Concrete cubes, steel vaults and even dogs to counter theft of telecom infrastructure

Vodacom will invest R1bn to increase capacity and grow its network in deep rural areas in KZN

22 September 2023 - 16:19
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Cables and a cellphone tower battery seized by police in KwaMsane, KwaZulu-Natal.
Cables and a cellphone tower battery seized by police in KwaMsane, KwaZulu-Natal.
Image: SAPS

Mobile network operator Vodacom is resorting to concrete cubes, steel vaults and cladding of valuable battery and diesel generators to protect telecom infrastructure from criminal syndicates.

Speaking at a briefing in Durban on Thursday, Imran Khan, Vodacom KwaZulu-Natal managing executive, said while the company had faced numerous challenges, from Covid-19 to looting and flooding in recent years, economic sabotage by criminal syndicates who plundered remote sites of its valuable infrastructure continued to challenge the business.

The thefts took place in mainly rural areas and Vodacom was experimenting with a number of security measures including armed response, which sometimes included dogs.

Vodacom KwaZulu-Natal managing executive Imran Khan.
Vodacom KwaZulu-Natal managing executive Imran Khan.
Image: Yasantha Naidoo

Khan said alternative energy sources including solar, hydrogen generators and generators which comprised a cocktail of fuels were being introduced to counter theft.

“It takes time and an array of solutions to find the best model because everyone uses what we are providing, from domestic solar to small business, they need batteries and so there is a demand,” he said.

Khan said while the national issue of the construction mafia was also a threat, Vodacom was working with a number of stakeholders, from local businesses to the government and police, to find a sustainable solution.

“We do engage with the premier’s office, the [police] commissioner and the mayor's office, with support by the chamber as well. We realise the principle is right, you want to get local communities employed so we do have active programmes, a massive SMME programme in the region, where all our sub contractors are managed, which gives us a lot of credit.

“Those SMMEs understand that if we go to Umlazi to build a site on the ground, the team must be from Umlazi, so we are proactive, because we understand it is a way of doing business — but if we do have issues, we follow protocols and get intervention. We have had some nasty ones but it will be with communication that we will resolve the issues. We have also had issues with security business forums, but have now come to a professional arrangement.”

Khan said the operator was investing more than R1bn this financial year in the region’s network to increase capacity and resilience and accelerate access to connectivity throughout the province, particularly in deep rural areas.

“In pursuing our aim of creating an inclusive digital society, we are making a significant investment in the region’s network.By expanding access to reliable, quality connectivity through the deployment of more sites and network upgrades, we aim to provide an exceptional network experience to our customers. With this effort, we hope to bring the benefits of digitalisation to all communities we serve.”

A large chunk of this, R700m, will go towards projects for radio access network, network capacity and upgrades, with R173m allocated to improving core network infrastructure. The region plans to modernise 429 base station sites and expand LTE capacity to 774 sites in this financial year.

“Vodacom KwaZulu-Natal’s 4G population coverage is at 95.8%. We are rolling out 23 new urban sites and 129 deep rural sites across the region this financial year to expand this reach and drive digital inclusion, especially in underserved areas of the province. In addition, we now have circa 200 sites on 5G, with plans to switch on another 122 within the financial year,” Khan added.

He said as load-shedding continued, Vodacom KwaZulu-Natal was investing R235m in energy projects, including the procurement of 68 generators to add to an existing fleet of more than 196 and increasing base station site power standby time to a minimum of four hours. These upgrades would improve network capacity and availability, particularly during stage 4-6 load-shedding.

Vodacom said while customers were facing tough economic times, personalised discounted voice and data packages for residents in certain KwaZulu-Natal towns such as Just4You, Just4You Town bundles, had proved successful.

As a result data traffic has grown by 40% in the province in the past year.


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