Vodacom community partnership: Fighting base station vandalism
There has been an alarming rise in incidents of battery theft from cellphone towers in South Africa and urgent action is needed to address the situation.
There has been an alarming rise in incidents of battery theft from cellphone towers in South Africa and urgent action is needed to address the situation. Vodacom has many base stations inside the country, many of which are in isolated areas. These base stations are increasingly being targeted for theft and vandalism, which can leave entire communities without communication and causes millions of rands worth of damage.
In the case of Vodacom, there has been a significant increase year on year in the number of battery thefts in our base stations, with the average increase at around 35%. For instance, on average 553 incidents per month are recorded where sites have been impacted by theft or damage. We are losing between R120-R130 million to vandalism and theft each year, with between 1,500 – 2,000 batteries stolen each month. We take this criminal activity seriously and will invest as much as R300-million in 2019 just on batteries, with a big portion of this money used to replace systems stolen by criminals.
Cellular base stations are the only form of connectivity available to many communities, and when criminals target these base stations to steal diesel, power cables and mainly batteries, they can cut off hundreds if not thousands of people. We repeatedly see situations where people can't make emergency calls and are put in danger by these criminals and sooner or later these criminals will cost someone’s life.
Each theft incident can result in the network in that area being down for days, and can severely impact businesses as well as anyone relying on the internet to study. It can also cause ecological damage with vandalism resulting in diesel spillage. We repeatedly see situations where people can't make emergency calls and are put in danger by these criminals and sooner or later these criminals will cost someone’s life.
Working proactively for you
Vodacom, however, is fighting back, by implementing new measures to make sure that the thieves are caught and prosecuted. Vodacom has been working closely with the law-enforcement authorities and the renewed security programme has already resulted in a significant number of arrests. Our efforts, working with our communities, to safeguard our base stations sites are yielding positive results. We are in the process of replacing lead-acid batteries, with more expensive lithium-ion batteries. The latest generation of lithium-ion batteries requires a code to work once they have been disconnected.
Crucially, the number one line of defence against site vandalism is the local community. Therefore, we urge anyone who sees suspicious activity around our base stations to report it to the police. It's in everyone's best interest to act before their signal is cut off. We’d like to urge ordinary members of the community to report incidents of battery theft or site vandalism by calling our toll free number: 0822419952 or SAPS on 10111.
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.