The Philippines operator says it has had 834 batteries stolen from network sites in the first half of the year

The theft of telco infrastructure and technology is nothing new. From ripping copper wiring out of the ground to stealing generators from mobile base stations, telcos have long been grappling with the challenge of securing valuable infrastructure in remote locations.

But for Globe, the challenge, as it relates to their battery units, appears to be growing at an unprecedented rate.

The Philippines operator revealed this week that it had had 834 back-up batteries stolen from various network facilities in the first half of the year – over double the 352 thefts recorded for the entirety of 2022.

These thefts occurred all over the country, with the second largest island, Mindanao, recording the highest number of incidents with 424 thefts, while Visayas had 363 batteries stolen, and the Greater Manila Area 47.

“The batteries are crucial as backup power during area-specific commercial power outages, particularly in times of disaster. Without them, affected localities become vulnerable to telco service interruptions,” the company said in a statement.

Last year, Globe announced it had replaced half of the backup batteries for its core network sites with sodium nickel batteries, therefore reducing its reliance on fossil fuel generators and its overall carbon footprint. The rest of the company’s core sites will be similarly upgraded in due course.

It is not clear whether this upgrade is part of the driver for this increase in thefts; these batteries are certainly more modern than their predecessors and so presumably more valuable for thieves.

However, what seems more likely that the culprit is the Philippines’ rising energy prices. The country currently has some of the highest energy prices in Southeast Asia, driven upwards over the past year by fuel shortages, inflation, and the depreciation of the Philippine peso against the US dollar. Taken alongside a more general cost of living increase throughout the country, it is easy to see why a powerful battery could be appetising target for thieves.

It is worth noting that Globe is not the only network operator struggling in the face of rising battery theft. Earlier this year, South Africa’s Vodacom said that it was seeing between 18 to 30 back-up batteries stolen from its base stations every month.

In this case, the cause for the thefts can be even more closely linked to the national electricity crisis, with South Africa continuing to face severe rolling blackouts as a result of decades of energy grid mismanagement by state provider Eskom.

Vodacom says it is combatting these thefts by adding additional security to its base stations, pledging to aggressively prosecute thieves.

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