Cutting copper theft

January 2009 Surveillance

In 2006, AT&T’s network engineer in the United States reported fewer than 50 incidents involving the theft of copper bus bars, grounding wires or cable from cellular towers. Within a year, copper theft incidents rose to more than 150, a nearly 200% increase.

Although the cost of the copper stolen in a typical incident was valued only in terms of thousands of rand, the repair cost was increasing dramatically along with the threat involving loss of service. Replacing or repairing damage from copper theft could cost hundreds of thousands.

Because many of the affected sites are remote, no suspects were identified in any of the thefts, so no related arrests were made by law enforcement agencies. Because remote sites receive relatively infrequent visits by technicians, key grounding connections could be missing for some time, exposing the sites to possible extensive damage should lightning strike in the interim. That would raise the stakes for base transmitter station repair and replacement to the level of catastrophe.

Taking the initiative to find ways to detect intruders and notify authorities as quickly as possible, AT&T Central Region corporate security looked for partners to help the company stop the growing epidemic of thefts. As a systems integrator, security specialist and monitoring service operator, SNC Security offered AT&T a wireless video security system, Videofied, made by RSI Video Technologies and originally intended for residential indoor use.

In meetings with AT&T’s network leadership team, SNC demonstrated the wireless video security system’s wireless, battery-operated capability to deliver to the security company’s monitoring station a 10-second video of a site intrusion immediately when a break-in occurs. The specially developed equipment uses a battery-powered sensor and camera that operate for four years on three AA batteries.

Thanks to the battery power and wireless interconnection, the wireless system may be easily installed anywhere at the site to provide detection and immediate response to criminal activity, increasing the probability that theft suspects might be apprehended. Operationally, the system provided network engineers realtime knowledge of grounding conditions for faster repairs to protect against outages.

Development and testing

The wireless video security system had not initially been designed for outdoor applications, so additional development work was required to create an outdoor detector and camera combination and an outdoor arming and disarming station and to finish a GRPS cell-based reporting capability to send alerts to the monitoring station. SNC also had to refine its internal monitoring processes to optimise interaction with AT&T’s corporate security and with law enforcement agencies for a seamless solution.

The team decided to field five systems immediately to obtain real-life data on the solution’s basic operation and viability. SNC installed five systems at sites selected by the customer. These five sites had a history of multiple copper theft incidents. The initial deployment lasted five months, and the results helped to define the final solution.

To begin, SNC mounted the standard indoor Videofied camera and sensor combination in an irrigation valve box and put the entire assembly on a movable arm to create a ‘bucket cam’ – the first outdoor Videofied camera. These early camera and sensor combinations became the forerunners of a new line of ruggedised outdoor devices.

To save time, SNC used a wired third-party proximity card reader to arm and disarm the initial five systems. By the second phase of testing, Videofied developed its own wireless proximity card arming station to simplify installation and operation.

Communication connectivity from the towers to the central station initially was provided by standard landlines installed by SNC while the wireless video security system was being tested for compatibility with AT&T’s static IP SIM cards. Once the equipment was approved for use on the AT&T network, the landlines were disconnected, and the five original beta test sites were converted to 100 percent wireless applications during the second quarter of 2007.


The short answer is, ‘it works.’ The systems have been in place for over a year and have proven they deliver real protection against copper theft at AT&T cellular towers. The production version of the new wireless video security outdoor system is performing beyond expectations. The new generation of camera and sensor combination operates at temperatures from –30°C to +60°C and is entirely waterproof. It also has enhanced night vision with twice the illumination of the initial unit.

In addition, the monitoring and installation processes deliver results that can be measured and thus help to support a purchase decision based on the return on investment. Affordable hardware, simple and consistent installations and proven processes are all part of the solution.

Elvey Security Technologies is the sole distributor of RSI products in southern Africa. For more information about the product, or an obligation-free quote please contact your nearest Elvey branch or log onto its website at


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