The creative ways Vodacom fights cellphone tower battery thieves

Vodacom has implemented a number of creative countermeasures to defend its base stations against vandals and thieves in South Africa.

The vandalism of cellphone towers, and the theft of batteries and other equipment from these sites, remains a significant problem for many mobile operators.

This type of crime is coordinated by large syndicates, and mobile operators have invested substantially in fighting these criminals.

Speaking to MyBroadband in an interview, Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub said they have implemented creative systems to stop this type of crime.

Joosub said that a recent countermeasure which had proven effective was to apply a combination of epoxy and glass around a battery’s housing.

This prevents criminals from cutting through the battery housing with an angle grinder, as this material breaks the blade.

“We have tried cementing the batteries in, we’ve created vaults, and the epoxy plan seems to be working even better than those,” Joosub said.

He added that in addition to these “low-tech” solutions, Vodacom has enhanced its technology to improve security at base stations.

“We also now have more eyes at the base station – we can track better,” Joosub said.

Additionally, Vodacom has changed its battery technology – and is only installing lithium-ion batteries at its base stations going forward. These batteries are less attractive to criminals.

“We are replacing lead batteries, and we are now putting only lithium-ion batteries at our base stations.”

He said Vodacom has also geolocked batteries to a site, which means that if batteries are moved a certain distance from the cellphone tower which they power, they will become locked and cease to function.

Working with SAPS

In addition to installing these countermeasures, Vodacom is working with the South African Police Services (SAPS) to catch criminals belonging to battery theft syndicates.

The company works with authorities to conduct investigations into these criminal organisations and to crack down on their members.

This is illustrated by a recent successful operation where Vodacom’s national security team and the SAPS arrested suspects belonging to one of the largest battery theft syndicates in South Africa.

The successful arrest followed an incident at the Middelburg R35 base station sites in Mpumalanga province where Vodacom’s lithium batteries were stolen.

Suspects had managed to flee the scene before local police arrived, and Vodacom was able to use its high-tech defence system to track the thieves and bring them to justice.

“We are not resting on our laurels,” Vodacom chief risk officer Johan van Graan said at the time.

“We are fighting back and the clear message that we want to send to thieves out there is that you will be caught and you will be prosecuted.”

Photos of the countermeasures employed by Vodacom to fight battery thieves are shown below.

Vodacom battery security – Glass/epoxy coating

Vodacom battery security 1

Vodacom battery security – Concrete cube protection

Vodacom battery security 2

Vodacom battery security 3

Vodacom battery security 4

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The creative ways Vodacom fights cellphone tower battery thieves