Telkom registered more than 6 000 incidents of copper-cable theft on its network in the past year and as a result is now actively moving customers away from the technology to wireless and fibre alternatives.
The telecommunications operator said in a statement on Monday that copper theft syndicates have become more sophisticated and brazen.
“These criminals now target our manholes armed with customised heavy-duty vehicles, allowing them to hitch the cable to the vehicle and drive out kilometres of cable, cutting off thousands of customers, in a single incident,” said Telkom spokeswoman Jacqui O’Sullivan.
“Telkom is ramping up efforts to migrate customers to wireless and fibre technologies to actively tackle cable theft syndicates,” she said.
“We face a unique set of challenges when it comes to copper cable theft. For example, there are areas in the Western Cape where gang violence sometimes makes it dangerous for us to send technicians into the area to replace stolen cables. In many high-theft areas, cable is repeatedly stolen, sometimes within days of replacements or repairs,” said O’Sullivan.
She said it is clear that the price of copper and its strong demand in international markets are catalysts of the crime.
“Analysis indicates that increases in theft incidents approximately tracks the level of the copper price — usually with a two- to three-month lag.”
Telkom said it invests heavily in securing the network with armed response, cable alarming and collaborative efforts with the police. However, the vast nature of Telkom’s network makes fighting this crime “extraordinarily tough”.
For the 2015 financial year, Telkom experienced over R200 million in losses — R100 million direct cable theft repair cost and an additional R107 million was spend on security services. The company is due to publish its 2016 annual results next month.
“The cost of cable theft to Telkom is serious and it has a significant impact on thousands of customers each year. To combat this, we are looking at migrating our customers in high copper theft hotspots onto new technology platforms, specifically those which are undesirable to criminals,” O’Sullivan said.
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