Theft continues to impact cellular networks

2020-02-12 06:01

A TOTAL of 57 cellphone tower batteries were stolen in KwaZulu-Natal in January alone.

The theft of these batteries leads to thousands of people and businesses battle with network problems.

Last year, police seized a total of 23 cellphone tower batteries and cables that had been stolen by criminals in New Hanover in November, however, between January and December 2019, MTN recorded more than 2 000 incidents of battery theft, with a total of 13 450 batteries stolen.

Speaking about the issue, MTN Public Relations Specialist Mthokozisi Ndlovu said: “The battle is far from over in the fight to recover stolen cell tower batteries, prevent cell tower damage and reduce cable theft.

“Despite a fall in the number of cell tower battery theft incidences in August and September last year, increased incidences of theft and damage [were reported] between October to December and early in 2020.”

On Sunday, MTN subscribers in the Umvoti area were left without access to the network.

In January, 703 batteries were reportedly stolen with a total of 122 incidents.

Ndlovu said the installation of high-tech security measures and more on-the-ground security initiated last year seemingly decreased theft and vandalism incidents.

“The reality is that criminal syndicates are finding ways around the security measures and this has again raised the bar for the industry and the public, [who we are calling on to work] hand-in-hand with law enforcement and security companies, to work even harder to fight back.

“Total battery theft decreased to less than 1 000 in both August and September last year following a concerted awareness drive and enhanced security measures,” he added.

A total of 338 batteries worth R4 million were also recovered in July, with an additional 275 batteries, worth almost R3 million, recovered in September.

MTN is not the only cellular network that is struggling with this issue.

Vodacom said in a statement: “There has been a significant increase year-on-year in the number of battery thefts in our base stations, with the average increase at around 35%.

“For instance, an average of 553 incidents per month are recorded where sites have been affected by theft or damage. We are also seeing cases were the site has been damaged beyond economical repair.

“Cellular base stations are the only form of connectivity available to many communities, and when criminals target these base stations to steal diesel, power cables and batteries, they can cut off hundreds if not thousands of people.

“Each theft incident can result in the network in that area being down for days, and this can severely impact businesses as well as anyone relying on the internet to study.

“It can also cause ecological damage as vandalism can result in diesel spillage.

“We repeatedly see situations where people can’t make emergency calls and are put in danger by these criminals and sooner or later these criminals will cost someone’s life.”

Like MTN, Vodacom said they have put plans in place to try and reduce and prevent the further theft of their infrastructure.

“We have ramped up the fight against this criminal activity, implementing new measures to make sure that the thieves are caught and prosecuted.

“We are working closely with law enforcement agencies and security companies to arrest thieves for prosecution,” said the cellular network.

Report cellphone tower theft or suspicious activity through one of the following: Vodacom toll free number — 082 241 9952; Bidvest Protea Coin Hotline — 086 101 1721; MTNza Fraud Line — 083 123 7867 or e-mail anonymous@tipoffs.com for assistance.

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