South Africa: Battery, copper thieves are ravaging Vodacom’s network

At least 500 Vodacom base stations in South Africa are targeted each month by criminal syndicates, with batteries and copper cables the main target, the company said on Thursday.

The company is losing as much as R140-million/year as a result of the vandalism and theft at its sites, according to group chief technology officer Andries Delport, who was speaking to journalists at a media briefing in Sandton.

Delport said criminals are stealing between 1 500 and 2 000 batteries a month from its base stations.

The company is fighting back, installing more expensive but more advanced lithium-ion batteries.

It’s an industry-wide problem. MTN South Africa said two weeks ago that there has been an alarming rise in incidents of battery theft from cellphone towers and that urgent action is needed to address the situation.“We no longer install lead-acid batteries,” Delport said. “With the latest generation of lithium-ion batteries, you can’t get the battery going again unless you have the supplier’s code. So, there’s a lot of focus around batteries and generators to combat theft and help negate the issues we have with Eskom and power reliability.”

MTN said it recorded 125 incidents of battery theft in just one week last month. The company called for a “stronger and more concerted drive to clamp down on syndicates and opportunistic criminals”.

‘High cost to customers’

“Battery theft and related vandalism is costing MTN hundreds of millions of rand and the impact on the entire industry is exorbitant, said MTN South Africa GM for network operations Ernest Paul. Paul said 733 batteries were stolen from the company’s sites countrywide in April.

“There is a high cost to customers and network providers each time a battery is stolen, keeping in mind that as many as four to 16 batteries need to be replaced at each site,” he said. “To replace batteries at 100 sites, for instance, would cost well over R10-million and then several more millions would be required to cover the costs of fixing the damage done to the cellphone towers.”

Delport said Vodacom will invest as much as R300-million in 2019 just on batteries, with a big chunk of this money used to replace systems stolen by criminals.

Source: NewsCentral Media