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Telecoms giants band together to fight vandalism after nearly R300 million in damage in 2021

The theft and vandalism of telecommunications infrastructure in 2021 cost the country’s major mobile phone operators an estimated R280 million, according to the newly formed Communication Risk Information Centre (COMRiC).

The initiative has been established by mobile phone companies in a bid to find collective ways to safeguard the rampant scourge of infrastructure damage. 

MTN Vodacom, Telkom, Cell C and Liquid have all joined.

According to Vernall Muller, COMRiC chief executive officer, there had been 15 759 incidents of vandalism of network sites in the past year alone, something he attributed to the economic impact of Covid-19. Another contributing factor is believed to be load shedding, which leaves parts of the country in darkness and more vulnerable to crime.

The theft of back-up batteries, copper cables and mobile handsets in store robberies are some of the common crimes affecting telecommunication companies.

“Telecommunications infrastructure, which is the backbone of the information age, is particularly vulnerable to attacks, and this escalating crime has translated into loss of service and network integrity,” said Muller.

He added that the past two years had seen a “significant shift” in terms of criminal attacks on the country’s telecommunications infrastructure.

The formation of the organisation comes as companies invest in telecommunications infrastructure in a bid to secure market share through enhanced services. Last year, Vodacom, which is the country’s largest cellular network provider, said it planned to invest over R10 billion in its local network infrastructure as the future of communication moves towards data-driven services.

Its rival, MTN, which has a large footprint on the African continent, said in March 2021 it had earmarked R29.1 billion for its network, fintech and digital services platforms for the year.

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