MTN has said that due to the serious problem of cell tower vandalism, it has permanently shut down 53 of its base stations across the country.
The operator said that while it has recovered stolen batteries to the value of almost R1 million, national cellular networks remain under heavy pressure from thieves and vandals.
MTN said the damage caused by thieves and vandals to its equipment is far exceeding the cost of repairing and replacing batteries and other hardware.
The network added that some acts of vandalism are so severe that hundreds of towers around the country are at risk of being permanently shut down, putting strain on the network and potentially diminishing the quality of its service.
“MTN data shows that as many as 89 cell towers across the country are currently on hold as they await replacement batteries and maintenance fixes,” the mobile operator said.
“But even worse, 53 base stations have been completely destroyed and have had to be terminated nationally – 39 in Tshwane and 15 in Johannesburg.”
Cost to consumers
MTN said that mobile operators have managed to front the costs of repairs and replacements so far, but they may need to be passed onto consumers if this problem continues.
The network added that many South Africans could also find themselves without network coverage as a result of this vandalism, especially considering the 53 base stations which have been destroyed by vandals.
“This situation leaves many South Africans without access to network services either because of downtime caused by repeated maintenance and repairs or in the extreme case of towers being terminated, where the regular theft and vandalism renders towers unsustainable,” said MTN network operations Ernest Paul.
“This impacts on consumer’s access to emergency services, effective business operations and connecting with loved ones,” Paul said.
“This is a national problem and more communities and people need to realise they may experience no service at some point if this continues, as loss of services and network quality can range from a 2-5km radius to 15km on some sites and affect 5,000 to 20,000 people at any given time.”
This type of damage is not insured, and MTN said the cost to bring a cell tower back online after this type of vandalism can be up to R350 million.
MTN said it would do everything it could not to pass the cost of these repairs onto consumers, including offering rewards for information about these criminals.
The company is implementing detection and monitoring systems on all base stations, but Paul said that criminals are becoming increasingly brazen and disregard these deterrents.
“As soon as levels of collaboration and general awareness improve, criminal activity slows down,” said Paul. “We saw this in the recovery of R1-million worth of batteries in Pretoria this past weekend.”
MTN said it has already fixed 100 sites at a considerable cost, but Paul emphasised that cellular companies can’t solve this problem alone.
“We can win the war against battery theft if everyone works together,” he said.