How criminals are wrecking South Africa’s telecoms networks

South Africa is battling high crime rates, and the country’s telecommunications networks are not immune to the mess criminals are creating.

Criminals in South Africa are causing millions of rands of damage to telecommunications networks through copper theft, stealing batteries from cellular towers, and even stealing fibre to make certain products.

The cost of these criminal acts extends far beyond the network damage. Operators are faced with repair costs, loss of revenue, security costs, an increase in customer complaints, and network quality concerns.

Consumers are also hit hard. The network damage results in service unavailability, an impact on emergency services, and a significant impact on businesses using the affected networks.

Copper theft impact
Copper theft impact

Copper theft and vandalism

Copper theft and vandalism are some of the biggest problems which Telkom and the mobile operators face in South Africa.

Telkom said the cost of cable theft to the company surged from R164 million in 2010 to R247.6 million last year.

Sidney Arnold, MTN GM of network operations, said criminals often break into secure environments like containers, and cut the maximum amount of copper cables – including earth and power cables.

The mobile site’s feeder cables (typically short pieces) and power cables which feed the site are often stolen.

Arnold highlighted that fibre cables are often erroneously cut by criminals who are actually looking for copper. The damage, however, is already done.

The following photos show the damage caused by criminals at important telecommunications facilities.

New mobile site damaged
New mobile site damaged, cables cut
Antennae Feeder Cables Cut
Antennae feeder cables cut
Antennae Feeder Cables Cut
Antennae feeder cables cut
Damage in container
Damage in container
Copper cables cut
Copper cables cut
Antenna cable cut
Antenna cable cut
Disturb before cutting power cableDisturb before cutting power cable
Disturbed before cutting power cable
Power cables cut
Power cables cut
Damage to mobile network equipment
Damage to mobile network equipment
Damage to site
Damage to site

Telkom cable theft damage

Telkom’s copper network is often the target of criminals, who cause significant damage to Telkom’s infrastructure.  The following images illustrate the damage caused.

Telkom cable theft damage
Telkom cable theft damage
Telkom cable theft damage
Telkom cable theft damage

On 19 June 2013, cable thieves cut and removed several main Telkom cables, causing major service disruptions to Telkom services in the Ferndale and Strydom Park, Randburg area. In total, 2,173 business, corporate, and residential customers were affected.

Telkom cable theft mess
Telkom cable theft mess
Telkom network damage
Telkom network damage

Batteries, diesel generators, and diesel stolen

In South Africa, the prevalence of load shedding and cable theft which causes regular power outages mean that mobile sites must be equipped with batteries and diesel generators.

Unfortunately, the presence of diesel and batteries make these sites targets for criminals who see value in these products.

The following photos illustrate the damage done by criminals to get their hands on these products.

Batteries stolen
Batteries stolen
What is left of very expensive batteries once the lead had been stripped
What is left of very expensive batteries once the lead had been stripped
Stolen batteries stripped for the lead
Stolen batteries stripped for the lead

Upgrading security on mobile sites

To try to combat theft and vandalism at mobile sites, the operators spend millions on security.

These security upgrades include installing electric fences, security doors on containers, security cameras and pepper gas units, and dialer units to alarm sites.

However, as the following pictures show, not even a concrete wall is enough to keep the criminals out.

Hole in concrete wall
Hole in concrete wall
Security fence broken
Security fence broken
Hole in container wall
Hole in container wall
Hole in container wall outside
Hole in container wall outside
Hole in container roof
Hole in container roof
Damage to get into container
Damage to get into container
Mobile network container hole
Mobile network container hole
Mobile container damage
Mobile container damage
Mobile container door broken
Mobile container door broken
Door damage
Door damage
Mobile network site container hole
Mobile network site container hole
Security broken
Security barrier broken
Security broken
Security barrier broken
Door broken
Door broken

A big thanks to Vodacom and MTN for their assistance with this article.

More on network damage by criminals

Telkom cable theft wreaks network havoc: pictures

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How criminals are wrecking South Africa’s telecoms networks