Committed to providing reliable connectivity to customers, Vodacom Mpumalanga is taking steps to address the ongoing challenge of battery theft and vandalism at its base station sites.
The region reports an average of 87 criminal incidents at its base stations per month, with up to 93 sites experiencing vandalism and an average of 66 batteries stolen monthly.
“Vandalism and theft remain some of our biggest concerns when it comes to keeping our customers connected. The impact of these incidents has been severe, affecting both our network infrastructure and the communities we serve by disrupting services. In response to this ongoing problem, we have upped the fight against criminal activity at our base station sites,” says Monde Ngcukana, Executive of Operations at Vodacom Mpumalanga Region.
Cellular base stations can be the only form of connectivity available to many communities, and when criminals target these base stations to steal power cables, batteries and generators, they can cut off hundreds if not thousands of people from communications. This can have a serious impact, as not being able to make critical calls has the potential to endanger people’s lives. Restoring a vandalised site causes further downtime, with the cost ranging from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of rand, depending on the damage. This can put a strain on resources and affect network availability and experience.
To overcome network challenges caused by load-shedding, Vodacom Mpumalanga has invested significantly in backup power solutions at base stations. However, thieves are also now increasingly targeting generators and backup batteries at sites, leading to further disruptions to network services.
In response to these issues, Vodacom Mpumalanga has taken several measures to reinforce security and prevent theft and vandalism at base station sites. This includes installing concrete containers or steel vaults for critical equipment, making it more challenging for criminals to access and steal valuable components. The region has also implemented remote monitoring, alarm systems and armed response units. In addition, aluminium is being substituted for copper in certain equipment to deter copper theft.
“While we are actively boosting security measures, we are working closely with security companies and law enforcement agencies to apprehend those responsible for these criminal acts. In September 2022, four criminals were sentenced to 22 years each at the Carolina court for their involvement in battery theft and vandalism. Furthermore, in July 2023, two suspects were convicted for 10 years each at Balfour. These arrests and prosecutions are sending a strong message that such criminal behaviour in targeting critical infrastructure will not be tolerated,” adds Ngcukana.
The region is also calling on local communities to be vigilant and report any suspicious activities by phoning the toll-free number 082 241 9952 or SAPS 10111. This active involvement can help with successful arrests and prosecutions and stem the tide of theft and vandalism at base station sites.
“We cannot combat this issue alone. Therefore, we are asking that all stakeholders work with us in putting an end to these crimes. Together, we can ensure that entire communities are not deprived of essential communication services,” concludes Ngcukana.