Openserve fast-tracks fibre roll-out in war with copper thieves

An Openserve operational team is seen on the ground in this file photo

Openserve, the wholesale infrastructure division of Telkom, has started deploying fibre in city and suburban blocks, rather than across entire areas, especially where it is up against endemic copper cable theft.

That’s according to Telkom regional officer (north-eastern region) Selby Khuzwayo, who said in an interview with TechCentral this week that although mobile communications can serve as a backup where copper infrastructure has been stolen, it’s far from ideal, especially given the higher cost.

Telkom has been battling copper cable theft – which is often the work of criminal syndicates – for years, with no end in sight to the scourge that also plagues companies such as Transnet and Eskom. Fibre, unlike copper, has no resale value and so is seldom stolen or damaged by thieves.

“We can’t just complain and cry about the situation,” Khuzwayo said. “We have to adapt, and our main strategy now is to deploy fibre in the areas affected (by copper cable theft).”

That includes decommissioning the copper down to street-block level and replacing it with fibre as incidents occur. Even though customers in these areas often have to upgrade their “customer premises equipment” (to fibre routers), which has a cost, most are usually happy to do so because they understand that it’s a problem out of Openserve and Telkom’s control and offers a solution to the downtime they experience.


Khuzwayo’s concern is that Openserve often has to recall resources being used to decommission fibre elsewhere, or used to expand Telkom’s fibre footprint, to deal with the aftermath of cable theft. This slows down the deployment of infrastructure elsewhere. “Instead of connecting other communities, we have to expend resources replacing cables.”

Theft or vandalism of other Openserve infrastructure is also a big problem, including of batteries and copper in street distribution cabinets.

Vodacom and MTN are also heavily impacted by crime, particularly at their base stations, which are often targeted by criminal syndicates for the batteries used during power outages. Telkom is somewhat more fortunate in that many its base stations are located at its exchanges, which have better security than isolate high sites.

The malicious destruction of property – vandalism that doesn’t involve theft – is also a problem, Khuzwayo said.

Telkom works with the police where it can, but most breakthroughs against criminal syndicates usually come from its internal investigation and intelligence teams.

It also works with private investigators in some instances, which has led to breakthroughs and arrests.

The problem, said Khuzwayo, is it can take up to three years – or more – for suspects to be charged, prosecuted and jailed.

In some cases, he said, the sentencing is also too lenient, and therefore does not serve as sufficient deterrent. “In one case, someone got away with a fine.”  — © 2021 NewsCentral Media