NATIONAL NEWS - South Africa’s mobile service providers are losing millions of rands every month, due to theft and vandalism at transmission towers.
Over the weekend, MTN announced its decision to shut down 53 of its cellphone towers in Gauteng due to the drastic increase in vandalism and theft of batteries.
The majority of the towers in question are located in Tshwane and Johannesburg which are, according to MTN, the worst-hit areas by crime syndicates.
General manager for network operations at MTN SA, Ernest Paul, said: “Cell tower battery theft and vandalism has been an ongoing issue but, lately, MTN has seen a drastic increase in this.
“Recent data shows MTN had batteries stolen from 733 sites across the country in April 2019, with 1 127 batteries stolen in May, 884 batteries stolen in June and 903 batteries stolen in July. Compared to last year, which saw 596 batteries stolen in May and 764 batteries stolen in June, the problem is growing.
“This is a national problem affecting all mobile networks. The current hotspots are now moving toward KwaZulu-Natal, it would seem. However, proactive operations are in place to counter the impact.”
Paul also said each stolen battery had a financially negative impact on the service provider.
“We have, for instance, had to recently spend in the region of R11 million to replace batteries at 100 sites across Gauteng. More broadly, we have had to spend R285 million on additional infrastructure to cover costs incurred by the damage to the cellphone towers.”
Sharing the same plight, Vodacom said it had experienced a significant increase, year-on-year, in the number of battery thefts in base stations, with the average increase of around 35%.
“For instance, on average, 553 incidents per month are recorded where sites have been impacted by theft or damage. For Vodacom, this amount equates to R120 to R130 million per annum spent on replacing stolen batteries, cables and other equipment, beefing up security and related costs to ensure the sites are fully functional,” said Vodacom spokesperson Byron Kennedy.
Cell C executive head of communications Karin Fourie said: “The losses vary from month to month – increasing significantly during load shedding periods – but over a year we experience a monthly average of around R830,000.
“Year-to-date, Cell C has lost around R5.3 million to battery theft and the total for 2018 was just over R10 million.
“Between January 2018 and December 2018, over 800 sites were broken into, with around 2,300 batteries stolen, and between January 2019 and June 2019, almost 700 sites were vandalised with 812 batteries stolen.”
Apart from the measures they were putting in place to help prevent the crime from happening, MTN is encouraging public participation.
“The best way to start fighting back is for anyone spotting something suspicious on a site to report it immediately. There are various tip-off lines to call, or report it to the police,” said Paul.
The batteries are used by people hoping to protect themselves against load shedding or to use in solar systems when off-grid.