fitted with an automatic change over switch, but with costs exceeding R15 000 to R20 000, you may as well go the UPS route.

With a UPS there are no fuel or maintenance costs. Reputable UPS systems have intelligent battery chargers that ensure maximum battery efficiency for long life. Yes, depending on the type of deep cycle battery used (5 or 10 year lifespan), as well as the frequency of re-charges, one would have to plan ahead to replace batteries when they reach end of life. The benefits however will far outweigh the costs.

A pure sinewave UPS offers seamless, clean and stable power during load shedding, enabling you to power sensitive devices such as computers and modems.

To cut down the initial investment of a UPS, consider a system with fewer batteries.
Do you really need 6-8 hours backup, or will 3-4 hours do? Remember that during load shedding you can extend the length of the rated backup by simply connecting the bare minimum equipment.

For example, in a home environment, lights, TV/DSTV and Internet; or in an office environment, lights, the telephone system, computers and Internet. Most of this can be achieved with a 2-3KVA UPS or generator.

Insistence on buying large generators, far exceeding power requirements during a power outage, results in fuel going to waste.

A generator is only a true necessity if the power outages in your area are over 8 hours or longer.
In those cases, the cost of a UPS with backup batteries would become prohibitive – unless of course, it has a solar power option that would deal with daytime power outages.

Choose wisely and never over-capitalise if the main focus is to simply get through the load shedding sessions.

By Henri Pereira for FocalCom

 

By Sifiso Zulu for EWN

South Africans are looking to President Cyril Ramaphosa for answers after the latest round of load shedding; the most severe to hit the country.

Eskom says it had no choice but to implement stage 4 load shedding on Monday after an urgent need to shed 4,000 megawatts off the grid.

Stage 4 load shedding has never been implemented before, and this drastic measure by Eskom took the country by surprise.

But it appears that even President Ramaphosa was not expecting the latest development, saying it came as a shock and was most worrying.

Energy expert Chris Yelland agrees that this move was unprecedented and speaks to how dire the situation is at the debt-ridden power utility.

“This is uncharted territory. So, it’s much deeper than it’s ever been before, and it did come as a surprise because it was announced that six generation units shut down as a result of unplanned outages.”

Ramaphosa recently announced plans to unbundle Eskom into three entities to deal with generation, transmission and distribution.

Labour unions have vowed to fight the plan, arguing that it’s the onset of privatising Eskom.

Total’s oil and gas discovery worth R1trn

By Paul Burkhardt, Bloomberg/Fin24

Total SA said it has opened up a new “world-class” oil and gas province off the coast of South Africa after making a significant gas-condensate discovery there will provide a boost for the economy of R1-trillion over the next 20 years.

Success in the nation’s first deep-water well is a potential boon for a country that imports most of its oil, processing the remainder of its fuels from coal and natural gas.

“We are very pleased to announce the Brulpadda discovery, which was drilled in a challenging deep-water environment,” Kevin McLachlan, senior vice president of exploration at Total, said in a statement on Thursday.

“Total has opened a new world-class gas and oil play and is well-positioned to test several follow-on prospects on the same block.”

Total, the operator, now plans to acquire 3D seismic data before drilling as many as four more exploration wells at the license.

“It’s a catalytic find,” Niall Kramer, chief executive officer of the South African Oil & Gas Alliance, an industry lobby group, said by phone. The country has only drilled in shallow waters before, with little to show for it, he said. “There’s nothing that has been on this kind of scale.”

Exxon, Eni

The new oil and gas region, with estimated volumes of around 1 billion barrels according to consultant Wood Mackenzie, has drawn interest from explorers including Exxon Mobil and Eni SpA, which also hold stakes in the waters.

“It’s probably quite big,” Total CEO Patrick Pouyanne said Thursday on a conference call. “Having said that, the region is quite difficult to operate: huge waves, the weather isn’t very easy.”

Total was drilling about 175 kilometers (109 miles) offshore in the Outeniqua Basin to a final depth of 3 633 meters (11 900 feet). The discovery, which also includes some light oil, could prompt a rush of activity offshore by other companies, especially since South Africa is due to introduce new oil and gas legislation later this year aimed at spurring exploration.

Africa as a whole has seen an increase in drilling, with oil and gas rigs around the continent topping 100 in recent months, according to Baker Hughes data. The count was as low as 77 in 2017.

Total has a 45% working interest in Block 11b/12B, Qatar Petroleum holds 25%, CNR International 20% and Main Street, a South African consortium, 10%.

Meanwhile, Minister of Mineral Resources Gwede Mantashe told delegates on the last day of the 2019 Investing in African Mining Indaba on Thursday that his department’s plan to separate oil and gas from the Mining Charter and develop separate legislation for the extraction method would yield immediate impact.

He lauded Total’s discovery as one of the outcomes.

PIC may not be willing to bail out Edcon

By Ann Crotty for Financial Mail

Word is the Public Investment Corp (PIC) is not inclined to hand over about R2bn to Edcon to save it from a fate we’ve all long thought unavoidable.

Of course, right now the PIC is so fixated on its own survival it’s probably not in the mood to consider the survival of other chronically poorly managed entities, even those in the private sector.

It’s been almost 12 years since private equity firm Bain thought it would be a brilliant idea to spend R25bn taking one of the country’s most successful clothing retailers private, load it up with tax-deductible debt and pocket lots of profit.

At that stage Edcon had about 50% of the clothing and footwear market and, under the stellar leadership of Steve Ross, looked as though it could pick up even more.

It is now below 30% and dropping. Still, at 30% it is nearly twice that of its nearest competitor, and large enough for “too big to fail” pleas for support. At stake are over 20,000 jobs and 1,350 stores.

Some analysts see Edcon as a retail version of SAA and say it should be allowed to go into liquidation no matter how painful.

“Is it the PIC’s job to bail out failed private equity transactions?” asks independent analyst Anthony Clark. “Let market forces play out. New, more vibrant competitors will take up much of the jobs and sites.”

More problematic is whether a more vibrant competitor would show the same commitment to sourcing locally.

It’s difficult to know precisely when things at Edcon went pear-shaped. Some say the initial targets set to justify the R25bn take-out price were unrealistic and put the top executives under too much pressure.

Whatever it was, Edcon began to steadily lose the market dominance it had long taken for granted.

“Ross’s departure was a major blow,” says one industry insider, adding that for the past few years there’s been no compelling reason to shop at Edgars. “They lost touch with their customers, gave up their merchandising expertise and started introducing expensive brands. Essentially they just gave away their traditional market dominance to competitors.”

But the insider believes that even without a fund injection from the PIC Edcon may continue to hobble along.

“The bondholders don’t want to lose their money so they’ll keep it alive.”

By Helena Wasserman for Business Insider SA

The American office-sharing giant WeWork will open its first office on the continent in Rosebank, Johannesburg.

WeWork offers large shared workplaces for individuals and companies who don’t want the hassle and cost of maintaining their own offices.

It is renowned for creating comfortable, millennial-friendly surroundings, which include having open lounges and plush sofas, as well as free coffee, craft beer on tap and even mouthwash in the bathrooms.

All WeWork offices have lounges and conference areas.

Offices typically have private phone booths and a communal kitchen. Some even have gyms, as well as ping-pong, pool and foosball tables.

Fast internet comes standard as does “business-class” printers, front desk service, fruit-infused water and access to office supplies. Buildings are typically open 24 hours a day and offer package delivery services.

WeWork offices also offer free coffee.

Launched in 2010 in New York, WeWork has been called the most hyped start-up in the world after Softbank announced a plan to invest $16 billion into the privately-held company last year. The investment would have made WeWork the second most valuable start-up worldwide, but the Japanese behemoth has since cooled on its plan, scaling down its commitment to only $2 billion.

Still, WeWork is massive. The company has 400 offices in 100 cities, with 400,000 members who pay monthly fees to use its offices. It’s the biggest office tenant in both New York City and London.
The majority of WeWork members work for themselves – but almost a third of its members are businesses, who rent space for their employees.

WeWork office decor has been described as “startup kitsch”.
Its first South Africa office will be at the brand-new Rosebank Link building located at 173 Oxford Road. WeWork will rent it from Redefine Properties, under a revenue sharing agreement.

A Redefine representative said the building should be ready for occupation by August. WeWork will occupy six floors.

Up to 2 000 members could be accommodated in its office, and there will be a gym and restaurants in the building, as well as a Food Lovers Market. The building has direct access to the Gautrain station through “a landscaped pedestrianised thoroughfare” that runs underneath the offices.

WeWork has not yet confirmed local membership costs. In India membership for a “hot desk” (meaning you won’t have a dedicated place to sit) costs R1,100 a month, while a dedicated desk comes to R2,000 and a private office is close to R4,000. In the US, membership fees are much more expensive, with a hot desk starting at around R5,000 a month.

Africa is the only continent WeWork hasn’t yet entered, but Eugen Miropolski, managing director of WeWork International, tells Business Insider South Africa there is “huge potential for WeWork in Africa”.

“South Africa makes sense for us from a global expansion perspective: we’re entering a new continent in a country which has close ties to other major WeWork communities such as Europe where we have a strong community of over 60 000 members,” Miropolski says.

The Rosebank WeWork space will be specifically designed to reflect the Joburg culture, he added. A local team will be hired to “programme” the space. “They have to be connected to the culture.”

He hopes that the WeWork space in Johannesburg will bring together “a community of creators from diverse backgrounds including entrepreneurs, startups and large corporates” which will spark collaboration and help to grow the businesses.

Source: IOL

The Parliamentary portfolio committee on home affairs on Tuesday welcomed the report that the usage of cellphones by front desk staff during working hours is banned after trade unions opposed this.

This follows the call made by the committee early this year calling for the complete banning of cellphones as it impacts on the quality of services rendered to clients.

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) had said that the use of cellphones by front desk staff had been the subject of discussions between labour and the employer in the bargaining chamber in order to ensure it is managed without infringing on the rights of workers.

“It is now clear that the usage of cellphones is banned and clients must not be faced with this challenge when they seek services at the department of home affairs,” said Hlomani Chauke, the chairperson of the committee.

The committee last month received numerous complaints from the public about delays at home affairs offices following a video that surfaced on social media showing two officials using cellphones while people waited in a queue at the home affairs offices in Tongaat, KwaZulu-Natal.

The department of home affairs has since issued written warnings to the officials involved even though they were not found guilty of any offence as they were using their cellphones during a power cut at the office.

The committee said it was satisfied by remedial action taken by the department. It also encouraged citizens to continue monitoring and reporting bad service by the department in a bid to identify employees who are undermining the delivery of the department’s mandate.

The department has assured the committee that it has undertaken a review of departmental policy on frontline employees’ cellphone use with relevant stakeholders to strengthen it.

“This is a constructive step aimed at reinforcing the endeavour to deliver quality services,” Chauke said.

Researcher reveals Eskom data leak

By Charlie Osborne for Zero Day 

In what may be a case of “if we ignore it, it will go away,” South Africa’s largest electricity company has become the subject of the public exposure of customer data after ignoring researcher pleas to resolve the problem.

Eskom is South Africa’s state-owned electricity company which generates approximately 95 percent of the region’s electricity, as well as roughly 45 percent of all of the electricity used across the African continent.

On Tuesday, cybersecurity researcher Devin Stokes sent a public tweet to Eskom which appears inlaid with frustration at non-communicativeness from the electricity provider.

Stokes said, “You don’t respond to several disclosure emails, email from journalistic entities, or Twitter DMs, but how about a public tweet? This is going on for weeks here. You need to remove this data from the public view!”

The following image contains a screenshot of what appears to be customer and service-related data, including account IDs, start and end service dates, and meter information:

Several hours later, Stokes published a further screenshot with a live timestamp, commenting, “OK. It got worse.”

It appears that this database entry contained some of the financial data of a customer, including name, card type, a partial card number, and CVV, the three-digit security code which is required for purchases in-person or online.

According to the researcher, the electricity provider has left its billing software database exposed, lacking so much as a password.

The most recent customer estimates available, published in 2016, claim that Eskom accounts for roughly 5.7 million customers across South Africa. It is not known how many customers may have been involved in the reported breach.

However, this may not be the only security failure Eskom needs to grapple with — as one of the company’s own employees may have complicated matters further in their gaming enthusiasm.

In a screenshot posted by MalwareHunterTeam, another Twitter user warned Eskom of the existence of a Trojan on one of their networked, corporate machines. The user reported that the Trojan infected the machine through a fake SIMS 4 game installer.

The Twitter user, going under the handle “@sS55752750,” added that the offending employee is a “senior infrastructure advisor.”

While there has been no news on the exposed database, Eskom did thank the researcher who disclosed the Trojan’s existence, saying, “This has been investigated and the necessary actions have been taken. Thank you for bringing it to our attention.”

“Accidental breaches of this type further drive home the point that every company should have a formal process to accept vulnerability reports from external third parties,” Jon Bottarini, Lead Technical Program Manager for HackerOne told ZDNet in response to the news. “Exposing the vulnerability details on Twitter seems to have been the last-ditch attempt on behalf of the security researcher to try and get in contact with someone who can resolve the issue.”

Eskom told ZDNet that the company is “conducting investigations to determine whether sensitive Eskom information was compromised as a result of this incident,” but will not comment further until the investigation has been concluded.

         

           

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