Southern African operators count the cost of copper and battery theft

Southern African operators count the cost of copper and battery theft

Theft of operator-owned equipment has been in the news in both Botswana and South Africa this week as Botswana Telecommunications Corporation’s (BTC) deals with copper theft and Vodacom with battery theft.

Ongoing issues with copper theft have brought the announcement that BTC wants to go completely ‘copper-free’ in the capital Gaborone, as well as diamond mining town Orapa in the Central District and anther diamond mining town, Jwaneng, located in the Southern District, by the end of the next financial year.

The cost of cable theft has been a significant one for BTC. According to online news resource Mmegi, BTC posted a 23% drop in pretax profits for the year to March 2023. This was, in part, down to replacement costs for stolen copper cables, a figure in the region of 56 million pula (US$4.11 million) over the year.

BTC’s recently published annual report says that investment in fibre rollouts to replace the legacy copper networks will be significantly stepped up going forward.

However, copper replacement alone does not prevent some sort of theft, as South African operator Vodacom is aware. It says it is rolling out measures to curb rising battery theft and vandalism at base station sites in Free State and Northern Cape provinces.

In addressing these challenges, Vodacom Central Region has increased security measures by installing CCTV cameras to monitor base station sites and capture suspicious activities and deploying armed response in the event of an intrusion. High-quality hardened security cabinets are being utilised to safeguard essential infrastructure, such as batteries, with steel-clad containers equipped with alarms to deter unauthorised access. In addition collaborative efforts with law enforcement agencies have led to some successful prosecutions.

Vodacom says incidents of vandalism occur at 15 to 28 sites per month, with between 18 and 30 batteries stolen at the region's base stations monthly.

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