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Business News of Monday, 16 September 2019


Cancerous nature of telecom masts on the environment – A myth or reality? – (2)

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Part 1 of this article highlighted the need for telecom Masts in our environments. It also provided education on how the telecom system works and that, it is worth noting that masts alone do not enable telecommunication services. The general public, apart from raising concerns about the possibility of masts and their related equipment causing cancer, have also raised major concerns about the siting of masts such as those discussed below.

Integrity of masts – Possible collapse and falling on humans and property

The public have a major concern about the possible collapse of masts; this concern might be genuine one. However, there are very negligible cases (I can recall only two cases for the past 15 years. One recorded by Modernghana in 2010 and the other reported by Atlfmonline in 2018) in Ghana. Notwithstanding, all stakeholders in the industry will need to remain vigilant in order to sustain this gain – operators must ensure due diligence and regulators should also ensure effective policy execution.

Stakeholders need to continue to:

Implement the required architectural/structural design for each mast for a specified location;

Ensure masts locations comply with the regulatory requirements;
Ensure tower audits are performed at least ones every five (5) years to ascertain the status of each tower on the network. Special attention should be given to towers sited along the coast as they rust easily.
Ensure strict adherence to the requirements from regulatory and permits issuing authorities. When in doubt, the public can request for some of these documentations (such as permits) to ensure the right measures are in place.

Visual impacts (nuisance to sight as a result of haphazard siting of masts)

Haphazard siting of masts (especially in residential areas) may appear as nuisance to sight. It is a known fact that some residents have kicked against the siting of masts in their vicinities. One of the key reasons given is the fact that, the haphazard siting of masts disfigures their surroundings. As an authority in Telecom Network Design, I have been engaged on several occasions to explain issues to residents in matters of this nature. The fact is that, to a large extent, the complaints are valid until you reveal the criteria or the reasoning behind the network designs to them. The reason is; the network is designed for capacity and coverage in order to improve the quality of service (QoS).

Yes, sometimes, the mast types, designs and positioning are really not a good sight to behold. The implementation of the Ministry of Communications’ Guidelines for the Deployment of Communications Towers/masts in Ghana (2010), is also helping to minimize this. The guidelines, among other things, ensure that co-location (mast sharing) is prioritized. It has also specified the minimum distance between an existing mast and a new one. Additionally, re-designing/re-planning of city centres can help improve this. The University of Ghana’s, Legon campus is a typical case study. The university authorities have engaged Telecom Companies (Telcos) and Tower companies (Towercos) for proper redesigning of the campus. The three bodies (university (customer), telcos and towercos) brainstormed together in order to re-design the siting of masts on the campus. An agreement has been reached for proposed locations which could co-host multiple telecom operators. This has brought relief to all stakeholders as the masts have been re-deployed (and consolidated in some instances) yet without compromising the QoS.

In certain instances, replacing the traditional masts with attractive designs of masts (eg. palm-tree type, lamp post types) in city centres is the solution to curb this.

Interference with aircrafts when sited in aerodromes

Potentially, masts sited in aerodromes may obstruct aviation activities. Non-functional aviation lamps/lights on masts may also be hazardous to aircraft and nearby residents. In order to avoid placing masts in locations that may obstruct aviation activities, the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority’s (GCAA) permit is needed before erecting any mast. Strangely in few instances, some of the masts are found to be either wrongly sited or sited higher than the required heights for specified locations. In instances where such anomalies happen on the blind side of the GCAA, effective monitoring activities can help unravel them. I remember between 2011 and 2015, GCAA asked Telcos and/or Towercos to either re-locate or reduce the heights of some of the masts sited in aerodromes. Strict adherence to the GCCA’s regulations will help to curb this menace.

The commonest challenge is the issue of non-functioning aviation lamps/lights. Per GCAA’s requirement, every mast needs to have an operational aviation light (lamp), which is enclosed in aviation red obstruction light globe, at the top of the tower. The lamp is expected to be on from the setting of the sun to the rising of the sun at all times. Lack of constant monitoring from operators leaves some of these aviation lamps non-functional for a long time. Effective monitoring is therefore required from operators as well as regulators.

Noise pollution from power generator sets and telecom equipment

To reduce this, there should be improvement in the use of the generator sets, which only act as backup power when the power sources from Electricity Company of Ghana/Power Distribution Services/Northern Electricity Department of VRA fail. There is therefore the need to:

Introduce more of low-noise generator sets (especially at residential areas);

Install noise suppressors where bigger plants are installed (eg. Switch centres, Data centres and major offices).

Adherence to the above basic principles and requirements will enable us enjoy a sound, safety and healthy environment, while telecom services remain in continuous supply.