Vandalism of South Africa's cellphone network nearly doubles during load shedding

Business Insider SA
  • Vandalism at cellphone network sites spikes during load shedding as thieves steal copper wire. 
  • This is likely to lead to network outages for consumers, and costs mobile operators millions.
  • As load shedding continues for the fourth straight day, cellphone networks' backup batteries are not recharging fully. 

Vandalism of South African cellular infrastructure nearly doubles during load shedding, which costs mobile operators millions to keep network coverage going.

And Eskom’s implementation of stage 4 load shedding on Monday - the first time in history - and the continuing load shedding for four straight days is worsening the situation as backup batteries are damaged and unable to fully recharge.

Jacqui O’Sullivan, MTN South Africa’s executive for corporate affairs, said MTN had to deploy security teams around the country during load shedding to protect the equipment at significant cost. 

“[Theft and vandalism] tends to spike during load shedding when the lack of power sees [MTN] substations being vandalised for copper wire which then further exacerbates the power supply problem, when electricity is meant to be restored,” O’Sullivan told Business Insider South Africa.

The mobile operator spent more than R100 million repairing acts of theft and vandalism in the past year.

O’Sullivan said the duration and frequency of load shedding compromised MTN's batteries which increases operational costs and possibly causes network outages when they are unable to recharge.

Cell C, the country’s third largest mobile operator, said during load shedding nearly 30% of its network, including cables and towers, are affected by vandalism, compared to 10% to 15% on a typical day.

It said power outages and failures already cause 80% of its technical problems on a typical day of operations, and the issues worsen on load shedding days.

“Load shedding is not only the 4.5 hours. Often there is a knock-on effect that lingers after the period of load shedding,” Cell C told Business Insider.

“In some cases, transformers at substations trip and require Eskom manpower to bring those back online, extending the period without power.”

“Additionally, electricity surges when power returns may mean that equipment at base stations are affected and need to be replaced or rebooted before those sites can be restored.”

Telkom also said the time of network disruption is often lengthened due to vandalisation of some sites.

Christelle Colman, Old Mutual Insure executive for high-net-worth solutions, explained that people tend to forget about the impact of crime during load shedding.

“The risk of increased opportunistic crime should be top-of-mind for South Africans, considering the load shedding schedule is made public for all – including criminals – to see,” Colman said in a statement.

She said South African businesses should, therefore, ensure that backup batteries and security measures are in place before load shedding occurs.

For more go to Business Insider South Africa.

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