The telecoms of Dumsor – 1

The telecoms of Dumsor - 1

Ghana's ongoing power crisis, popularly known as "Dumsor", has turned into a global ridicule, thanks to information and [tele]communication technology.

The term Dumsor has become so popular it has transcended the tangible world into the virtual. Not only has it made its way into world acclaimed free online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, but it is also within the social media space as hashtag #Dumsor on Twitter and Facebook, and in the Google Play Store, manifesting in at least four applications.

Here is exactly what Wikipedia said about Dumsor: Dumsor or more appropriately Dum SÉ” is a popular Ghanaian term used to describe persistent electric power outages, which are being experienced during John Dramani Mahama's presidency. The term is coined from two separate words from the Twi dialect of the Akan language (a language spoken widely in Ghana). Dum (to turn off or quench), and sÉ” (to turn on or to make light).

The term was adopted because of the frequent blackouts due to insufficient power supply. Insufficient power supply refers to a load shedding exercise carried out daily by the Ghana Grid Company and Electricity Company of Ghana. The term started gaining prominence in 2009 when water levels of the Akosombo Dam dropped significantly which consequently led to a load shedding exercise due to the reduced generation capacity of the country's main hydroelectric dam. The load shedding exercise has since continued and has plunged the country into major power crisis.

In terms of the usage of the term, this is what Wikipedia said: The word has been used by the general public in Ghana since 2009 in expressing anger, mockery, worry and disappointment in authorities of the ruling Government. It has also gained popularity via social media websites such as Twitter and Facebook with the hashtag #Dumsor. In 2015, John Mahama used the word in a state visit to Germany while talking with Angela Merkel, he indicated he has been nicknamed "Mr. Dumsor" due to the power crisis, where he attributed it to Nigeria for not supplying gas as required to Ghana through the West Africa Gas Pipeline.

In the Google Play Store, there are four Dumsor apps; two of them provide information on the load shedding schedules (if there is any), while the two others trigger the torchlights on the mobile phone. The two Dumsor schedule apps are "Dumsor Dumsor" and "Dumsor Countdown", and the torchlight triggers are "Dumsor" and "Dumsor Flashlight". All four are downloadable for free from the Google Play Store, and in fact from other smaller App Stores.

Indeed, many Ghanaians today are able to make calls to radio stations and or post comments, pictures and videos on social media about their "dumsor experience" in real time, while it is yet happening.

All these information about the global status of Dumsor, the existence and downloadability of Dumsor Apps, and the opportunity to put dumsor information online and on air in real time are possible for people in virtually any corner of Ghana largely because of the wide spread of mobile telephony across the country. The five GSM operators, one CDMA operator and the up and coming 4G LTE operators in Ghana may not have necessarily covered every corner and reached every single citizen, but it is no secret that the number of active SIM cards in the country is, on paper, more than the number of people in the country.

The telecoms of Dumsor - 1

President Mahama

In fact, President John Dramani Mahama recently repeated a comment by Keta MP Richard Quarshigah to the effect that the proliferation of mobile phones and multi-simming (one person using more than one mobile line) is part of the challenges government faces in trying to meet the power needs of Ghanaians. The president actually said there were 27 million active mobile phones in the country. But he got that wrong because he equated the number of active SIM cards, reported by the National Communications Authority (!NCA) to the number of mobile phones being used in the country.

Indeed, the number of active SIMs is not the same as the number of mobile phones for two reasons: firstly, some of those SIMs are in devices such as modems and routers, which do not need electric charge to operate. Secondly, a lot of those SIMs may have been captured in the 90-day report of the NCA, but in reality some of them were inactive at the time the 90-day reporting period was due. People buy SIM cards and throw them away after one use. Some people may have also come into the country briefly for business, used a SIM for a few days or weeks and thrown them away and left. All those SIMs are captured in the NCA reports, so the president's 27million active mobile phones comment was ill-informed.

But it does not take anything away from the fact that the telcos and their partners like handset manufacturers, Value Added Service (VAS) providers, equipment vendors and others within the telecom ecosystem, are driving the spread of knowledge and information across all social classes through affordable devices and packages, and tailor-made value offerings to meet the needs of all segments of the Ghanaian populace.

However, while Ghanaians continue to enjoy the benefits of information on Dumsor provided within the virtual space powered by mobile data infrastructure and innovation, the telcos and other players within the telecoms industry are not at all smiling about Dumsor, obviously because they are very much hard hit by it. Dumsor reached its worst in 2014. At the close of 2014, telcos reported making huge expenses they did not budget for, specifically because of Dumsor.


Market leader MTN Ghana reported spending a whopping GHS86 million plus on power and diesel in 2014. They noted that over GHS25 million of that money was expenses they did not budget for. In terms of the breakdown, MTN Ghana CEO, Serame Taukobong said they had budgeted a little over GHC35 million for electricity for the year, but spent over GHC51 million. And the budget for fuel was GHC25.6 million but they spent more than GHC35 million due to Dumsor. The CEO said they bought not less than two million liters of fuel in every month of year 2014.

Glo is reporting some additional 28% expenses on diesel to power generators in times of Dumsor. Head of Business for Glo Ghana Akeem Kazeem also said the company imported large consignments of generators to power their cell sites because even though electricity tariffs went up by 100% in 2014, power supply was cut by half so they had to depend heavily on generators.

Vodafone said they spent something in the region of GHS50 million plus on electricity and fuel in 2014. In fact a Vodafone official recently said at a forum to discuss security at cell sites that the company now depends on generator sets as their primary source of power because electricity supply from the national grid has rather become the back up by virtue of its erratic nature. That is how bad the situation has become.

Tigo said they have not been able to tease out power and fuel cost from their total operational cost but there is no doubt in their minds that in 2014, Dumsor shot operational cost up by a higher margin than usual. And their operational cost continues to soar as the Dumsor problem has not gotten any better this year,

Airtel also said the figures were not readily available but Dumsor is indeed hitting them hard like it is every other business in the country.

Fuel and battery theft

Meanwhile, it would appear the telcos suffered a triple blow because of Dumsor; the first two being the cost of power going up as supply remain erratic, and their spending on fuel going up as a result. The third blow was the numerous incidents of battery and fuel theft at their cell sites. Apparently, some unscrupulous Ghanaians found fuel and batteries at the telcos cell sites easy to steal for their personal use and or for sale to people who need shortcut and cheaper alternatives to Dumsor.

MTN reported a whopping 2,897 battery thefts in 2014. The highest number of thefts in one month was 562 in June, and the lowest was 14 in December. The other telcos have also had their own share of battery and fuel theft at their respective cell sites nationwide.

So, while the telcos are spending heavily to keep power supply to their infrastructure constant in order to sustain service to the public in the midst of Dumsor, some anti-social characters have also made it their business to shortchange phone users and give telcos the bad reputation that comes with Dumsor-related service interruptions.

As the Glo Ghana boss said, electricity tariffs went up by 100% in 2014 but power supply was halved. But telecom tariffs remained and still remains, relatively very low. In fact default telecom tariffs in Ghana is one of the lowest in the world and competition among eight players (including two LTE players) is even pushing prices further down in the form of bundles.

Meanwhile, telcos import almost every implement they use in providing services. They pay dollars for those implements. The Ghana cedi suffered the greatest fall to the dollar in 2014, so that also added to the cost burden on telcos. But because of competition they are unable to increase tariffs to levels that will make business sense. Some telcos have said their cost is now above their earnings, so some of them are seeking regulatory intervention in the form of a 4Gp fixed minimum on-net rate to help them compete and secure some revenue.


Categorized as Opinion