Mobile phones have become vital to our lives and livelihoods. They’ve made it so much simpler and cheaper to transact business, move money, conduct research for school or work, and manage our relations with our families and friends. Messages that took a month in the post or hours of travelling to deliver now only require a phone call, text or email.
Telecoms companies have made these possible through investments in infrastructure, such as towers or masts. But there’s growing demand for mobile phone services, which makes it necessary to increase the infrastructure available in order to ensure an acceptable level of network coverage and Quality of Service (QoS).
Yet, many people question whether these towers constitute a danger to their health and safety. It is right that they ask. However, these fears are borne largely out of lack of information.
What are Telecom Masts and what do they do?
Telecom Masts transmit and receive radio signals, which are invisible to the eye, from mobile phones and other wireless devices. Without telecom masts or towers in our communities, it would be impossible to operate our mobile phones whilst moving from place to place. If telecom masts are not situated within specific ranges of one another, uninterrupted phone services will be almost impossible to deliver.
Are Radio Signals/Electromagnetic Emissions from Telecom Masts safe for me?
Both mobile phones and masts produce radio signals. These signals travel through the air as electromagnetic energy. There are many electrical appliances, which we all commonly use, that also give off similar electromagnetic energy. These include light bulbs, radio and television sets, computers, remote car doorlocks, and microwave ovens. The emissions from mobile phones, masts and all of these items are classified as non-‐ionising radiation, and is safe for humans. “The levels of RF exposure from Base Stations and wireless networks are so low that the temperature increases are insignificant and do not affect human health” [WHO: Electromagnetic fields and public health Fact sheet No. 304, May 2006]
Who is responsible for setting standards for emissions from Masts?
The international commission on Non-‐Iodising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) sets standards and makes safety recommendations to guide the industry
worldwide. The European Union (EU) and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) which is an inter-‐governmental body and an agency of the UN of which Ghana is a member, have also repeatedly endorsed the ICNIRP Guidelines. Mobile operators and the responsible institutions in Ghana, such as the EPA, work within those guidelines.
How are these guidelines implemented in Ghana?
In Ghana operators or the companies that build towers on their behalf require a Radiation Protection Certificate and an Environmental Protection Permit before deploying towers and other infrastructure, under the supervision of the Industry Technical Committee (ITA). The ITA process includes certification of compliance with ICNIRP Guidelines. In addition, the National Communications Authority (NCA) ensures that all equipment used in Ghana is approved to certify that they conform to global safety standards.
What prevents a mast from falling down and killing me and my children? Masts commonly installed for mobile operators in Ghana are built to withstand a wind-‐load of 140 km/hour. That’s speed of the wind in a hurricane! Yet, even if that were to happen, the mast near you would stand because it has been built to resist that much wind. Besides, tower companies regularly monitor the foundations of towers to ensure that their physical integrity is not compromised.
If these masts are that safe, why don’t they abound in developed countries as they are in Ghana or elsewhere in Africa?
In most cities in developed countries, high-‐rise buildings are common. These buildings host the telecoms antennae and therefore eliminate or minimise the need for the installation of masts on the ground in built-‐up areas. Mobile operators in Ghana would prefer not to have to build them at all. It costs up to US$180,000 to put up a mast. It’s cheaper to simply affix the antennae to a high-‐ rise building.
Some people find the masts aesthetically unsightly; what are telecom operators doing to minimize the need to have so many?
Increasingly, mobile phone operators in Ghana are sharing towers by employing the services of tower companies in order to reduce the number of masts each telecom operator independently requires.