Skip Navigation

BT fight back against cable thieves
Monday 26 July 2010 15:39:26 by John Hunt

BT Openreach have today announced a new initiative to fight back against cable thieves. The company will deploy SmartWater, a liquid used to forensically tag metal thieves and they hope will protect the UK's telecoms network. Metal thieves cost BT millions of pounds each year and can disrupt telephone and broadband service for days whilst the cable is replaced.

BT will use SmartWater to forensically mark the outer shell and inner core of cables so that they can be identified back to a specific area. Tools and other equipment will also be marked so that police can identify where stolen items have come from. Hot-spots will be deployed with SmartWater trap devices which will spray thieves who target Openreach property.

BT Openreach cable tagged with SmartWater

"From now on, any criminal who targets the BT network risks being invisibly 'tagged' with SmartWater, meaning that the police can trace them, and any stolen cable or equipment, back to the scene of the crime. Cable theft affects not only us as a business, but the millions of people who rely on access to phones and broadband across the UK, and with the help of this technology we're fighting back."

Bernie Auguste, (Head of Security) Openreach

BT will also be increasing patrols of network sites, adding new locks for manholes and working closely with police forces on 'sting' operations to target metal thieves. Openreach say that this technology being used in North London has already achieved results by reducing the number of network attacks.

"Cable and metal theft is high on BTP's agenda due to the disruption and economic effect it has on businesses and communities. Anyone arrested for metal theft will be examined for traces of SmartWater. A search will be made of the person's house and any property, including vehicles with traces of SmartWater on them, is likely to be seized by police. Scrap metal dealers will also be visited regularly to ensure they are assisting British Transport Police in identifying criminals attempting to sell stolen metal."

Detective Inspector Robin Conway, British Transport Police


Posted by TaRkADaHl over 7 years ago
Smart Water....

Wonder what would happen if you drank it...
Posted by gfkerr39 over 7 years ago
They'd know where you had been peeing for the rest of your life.
Posted by TaRkADaHl over 7 years ago
imagine it glowed...

now imagine being in a swimming pool...
Posted by timandhaylea over 7 years ago
I'll say it then before anyone else - they could just replace the copper with fibre ...
Posted by CARPETBURN over 7 years ago
So being sensible for a moment.... When you touch this cable you get covered in some type of dye, probably something which is only seen under ultra violet light or similar (a bit like how those postcode pens for your property used to work)....... In future people do not shake hands with any BT engineer when they kindly fix your line faults, otherwise the following week the "old bill" are going to think you are a "copper" thief (Oh look i made a funny and serious point all in one :D)
Posted by otester over 7 years ago

Thieves aren't so smart, they don't know which is which, so catching them regardless of what they end up with can only be a good thing.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 7 years ago
^^^ I think you missed what i was saying.... If you in theory can get that dye on you from just shaking hands with a BT engineer and saying thankyou to them for fixing an issue you or your street may of had, you could in theory based on their so called "smart" water technology be accussed of being a cable thief because you have that dye on you. They are using that dye as evidence you have been (at the least) fiddling with BT cables and the old bill nowadays will convict who ever is easiest rather than who may indeed be guilty (makes the crime figures look good if you get a quick result).
Posted by CARPETBURN over 7 years ago
I also hope the stuff covering the tools will be different stuff to what they use on their cables..... Infact i better check i havent been poluted by their dye as last time an engineer came out to a neighbour and i was their to housesit the engineer asked me to pass him his wire crimps while he was squashed up under a table.... My god under UV light (or whatever they use) i probably look like the worlds most active BT thief LOL
Posted by mhc over 7 years ago
@ timandhaylea

Replace copper with fibre - you think that would stop them! NO CHANCE.

Time and again thieves rip up cables from ducts or by the side of railway tracks without knowing what it is. Quite often it is fibre and so people are still inconvenienced and BT has a large bill to replace it.

Posted by John_Gray over 7 years ago
But surely this could happen only for NEW installations, not the thousands of miles of copper cabling already installed?

If they are going to dig up all this stuff to mark it, then, as has been said previously, they could replace it with fibre, and make £lots on flogging off the now-redundant copper!
Posted by mhc over 7 years ago
@ John_Gray

All they need to do is open a duct access and spray the smart water over the cable ends and joints then into the cable ducts in and out. The thieves will have to start there ...

Posted by tommy45 over 7 years ago
@ mhc

Don't be to sure about that, especially if the pikey's have anything to do with it, they would just did it up and rip it out of the ground,lol
Posted by djfunkdup over 7 years ago
if the glove does not fit..!! then you must acquit.!! ;)i would imagine even the dumbest robber would wear gloves..and now that they no bt are marking the clobber then they will be pro-active...surley not saying anything then jailing a few that stole would be a better oprion,rather than giving them the heads up...
Posted by djfunkdup over 7 years ago
Posted by john (Favicon staff member) over 7 years ago
Someone cut through a 1400pair cable near me at about 3am on Thursday morning to try and steal it knocking out a lot of lines near me for around 48hours. This cable cut was in a manhole.
Posted by chrysalis over 7 years ago
this smartwater will cause adsl sync issues?
I agree with the other poster, if copper is stolen then replace with chaper and more future proof fibre not just more copper.
Posted by GMAN99 over 7 years ago
@djfunkdup, just getting the person marked with smartwater isn't the whole deal. Many times the police stop and search "blokes with trucks" with a lot of copper on the back, if its stolen they will be able to check the smartwater tag to find out where it came from and go from there, currently they can't prove its stolen, with smartwater it will make it much easier.
Posted by GMAN99 over 7 years ago
@chrysalis Oh dear.. dear dear.. if the copper is stolen just replace it with fibre. Where do you even start with that one? Why don't they replace it with cheese straws instead because it will have the same chance of working, you can't just replace a stolen segment of copper with fibre, its not a straight swap.... cripes (head in hands)
Posted by KarlAustin over 7 years ago
The SmartWater on the cables will be set hard (bugger to get off if you can find it all), then in the most sensitive areas they will set spray traps - so if you break in you get sprayed with the stuff, no chance of removing it all from you for quite a while. Every installation of it will also be unique in coding. Funky stuff, police brought us some after a handful of break ins in the area (more like people leaving doors open actually).
Posted by Somerset over 7 years ago
chrysalis - please explain how you replace stolen copper with fibre quickly. There may be some circuits that need the copper pair.
Posted by Somerset over 7 years ago
plus - this smartwater will cause adsl sync issues?
Posted by CARPETBURN over 7 years ago
quote"Why don't they replace it with cheese straws instead because it will have the same chance of working"

I thought they used them already ;) Got banned from manhole installs though, the mice and rats kept eating the bandwidth ;)
Posted by Jethro_Tombs over 7 years ago
Good stuff, my motorcycle and musical instruments are all tagged with smartwater. Dealer marked every removable bit on the bike down to the wheel bolts.
Posted by chrysalis over 7 years ago
gman99 yes replace the entire cable with fibre if part of it is stolen. The remianing copper can be sold or used to replace an ali feed in another area. Whats so 'oh dear' about that?
Posted by GMAN99 over 7 years ago
The oh dear bit is that you obviously have no clue what is involved. So say this copper cable that gets cut is for ISDN, it terminates on ISDN equipment either end, you just rip it all out start again with fibre? Or a kilostream link that terminates on an X21 interface, what about that? If its copper now the kit it terminates on is all geared for that copper and the service as a whole you can't just "replace the cable" and have it worked, you have to start again with a totally different service that the customer isn't even paying for.
Posted by GMAN99 over 7 years ago
I'm not being funny but if you knew more about what these cables are for and the services they provide and how you'd understand why you can't just flippantly replace it with fibre
Posted by CARPETBURN over 7 years ago
SAVE the cheese straws SAVE them now!!!
You must be logged in to post comments. Click here to login.