How much MTN spent on fixing towers damaged by criminals

MTN South Africa spent R33 million towards fixing its infrastructure that suffered vandalism or theft in 2023, according to recent feedback provided to MyBroadband.

Over the past few years, South Africa’s mobile networks have suffered significant financial and reputational damage due to criminals stealing and damaging their network equipment and backup batteries, primarily at cellular towers that can suffer downtime due to these actions.

The operators have had to resort to extensive and costly security measures.

Among MTN’s solutions to the problems are high-tech and on-the-ground strategies.

“Some of the actions taken include beefing up security significantly, hiring the private security company Bidvest, installing CCTV, cementing/hardening our battery storage and the introduction of cement and heavy steel safehouse carriages,” MTN said.

At one point in the past, load-shedding exacerbated crimes at mobile tower base stations, as the darkness, lack of connectivity, and now power feeding into the site helped them hide their activities from the public.

In its most recent feedback, MTN told MyBroadband that it did not see a direct correlation between load-shedding and the trends in battery theft and vandalism of infrastructure,” MTN said.

“However, it should be noted that the trend has been fluctuating during the first quarter of 2024.”

The images below show examples of damages suffered at MTN base stations due to equipment vandalism and theft.

MTN said its latest partnership with the Gauteng Provincial Community Police Board is a pilot project aimed at safeguarding tower infrastructure and minimising network downtime.

“The establishment of a command centre equipped with essential data collection tools is currently underway in Soweto,” MTN said.

“Leveraging technologies such as CCTV cameras and Wi-Fi points, the initiative seeks to swiftly identify and respond to criminal acts, thus safeguarding vital infrastructure and ultimately preserving the connectivity experience for our customers.”

Telkom also provided feedback on the latest impact of crime on its ability to keep its network online.

Historically, the operator had been particularly hard-hit by copper cable theft, given that it operated all of South Africa’s DSL network.

While the gradual decommissioning of this network has reduced these instances, many thieves still mistook its new fibre optic cabling for copper.

Telkom also said it saw no notable reduction in theft and vandalism due to reduced load-shedding.

The operator also uses private security services to secure its network and mitigate network infrastructure crimes.

“These service providers are dedicated to protecting Telkom’s network and comprise of intelligence focused investigation teams and collaboration with security cluster to clamp down on theft and vandalism.”

The operator said it also deployed various technology security enhancements to protect its network, including AI-powered security systems with capabilities to provide early warning intrusion, facial recognition, intelligence analysis, and the provisioning of delay, detective and deterrence security mechanisms.

The company has called on an expanded focus on the policing of cyber business transactions where stolen telecoms infrastructure gets sold on social media and online stores.

Telkom added its collaboration with SAPS, the NPA, Economic Infrastructure Task Team, Prasa, Transnet, Eskom, and municipalities have yielded positive results.

It said its membership in entities such as the National Non-Ferrous Crime Combatting Committee, Communication Risk Information Centre for Telecommunication Operators have also helped lead to several arrests.

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How much MTN spent on fixing towers damaged by criminals