Building Telco Towers and Concerns over Radiation
Poor mobile coverage at your area? How do we solve it?
A simple answer to that is: Increasing/upgrading telecommunication infrastructure a.k.a. telco towers.
Last month, I announced that the Melaka government is prepared to build & upgrade 100 telco towers in 2019. I did not just come up with the number 100 by myself. Before I continue, let's talk about the current situation in Melaka and how our telco sector operates.
There are a few reasons for telco companies / govt to spend on building new towers in an area:
When there is enough demand or complaints made to telco companies in the area;
When telco companies decide to expand their coverage for commercial purposes; or
When the government finds it important for that area to be developed & improved (even if the demand is not high, commercially speaking, for telco companies).
At the moment, our population is growing denser while data usage per person is also going up. Hence, the demand for more / better-performing telco towers also increases.
Based on the assessment made by telco companies & government agencies, if we were to satisfy this growing trend, Melaka is lacking an increase of 100 telco infrastructures per year.
Between 2015 and 2017, there had only been about 30 telco infra built each year. This year, from January 2018 to April 2018, only 6 had been built and delivered.
Why? There were many factors, including hiccups within government agencies/GLC, the complexity in getting approvals/permits (land matters, local councillors etc.) and objection from residents. On average, even without major issues, it took 6-9 months just to obtain green light to start building a tower. Many remained pending for years.
When I first took over the portfolio, I learnt the urgency to tackle these problems. Other than forming a special committee to study and improve the permitting process, I also worked with the management of our agencies and GLC to reform internally, apply Smart Partnership, and practise ‘open tender’ for tower construction. I've also consulted the Ministry several times.
All efforts paid off. Since May 2018 (after election) till November 2018, Melaka has built 46 telco infra. This means improved cellular coverage in 46 areas.
Now, if everything runs smoothly, it’ll only take 3-4 months to obtain permit, instead of 6-9 months like in the past.
This gave me and my team the confidence to deliver 100 telco infra for 2019 as per the demand reported.
Will radiation emitted by telco towers harm us?
This is in fact one of my first written questions directed to me during the state assembly sitting.
Telco towers transmit data via radio frequency (RF) wave, an electromagnetic wave. And all electromagnetic waves are termed as 'radiation'.
There are basically two types of radiation: ionising radiation and non-ionising radiation. Ionising radiation is radiation with high energy that could change the chemical characteristics of an atom, thus causing biological changes (mutation) to our cells a.k.a cancerous. Examples of ionising radiation are X-Ray and UV from sunlight.
Non-ionising radiation is the opposite. It doesn’t cause changes in chemical characteristics. Examples of non-ionising radiation includes radiation emitted by our radios at home or in the car, as well as the RFID we use at tolls and boomgates.
Thee RF wave telco towers emit is a form of non-ionising radiation.
For each telco tower of frequency 900MHz, 1900MHz and 2000MHz, the permissible levels of radiation are 4.5W/m2, 9.0W/m2 and 10.0W/m2 respectively.
If a telco tower emits radiation higher than those limits, the government will not hesitate to take it down as it is a rule to comply to.
So what’s the radiation level of one telco tower? As stated in my written answer for the August 2018 sitting, the average radiation level of a telco tower is 0.000092 W/m2. Very much lower than the permissible level.
In order to communicate these facts with residents and improve the process of enhancing cellular coverage, I’ve also worked with Agensi Nuclear Malaysia and made Melaka the first state in Malaysia to place QR codes on our telco towers so that residents can obtain info such as radiation level and permits granted to the tower.
The same info can also be found at: https://arefcert.com
The initiative was launched in September and to date, 40 towers in Melaka have been equipped with QR code. It is expected to apply to all towers in 1.5 years.