MTN is fighting a relentless and expensive battle against battery thieves in South Africa.
MTN base station security manager Blake Cross tweeted a video detailing the extent of the theft in the wake of increased load-shedding across the country.
“The theft of cellphone tower backup batteries and the vandalization of tower infrastructure has reached epidemic proportions,” the video stated.
“As many as 125 incidents of battery theft a week have been recorded by MTN alone. In April of 2019, MTN had 733 batteries stolen from its sites across the country.”
The worst-hit areas in terms of battery theft are Soweto, Tembisa, Vereeniging, and Parktown in Johannesburg.
Cross said that MTN would take every available step to protect its infrastructure from criminals and called on communities to report theft.
War rooms and criminal syndicates
MTN executive for corporate affairs Jacqui O’Sullivan told MyBroadband that Cross has been instrumental in creating awareness and guiding the operator’s infrastructure across the country.
O’Sullivan added that criminals are co-ordinated and use load-shedding to their advantage when stealing batteries from cellphone towers.
“Network operators across the country have been battling sophisticated syndicates that have been stealing batteries daily,” she said.
“However, load shedding is seeing entire neighbourhoods cloaked in darkness at predictable times, which is offering criminals greater cover for their thieving.”
When there is load-shedding, MTN sources additional generators to support existing infrastructure and regional “war rooms” are established to ensure the operator has an hour-by-hour account of its systems.
“Despite significant investments in battery backup systems and generators, MTN’s mobile sites continue to face significant threats due to Eskom’s ongoing load shedding,” O’Sullivan said.
“The constant outages are starting to have a direct impact on the performance of the batteries,” she said.
“If outages continue, the battery’s integrity is compromised because of the insufficient time to recharge and due to the excessive drain on the battery.”
Extra on-site security is also needed to protect the batteries, generators, and other equipment from thieves and vandals during load-shedding.
This results in even more increased costs which, if not addressed, may need to be passed on to the consumer.
MTN urged South Africans to report incidents of cable theft or suspicious activity via the following channels:
- Bidvest Protea Coin Hotline – 086 101 1721
- MTN Fraud Line – 083 123 7867