A Solution to Africa’s Cable Theft Crisis
How Take Note IT has developed an effective way to put a crimp in criminal plans.
An innovative South African tech startup is shaking up the African asset protection game by using tamper-detection technology to provide remote monitoring services on copper cables and other sensitive infrastructure. The system can initiate an almost immediate armed response to incidents of vandalism and theft.
Cable theft is a massive economic problem in Africa. News reports reveal that criminal networks have moved into the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Zambia, Botswana, Kenya and South Africa, where the pillage costs the national fiscus about R7 billion annually. President Uhuru Kenyatta took the extraordinary step in January of banning all Kenyan exports and dealings in scrap metal until guidelines are put in place to regulate the sector.
In South Africa, criminal networks have established “training schools” for infrastructure theft. Moreover, they have practically brought rail services to a screeching halt in many areas by looting overhead cables and railway tracks, and stripping window frames, doors and other fixtures from suburban stations.
The situation is so bad that it has now been termed “economic sabotage”.
Taking the fight to thieves
But female founder, Mamela Luthuli, had enough. She created an innovation to counter this destruction of economic value. “The frustrating thing with cable theft was that it was almost pointless responding to the incident after it had happened. You’re not stopping the incident from happening and, by the time you get there, the thieves and cables are long gone,” says Luthuli, CEO of Take Note IT.
She took it upon herself to find a workable solution, and her startup developed and patented a system to specifically combat cable theft. “We’ve created custom Radio Frequency Identification Tags (RFID) that are used to tag the most critical infrastructure and technology assets of a municipality, for instance,” she explains.
The tags are Global System for Mobile (GSM) communication-enabled and connected to a dedicated Internet of Things (IoT) network, which is in turn connected to the country’s mobile telephony infrastructure. They are strategically deployed and integrated into a comprehensive 24-hour monitoring system.
The sensors detect intrusion and tampering, raising the alarm in Take Note IT’s dedicated Security Operations Centre (SOC), where operators dispatch armed response. “Response teams are tactically positioned to be able to react to any incident on the network within six minutes of a sensor being disturbed,” she adds.
The tags also feature GPS functionality, allowing armed response teams to be sent directly to the scene of the incident without delay.
The success of the system has been remarkable. Luthuli reports that it has helped reduce vandalism and theft at the Bonteheuwel interchange in the Western Cape by 95%.
“About two million people travel through this intersection every day, going from Bellville, Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain, for example, into and from Cape Town city centre. When cable theft or vandalism disables the interchange, it has a huge knock-on effect,” says Luthuli.
The company has also successfully reduced intrusion and tampering in the City of Ekurhuleni in the east of Gauteng, as well as for the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA). “We’re currently protecting Ekurhuleni’s substations and other critical cables. And as a result, our armed response teams have arrested more than 2,000 vandals and thieves in the last year,” she reports.
A little help along the way
Luthuli insists that her remarkable journey – and that of her company, Take Note IT, which began in 2007 – has been by no means a solo effort. “We have a very capable team of people who contributed hugely to this venture’s success,” she enthuses.
The company was also selected to be a part of the year-long Grindstone Accelerator programme as a member of the 2021 cohort of tech startups. The structured programme focuses on closing gaps, formulating strategies, growing market access and helping participating businesses become more fundable.
“We track data points throughout the process and the numbers show that this year our cohorts realised a total revenue increase of 88% for the period,” says Will Green, Programme Director of the accelerator.
At this year’s graduation ceremony, Luthuli and Take Note IT walked away with the top prize for the best Johannesburg business in the cohort. That success, and the investment that is sure to result, positions the business to scale across the country and, perhaps, even across a continent where cable theft is still a massive problem.
Source: BRIAN BAKKER & ZULU SOWAZI II | Inafrica.com