Battery theft at cellphone towers is a major problem plaguing South African mobile networks.
The problem is pervasive and has previously caused MTN to shut down some of its cellphone towers as the theft of batteries and vandalism of infrastructure strained its network.
In addition to causing severe damage to crucial telecommunications infrastructure, battery theft also exacerbates the effect of load-shedding on mobile networks.
Batteries used as backup power sources are critical to keeping networks running during outages, and if these batteries are stolen it can result in major connectivity issues.
Mobile networks are fighting back against theft and vandalism using a variety of creative methods.
Vodacom recently said it would enlist the aid of community members to protect its cellphone towers in remote areas.
“Vodacom is pioneering a new model to clamp down on incidents of battery theft in its base stations by engaging community members working with police to serve as monitoring personnel to help safeguard its sites – especially in areas where the telco is being hard hit,” Vodacom said.
“This approach forms part of measures Vodacom is rolling out to secure its sites as incidents of site vandalism and battery theft keep on rising.”
MTN has also seen some success in dealing with battery theft – it announced earlier this year that it had recovered R1.2-million worth of batteries in January 2020 alone.
It is important for mobile operators to have effective security measures in place to hamper the efforts of battery thieves.
Local networks have tried a variety of methods to thwart criminals and vandals, and they are continuously improving their security.
MyBroadband asked South African networks to provide examples of the countermeasures they have deployed to protect batteries at their cellphone from thieves.
Vodacom told MyBroadband that it has implemented a number of countermeasures which have been effective against battery thieves.
A recent example is the combination of epoxy and glass around a battery’s housing.
It has also tried cementing batteries in, creating vaults, and other solutions such as geo-locking batteries and using lithium-ion batteries over lead batteries.
Photos provided by Vodacom showing some of these security measures are shown below.
MTN has been working with the SAPS to catch battery thieves, and has been met with success in this initiative.
“We wish to thank members of the SAPS for their diligent work, and we once again appeal to our communities to work with mobile network operators and law enforcement agencies to end the scourge of battery theft,” MTN General Manager of Network Operations Ernest Paul recently said.
Paul was speaking about a sting operation which resulted in the recovery of 55 batteries and the confiscation of four vehicles containing tools that could be used to steal batteries.
MTN provided examples of the steel cage it uses to store batteries, batteries covered in cement, and a “bunker” in which batteries are stored.
These are shown below.
Cell C and Rain
Cell C told MyBroadband that it continually evaluates and implement the necessary solutions to address risks to its infrastructure.
It said these include alarm systems, armed response, electrical fences, and CCTV systems.
However, it said it could not provide pictures of its solutions.
“We cannot provide pictures of the measures and solutions we have put in place because by doing so we would expose workers on-site to risk as well as make some of these measures no longer effective,” said Cell C.
Rain told MyBroadband that it invests significant amounts of resources to protect its infrastructure.
It said it was not able to share any pictures.