Vodacom said it had seen a surge in base station vandalism and battery thefts in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal, urging communities to aid it in preventing connectivity switching off in the region.
In a statement, the operator said there had been over 70 incidents reported on a monthly basis, costing the region ZAR6.5 million ($400,254) per month, totalling ZAR80 million annually.
In most cases, theft of batteries resulted in massive downtime for sites leaving entire communities in the province with no connectivity, noted Vodacom.
“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, batteries and even radio equipment, they can cut off thousands of people.”
The operator said the repeated vandalism by criminals puts lives in danger as they prevent urgent calls to emergency services.
Chris Lazarus, Vodacom KwaZulu region managing executive said the numbers reported above showed a “dramatic rise” in vandalism.
“What we are finding through our investigations is that this crime is being perpetrated by organised syndicates who find new ways to commit this type of crime. We lose millions of rands worth of damage to our base stations annually because of theft and vandalism. But more importantly than the monetary impact, criminals are cutting off entire communities.
"Crucially for us, 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."
The operator said successful arrests have been made with one man charged for stealing gear from base stations and handed a 500-year prison sentence. It also invested ZAR200 million to install anti-theft measures such as container cladding and surveillance cameras.