Copper Thieves Battled With New Anti-theft Telecom Cable

The epidemic of telecom cable thefts has prompted a U.S. company to develop a new design that drastically cuts down the copper content in a bid to deter metal thieves.

The GroundSmart Copper Clad Steel cable is probably the most radical solution yet devised to copper theft in that it removes almost all of the copper grounding (in the U.K., "earthing") metal of the sort commonly used in networks to return current to earth for safety reasons.

Unlike conventional cables made from solid copper, the GroundSmart consists of a steel core around which is bonded a copper outer casing, forming an equally effective but far less valuable cable.

The end result, according to the company, is something that exploits the corrosion-resistance of copper with the conductive properties of steel.

"Companies trying to protect their copper infrastructure have been going to extreme measures to deter theft, many of which are neither successful nor cost effective," said CommScope Vice President Doug Wells.

"Despite efforts like these, thieves continue to steal copper because of its rising value. The result is costly damage to networks and growing service disruptions."

Alternatives included cable etching to aid tracing of stolen metal and using chemicals that left stains detectable under ultra-violet light, he said. To alert thieves that the cable was not solid copper, the GroundSmart cable could be printed to indicate its composition.

If the GroundSmart gains some traction it might come in the nick of time. After years of price stability, copper prices started to soar in 2004 as demand ramped; the metal is now worth three to four times as much as it was then.

CommScope claims that copper theft in costs U.S. companies $60 million a year.

In the UK, signs that high prices were causing telecoms companies theft issues started with a break-in that brought down a BT exchange in 2008, which came only months after another suspicious "equipment theft" from a Cable & Wireless exchange that disrupted the Financial Times.

The company has released a video explaining the technology on its website. Direct price comparisons between copper and CommScope's hybrid cables have not yet been made available.

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