Load-shedding contributing to spike in battery theft, costing telecom firms millions

Organised crime syndicates risk plunging SA into a telecommunications blackout through the theft of hundreds of batteries from cellphone towers.
Image: File Photo

Telecom companies Vodacom and MTN say they are losing millions of rand in capital expenditure as a result of a spike in battery theft from their cellphone towers, with load-shedding making them easy targets for criminals.

“Load-shedding is seeing entire neighbourhoods cloaked in darkness at predictable times, which is offering criminals greater cover for their thieving,” Jacqui O’Sullivan, MTN’s executive manager for corporate affairs, told TimesLIVE.

The batteries cost about R28,000 each and can last up to eight years.

They are used to power cellphone masts. If they are stolen, there is no backup power and they cost millions to replace.

MTN said it had spent R300m on batteries for existing sites in 2018 and had 1,800 generators in use. That amount excluded the cost of batteries for new cellphone sites. Public relations senior manager Leigh-Ann Chetty said the majority of MTN’s sites had been equipped with battery backup systems to ensure there is enough power on site to run the systems for several hours when local power goes down.

However, the frequency of load-shedding is resulting in batteries not having enough time to recharge.

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