South Africa’s telecoms operators are heavily affected by crime, with equipment theft disrupting services and costing operators millions each year.
Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub said the company loses R60 million per year to theft at base stations. This includes people stealing batteries, fuel, and equipment.
Reporters spoke to the mobile operators about whether the situation was improving, but they said crime remains a big challenge.
Vodacom spokesperson Byron Kennedy said cellphone base stations are increasingly being targeted.
“Each theft incident can severely impact the surrounding community, including businesses and students that rely on the Internet,” said Kennedy.
Kennedy said South Africa’s telecommunications sector loses tens of millions from this illicit activity each year.
“Vodacom incurs millions of rands to repair the damage caused to base stations.”
Apart from the monetary impact, criminals cut off communities from communication services.
“We repeatedly see situations where people can’t make emergency calls and sooner or later these criminals will cost someone’s life.”
Vodacom said it has ramped up the fight against this criminal activity and is working with law enforcement and security companies to arrest criminals.
Sidney Arnold, general manager of network operations at MTN SA, said they are experiencing a surge in vandalism of base transceiver stations.
“This is negatively impacting on our ability to provide a superior network experience to our customers,” said Arnold.
“MTN’s equipment, such as batteries, copper, and generators, is often a target of theft. The situation has worsened and criminals are now targeting radio equipment as well.”
The vandals, who appear to be working as a syndicate, are also bypassing electric fences at MTN sites.
Arnold said MTN is losing a billion each year due to theft and vandalism.
Vodacom asked those who see theft at base stations to contact the police or the Vodacom national control room – on toll-free 082 241 9952.
Cell C did not respond to questions about network damage.
Mobile network damage
The photos below include the latest incidents along with previous cases of theft and vandalism suffered by mobile network operators.