The Growing Problem of Load Shedding, Battery Theft, and Vandalism on Network Availability

Crime is increasingly straining power availability, with criminals using load shedding periods as their prime opportunity to strike. This criminal activity has widespread consequences, affecting:

  • Personal connectivity
  • Small business operations
  • Delivery of digital government services
  • Individual safety during load shedding

Craig Opperman, a senior regional manager at MTN, emphasizes that this issue plagues all mobile operators and can impact thousands of customers across networks.

During a recent site visit in Moroka, Soweto, MTN’s network infrastructure was found to be vandalized. Farhad Essop, MTN’s general manager for network operation, explains that this damage doesn’t happen overnight but is a gradual process when a site is left unmonitored.

MTN’s Efforts to Combat Vandalism and Theft

MTN has already spent a staggering R1.5 billion on repairs, including resilience for optical bypass, battery faults, and cable thefts. The problem continues to grow as load shedding offers criminals cover to operate.

  • Average monthly spending on repairing damaged sites: R350,000
  • Total number of MTN sites: 30,000

Gauteng is a hotspot for vandalism, but the Eastern Cape is currently the most affected. Since January 2022:

  • Over 390 unique sites vandalized
  • Criminals repeatedly targeting the same sites, up to five times after each repair
  • Over 1,000 vandalism incidents recorded

Types of theft and damage include cable and battery theft, equipment and air conditioner theft, as well as damage to doors, containers, fences, security systems, and locks.

New Security Measures and Initiatives

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MTN is implementing additional security measures to combat this growing issue. At a recently renewed site in Soweto, a biometric lock system has been introduced, requiring a code and verification for access. This aims to reduce the number of sites being vandalized.

Farhad explains that traditional locks and keys are no longer effective due to criminals simply cutting them to gain access.

MTN is working closely with the police and has increased security at sites, leading to more arrests. Additionally, the company has started:

  • Swapping DC copper cables with aluminum cables on masts at many sites
  • Implementing a TX Ring resilience program to protect sites across all provinces

These efforts are showing promising results, but as crime continues to adapt, it’s crucial that mobile operators stay vigilant and proactive in their fight against vandalism and theft.

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