Vodacom and MTN say costs in capital expenditure keep rising because of battery theft from their cellphone towers and load shedding was not making the situation any better, TimesLIVE reports.
“The people who steal the tower batteries know what times load shedding occurs and this makes it easy for them to commit these crimes,” said MTN’s executive manager for corporate affairs, Jacqui O’Sullivan.
O’Sullivan said the each battery costs approximately R28,000 and it can last up to eight years.
“The batteries are used to power cellphone towers and if they are stolen, there is no backup power, which will cost millions to replace,” she said.
In 2018, the telecom company spent R300 million on batteries for existing sites and had 1,800 generators in use, which excluded the cost of batteries for new cellphone sites.
Leigh-Ann Chetty, MTN’s public relations senior manager, said most of the company’s sites have battery backup systems so that enough power is stored to run the systems for several hours when the power goes down.
The batteries do not operate via Eskom, so when the power grid goes down, the towers are not affected, but consistent load shedding outages result in batteries not getting enough time to recharge.
“These batteries generally have a capacity of six to 12 hours, depending on the site category and require 12 to 18 hours to recharge, which in stage three and four load-shedding is simply not happening. This situation is exacerbated with the introduction of stage six load-shedding,” said O’Sullivan.
She said that the constant outages have a direct impact on the performance of the batteries.
Vodacom spokesperson Byron Kennedy said there has been a 35% increase each year in the number of batteries being stolen from its cellphone towers and base stations.
“On average, there are 553 incidents per month that are reported at the sites that have been affected. We are also seeing cases where the site has been damaged beyond economical repair.
“Due to vandalism and theft, the company loses between R120 million to R130 million each year,” said Kennedy.
He said the increase in the incidents of base station vandalism were largely as a result of organised syndicates who are always finding new ways to commit this type of crime.
MTN said due to load shedding, it has had to bear the additional cost of extra on-site security that is needed to protect the batteries, generators and general site equipment from thieves and vandals.
“Network operators across the country have been battling sophisticated syndicates that have been stealing batteries daily,” said O’Sullivan.
Kennedy said while local cellphone network providers lost millions of rands in damage to base stations annually as a result of theft and vandalism, it had increased ways to fight the practice.
“We have ramped up the fight against this criminal activity, implementing new measures to make sure that the thieves are caught and prosecuted. We are working closely with law enforcement agencies and security companies to arrest thieves for prosecution. The clear message that we want to send to criminals is that if you target our base stations, you will be caught and you will be prosecuted,” said Kennedy.