Published on June 4th, 2007 | by Babar Bhatti296
Cell Phone Towers – Business Opportunity or Public Safety Hazard?
This post was prompted by the response to my ten gripes post at ATP. Reader comments included concerns about cell phone towers and how people are trying to position their property for sale as cell phone tower site. Here’s one comment from Owais M.
If you look at Pak cities landscape from any higher point, the most prominent landmarks now are the mobile towers atop residential and commercial buildings. I’ve heard (but not confirmed) that mobile phone companies give you upto 40000 Rs/month for getting their tower installed at your property. Our neighbors in Pakistan have done so. The other neighbor has allegedly sued the first neighbor citing the danger in case this tower falls down on their roof during a heavy storm, and the story goes on.
A few readers of this blog have also attempted to advertise their site’s availability for tower construction! Are the cell phone tower being installed in densely populated areas (see an example below, thanks to Raza for the Flickr photo) without regard to public health? Is this a danger being ignored by ignorant and greedy authorities and property owners? I certainly think so and believe that we should keep the pressure on the authorities to establish and enforce consumer protection rules. Consumer right groups can be important in this regard.
Here’s a related news item from The Baluchistan Times which sheds some light on the concerns raised and the response from the government.
The National Assembly expressed concern regarding emission of radiation from the mobile telephone towers installed in the densely populated areas and has called the Chairman Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to brief the members regarding public health safety and environment protection measures undertaken by the authority in this regard.
MNA Haider Abbas Rizvi said that dangerous diseases were spreading due to the emission of radiation/signals from mobile telephone towers installed in the populated areas of the country. The matter was referred to the Standing Committee on Environment for further deliberations by Mehreen Anwar Raja who also called the Chairman PTA to brief the members regarding public health safety measure undertaken by the authority in this regard.
MNA Rizvi demanded proper implementation of PTA safety rules while installing these towers to save the people from dangerous diseases due to radiation from the signals from these towers. He said that all the mobile companies working in the country should implement the same standard in Pakistan as they have implemented in their own countries.
Parliamentary Secretary for Cabinet Division Dr. Firdous Ashiq Awan while responding to the motion said that PTA has formulated a proper policy regarding installation of these towers and the mobile companies were bound to follow these instructions. She said the PTA also ensures prescribed safety standards while installing these towers. However, she said if any violation has been made in this regard, the Authority will take appropriate action to save the people for hazards.
In another related news from across the border here’s an article about the Indian tower industry.
Providing towers to telecom operators is emerging as a big stand-alone business, thanks to booming mobile telephony in India. With an estimated requirement of 220,000 new towers in the next three years, the total investment in this business is expected to be over Rs 50,000 crore. At present, telecom service providers set up their own towers. In some locations, they share them with their competitors on a barter system.
Now that telecom operators are expanding they have to make huge investments to sett up passive infrastructure such as telecom towers and power supplies. Operators are also expecting lower average revenue per subscriber (ARPU) from new subscribers. The industry is now realising the importance of independent tower providers. GTL Infrastructure Ltd (GIL) has already set up 1,200 towers and counts all the big service providers, including Airtel, Idea, Tata, Hutch and Spice as its customers.
Global players like Crown Castle and American Towers are planning to enter the Indian towers market while Quipo, TVS Interconnect Systems and Acme are among the Indian players interested in this segment. Industry observers say that three major operators – Reliance Infocomm, Bharti and Tata Teleservices – are planning to hive off their tower divisions into separate entities to unlock the value from these assets. However, independent tower providers will always have an edge over tower companies of telecom operators as far as credibility is concerned. “Setting up towers is not the core competency of telecom operators. Therefore, specialised companies which have domain expertise in this area should take up this activity to enhance the cost effectiveness of this element for service providers,” said T V Ramachandran, director general, Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI). There are about 90,000 towers set up by all mobile operators. The government has targeted a subscriber base of 500 million by the end of 2010. Assuming the same level of sharing, the industry would need 220,000 additional towers. “The cost of setting up one tower is Rs 22-25 lakh at present,” said Prakash Ranjalkar, chief operating officer, GIL. “Therefore, the total investment in the tower business would be to the tune of Rs 50,000 crore.” The two factors that make independent towers a viable business in India are high competition and low ARPUs. With up to seven players providing mobile services in a circle, India is the most competitive market in the world. “At Rs 330 per month for GSM services, India has one of the lowest ARPU in the world,” said Nripendra Misra, chairman, Trai. Moreover, it is falling by 10 per cent per annum. In other Asian countries, there are only two or three players in the field and their ARPUs are higher compared to those in India. Therefore, independent tower providers could not develop in these countries. In the US, there are about six players in the field and, hence, independent tower companies have emerged as big players. There are three big companies in this space – American Tower, Crown Castle and SBA Communications. Recently, Crown Castle bought Global Signal, another major tower company, for $5.8 billion. Observers feel that though there may be more players in this field in the beginning but finally three to four players will remain.