Damage vs reward: how crime costs networks millions

South African criminals are causing millions of rand worth of damage to telecommunications networks to steal cables or batteries which they only sell for a few thousand rand.

MyBroadband published two articles to illustrate the damage done to networks by criminals: How SA criminals wreck mobile networks to steal batteries and How criminals are wrecking South Africa’s telecoms networks.

More information has now emerged about these crimes, which indicates that the damage done is multiple times higher than the rewards to criminals.

Damage versus reward

Vodacom said that roughly 70% of the aforementioned criminal incidents involve battery theft, and that the replacement cost at one site alone can reach more than R100,000.

In some cases the batteries are stripped for lead, which means that the criminals will only get a very small fraction of the value of the batteries.

“On top of the replacement cost of the batteries, we have to fix all of the other damage to the site and we lose revenue while the site is down,” said Vodacom spokesperson Richard Boorman.

“On an annual basis, our losses due to this type of theft are easily more than R50 million,” said Boorman.

He added that the cost to SA across all networks, including the knock-on effects, is likely to be in the hundreds of millions of rands per year. “And all of this for a tiny gain for the thieves,” said Boorman.

The following photo illustrates how batteries are stripped for lead, and then discarded.

Stolen batteries stripped for the lead
Stolen batteries stripped for the lead

Cost to consumers and businesses immeasurable

Sidney Arnold, Network Operations GM at MTN SA, told MyBroadband that the costs of network damage and downtime to the consumers and businesses in an affected area is immeasurable.

Arnold explained that criminals often steal copper cables in a mobile network container, where the street value is approximately R50 per kg.

“They damage the container, base station equipment, and other components which have to be replaced,” said Arnold.

“Civil repairs could be approximately R5000 to R60,000 per site,” said Arnold. However, this is not the full cost. “Extra costs include an RF feeder – approximately R120 per meter. Each site has 6 feeders of 40m each.”

He added that stolen batteries are expensive to replace, security is needed while repairs are being done, and that the loss for businesses and people in the area all add to the total cost of the damage caused by the criminals.

“In a nutshell, while we cannot quantify the immediate and short effects of cable theft to residents and businesses affected, the long term effects are worrisome to contemplate,” said Arnold.

The following images show damage done to mobile sites to steal batteries and cables.

New mobile site damaged
New mobile site damaged, cables cut
Hole in concrete wall
Hole in concrete wall
Cell C union damage
Container damage

More on network crime

How SA criminals wreck mobile networks to steal batteries

How criminals are wrecking South Africa’s telecoms networks

Criminals messing up noble IT project in South Africa

Internet in SA: A playground for faceless criminals

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Damage vs reward: how crime costs networks millions