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Cable theft crisis hits Telkom

Telkom plans to ramp up its rollout of wireless and fibre technology to counter a massive increase in copper cable theft over the past year, as criminal syndicates become more sophisticated.

Telkom has revealed that 6000 incidents of copper cable theft have occurred across Telkom’s copper network in the past year, costing the company more than R200-million. The level of theft tracks the international price of copper, and the modus operandi of cable thieves continually becomes more sophisticated.

As a result, says Telkom, it is ramping up efforts to migrate customers to wireless and fibre technologies to tackle cable theft syndicates.

“Copper theft has become a more sophisticated crime over the past few years,” says Telkom’s Group Executive for Communication Jacqui O’Sullivan. “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.

“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 after replacements or repairs.”

O’Sullivan says it is clear that the price of copper and its strong demand in international markets, are catalysts of this crime. Analysis indicates that increases in theft incidents approximately tracks the level of the copper price – usually with a two to three month lag.

“For a little over a decade Telkom has continuously recorded revenue losses due to the impact of this crime. The persistent breaks in connectivity affect not just individual households, but also schools, government buildings, and industries across the country, making this crime a national concern.”

O’Sullivan says that the Company continues to invest greatly in securing the network with armed response, cable alarming and collaborative efforts with the South African Police Service however, the vast nature of Telkom’s network makes fighting this crime, an extraordinarily tough.

For the 2015 financial year, Telkom has experienced over R200 million rand in losses – R100 million direct cable theft repair cost and an additional R107m was spend on security services.

“The cost of cable theft to Telkom is serious and it has a significant impact on thousands of customers each year,” says O’Sullivan. “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.”

So far, Telkom has migrated close to 4000 customers in cable theft hotspots to an alternative wireless product, known as Waya Waya, which does not rely on a copper network. The new product allows customers to retain their landline numbers while also benefiting from SMS functionality and a free device.

Earlier this year, Telkom launched SA’s biggest fibre trial in which DSL customers within Telkom’s fibre footprint are being given the opportunity to upgrade their copper-based connectivity to the more advanced fibre network, at no additional cost.

“Telkom is taking every step to ensure that our network is secure and, more importantly, that our customers receive a seamless network experience free of criminal interference,” says O’Sullivan.

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