Criminals get 10 years in jail for MTN cell tower battery theft

 ·18 Feb 2020
Cellular tower

MTN’s efforts to prevent battery theft and vandalism at cell tower base stations is bearing fruit, with 143 batteries worth R1.2 million recovered in January 2020.

However, the company said it was facing a continuing battle with criminal syndicates as battery theft incidents continue to rise.

“A total of 338 batteries worth R4 million stolen from MTN base stations were recovered in July last year, with 275 batteries worth almost R3 million recovered in September.

“The number of arrests also ticked up appreciably to an annual high of 22 in September,” the group said.

In another major victory, three suspects were apprehended in October last year in a joint operation between Bidvest Protea Coin and the SAPS.

A total of eight MTN Lithium-Ion Batteries and eight Telkom Lead Acid batteries were recovered, and sentences of between 5-10 years were meted out by the magistrate on 28 January for the offence of tampering with essential infrastructure.

“This is an excellent breakthrough in the work and determination between the Madelene SAPS and Bidvest Protea Coin as these individuals were classified as a syndicate within the area.

“What this and the other small successes show is that when the public, industry and security and police forces work together, we can make a dent in criminal activity,” said MTN general manager: Network Operations, Ernest Paul.

Recent statistics show that 703 batteries were stolen from MTN stations in January 2020 with a total of 122 incidents. Cable theft also increased over December and January, with 109 incidents in January.

“The reality is criminal syndicates are looking for ways around the security measures and this has again raised the bar for the industry and the public, working hand-in-hand hand with law enforcement and security companies.”

“A lot more work needs to be done to stay a step ahead, especially as vandalism at base stations can keep many consumers offline for long periods, or even completely destroy the base station, leaving people with no access at all,” said Paul.

Load shedding

Paul said that all national cellular networks remain under increasing pressure to improve recoveries and reduce theft as the knock-on effects will become more severe if left unchecked.

He added that new rounds of load-shedding are increasing the risks, with networks placed under increased strain to get power back up. The battery back-up system generally takes 12-18 hours to recharge, while batteries generally have a capacity of 6-12 hours, depending on the site category.

“Network coverage is lost if we do not have batteries, while cases of vandalism, cable theft and diesel theft remain high,” said Paul.

“We need everyone to join forces if we are to truly fight back against the sophisticated syndicates behind these crimes, and MTN is certainly doing that early in 2020 to ensure we limit the damage and ensure our customers still get quality network coverage.”

Read: Thieves caught with more than 24 Vodacom cellphone tower batteries

Show comments
Subscribe to our daily newsletter