Market Watch

Escalating Theft of Telco Backup Batteries: The Unseen Challenge

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The telecommunications industry has long battled against theft, a challenge significantly amplified by the sheer scale and geographical dispersion of operational assets. From stolen copper wiring to purloined generators at mobile base stations, physical security for these resources has been a constant uphill struggle. Currently, an alarming escalation of this trend is being experienced by the Philippines operator, Globe, who have just revealed that they lost 834 back-up batteries to theft from assorted network facilities in the first half of this year alone. This marks a drastic increase from the 352 thefts seen over the entirety of 2022.

The landscape of these incidents is broad, stretching across the whole of the Philippines. Mindanao, the nation’s second largest island, suffering the most at 424 battery unit thefts. At the same time, Visayas and the Greater Manila Area reported 363 and 47 incidents respectively. Globe emphasized the gravity of the situation in a public statement, asserting that these batteries provide essential “backup power during area-specific commercial power outages, particularly in times of disaster. Without them, affected localities become vulnerable to telco service interruptions”.

Globe had previously announced last year that they had started replacing half of the backup batteries for its core network sites with sodium nickel batteries, thereby cutting down on their reliance on fossil fuel generators and reducing the overall carbon footprint. However, there’s a question mark over whether this upgrade could have contributed to the surge in battery thefts, since these modern batteries are potentially more lucrative for thieves.

At the root of this issue is likely the country’s steeply rising energy prices, which are amongst the highest in Southeast Asia. Escalated by a potentially toxic combination of fuel shortages, inflation and the weakening of the Philippine peso against the US dollar, the situation is further exacerbated by an overall increase in the cost of living in the country. Hence, a high-value battery might hold special attraction for thieves.

It’s noteworthy that Globe isn’t alone in this predicament. Another operator encountering increased theft is South Africa’s Vodafone. It has been losing between 18 to 30 back-up batteries from its base stations on a monthly basis. This situation is likely tied to the long-standing national electricity crisis in South Africa, fueled by years of grid mismanagement by the state provider Eskom. To defend its assets, Vodafone is taking measures to increase base station security and is committed to pursuing aggressive legal action against the culprits.

In conclusion, this escalation in battery theft highlights an increasingly challenging environment for telco operators. As they innovate to reduce environmental impact, these companies must simultaneously fortify their physical security measures, particularly in countries experiencing economic instabilities. In such circumstances, it remains more important than ever to stay abreast of telecoms news.

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