Matthew Campbell is Head of SME and FTTH at SEACOM

With many South Africans working and learning from home, when it was announced that we’d have to deal with load shedding as well as lockdown, you could almost hear the collective groan across the country. The resulting costs and inconveniences of power cuts for businesses and regular people have certainly been a pain, especially for those working from home, but being ‘powerless’ doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be disconnected from the Internet.

Let’s look at some common questions related to this topical issue, and find out what happens to your fibre when the lights go out.

Can I still access the Internet via my fibre line during a power failure?

When the power goes out, if you don’t have any backup power generation in place, just like your lights and other appliances, your fibre router will lose power and you won’t be able to use it to access the Internet.

But it’s not all bad news! You don’t have to invest in expensive generators or other solutions to keep your connection up and running during load shedding. If you buy a relatively inexpensive uninterrupted power supply (or UPS) that can power your WiFi router and your optical network terminal (referred to as an ONT – that’s the small plastic Internet box inside your house), you can have Internet access even when the power is out. Your router and ONT use very little power, which means that even a small UPS can give you Internet access for hours on end. They’re also very easy to install – plug it in and you’re good to go. Just make sure to buy a UPS that can power your router and your ONT.

How does my fibre keep working during load shedding?

If you can make sure your router and ONT have power, you should be able to access the Internet through your fibre connection. The reason this works is that reliable Internet providers will have backup batteries to ensure that customers don’t experience downtime during power outages. For instance, all of WonderNet and SEACOM’s main nodes and points of presence (PoPs) have backup batteries. If your ISP doesn’t have backup batteries, it might be time to look for a new provider.

Will my connection be disrupted as the backup power kicks in?

The switchover to backup power on the ISP side should be basically instantaneous, and you shouldn’t experience any loss of connectivity. As long as you have an automatic changeover switch for your UPS or generator at home or at the office, you can stream away without interruption. Power outages also shouldn’t affect the speed of your fibre connection.

Are the fibre lines protected against power surges and other electrical issues?

Because fibre works with beams of light travelling through an optic cable, an electrical surge can’t travel through a fibre cable. What could be impacted by a power surge, however, is the networking equipment that’s required to keep your Internet equipment up and running. These include, but are not limited to the router itself, your ONT and other home appliances. That’s why it’s advisable to invest in a surge protector to ensure that your network equipment (or other appliances) aren’t damaged by power surges.

Staying connected

While it’s not great news that load shedding won’t be going away any time soon, it is good to know that ISPs have invested in backup batteries to help make sure that the fibre network still works during power failures. With so many of our personal and business activities relying on being connected, it’s a relief to know that fast and reliable Internet is still accessible – even when the lights go off.

  • Matthew Campbell is Head of SME and FTTH at SEACOM


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