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March 27, 2012updated 22 Aug 2016 12:59pm

BT RABIT tech hops into action to catch cable thieves

Copper wire theft is thought to cost the UK economy £20m a year

By Steve Evans

Telecoms giant BT has unveiled a new weapon in the battle against cable thieves. The Rabit, which stands for Rapid Assessment BT Incident Tracker, will alert the company to any potential issue with copper wiring being stolen.

The burglar alarm technology can detect if a cable has been cut or damaged and can alert BT within minutes. It can pinpoint the incident to a specific road, BT said.

The alert will be sent to BT’s Security Control Centre as well as police response teams, who can then investigate the issue. BT says a trial of the technology has already foiled one cable theft attempt in Essex.

The system can monitor both copper and fibre networks and works across both telephone and broadband networks.

Luke Beeson, general manager, BT Security, said: "BT’s new burglar alarm on the network will make thieves think again. We are now able to inform the Police of the exact location of malicious network attacks and, if trials are anything to go by, it won’t be long before they start catching the thieves in the act."

Copper wire theft is becoming a huge problem for BT and other companies. CBR looked into the epidemic last year, which is now so bad it is estimated to cost the UK economy £20m per year. The government has set aside £5m to deal with the problem through a dedicated metal theft taskforce.

Copper is now a highly valuable metal, which is driving the epidemic. Speaking to CBR late last year, Beeson said: "In terms of serious damage to infrastructure and telecommunications it has only been a major problem in the last 5-6 years, and much more dramatically over the last three years. The price of copper has trebled over that time."

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BT estimates that 80% of the copper wiring theft is committed by organised crime games and the company has recovered 240 tonnes of stolen metal in the past eleven months. During the same time period, arrests connected with copper wiring theft has reached more than 480, already up on the 450 arrests in 2011.

Rabit is just one technique BT is using to combat cable theft. The company is also investing in SmartWater, an invisible ink that sticks to perpetrators and their stolen property for months, enabling easier tracing.

"In my view this technology will significantly improve Police response times to cable theft incidents and will act as a major deterrent to criminals engaged in this activity," said Paul Crowther, Deputy Chief Constable of the British Transport Police, who is heading up the police metal theft taskforce.

"More importantly, communities and businesses should see a sharp reduction in the disruption caused by this type of theft," he added.

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