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Tuesday 15 June 2021, 15:11 pm.
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Bottlenecks emerge in cellphone uptake explosion

Local authorities as well as land boards are increasingly rejecting the installation of more communication masts and associated infrastructure, slowing the national rollout of mobile phone and data services, Mmegi Business has learnt.
By MBONGENI MGUNI
Staff Writer
(GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Bottlenecks emerge in cellphone uptake explosion








Yesterday, senior officials at the Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority (BOCRA) said urban and rural councils, as well as land boards were among key approving authorities for the installation of cellphone masts, base stations and other infrastructure.However, as the country's teledensity has exploded over the years to the current estimate of two cellphone subscriptions per person in Botswana, approving authorities have raised various concerns on the rapid rollout of cellphone masts and other infrastructure."Operators have had their applications rejected, faced delays and even had withdrawals of permissions to build due largely to perceived harmful effects of cellphone masts," BOCRA compliance and monitoring director Godfrey Radijeng told a workshop yesterday.

"In many cases, land owners have said their rejections are out of fear of harmful radiation, for instance, exposure to students in the case of schools. There have been requests for removal of masts for fear of radiation as well as aesthetics."A BOCRA policy document states that before the advent of mobile phone technology in Botswana, masts existed for broadcasting and radio communication and were few and far between."(Today) in addition to the cellular communication masts, there are other communication infrastructure belonging to telecommunications services, broadcasting stations, meteorological services, aviation services and law enforcement and security agencies. All in totality have led to the congestion of this infrastructure which in planning terms is viewed as aesthetically unappealing," the document reads.

Radijeng said the rollout of mobile phone technology nationwide was critical to the country's development, given the increasing dependence on ICT for the delivery of various services in remote communities."Network deployment is critical for economic and social activities," he said."Operators have to continuously upgrade and cover greater areas to cater for society. The failure to deploy network will result in poor or no network and the non-delivery of services such as banking, health care and others. It's all about the development agenda of today and technology is vital to the sending out and reception of information".

BOCRA and the Department of Town and Regional Planning yesterday unveiled the first draft of its guidelines on the location of

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communication masts, which are designed to help local authorities and land boards assess applications.In addition, BOCRA recently published guidelines for infrastructure sharing among operators, which are expected to reduce capital costs as well as proliferation of network deployment infrastructure.Meanwhile, the authority's technical services director, Bathopi Luke stressed that global researchers are yet to unite on whether mobile phone radiation emissions are harmful to users.He revealed that BOCRA has acquired Electro Magnetic Radiation (EMR) Measurement instruments to continuously measure radiation levels at cellular phone base stations.

"The crux of the matter is that so far research has not found any evidence that mobile phones are damaging or any link between their usage and cancer," he told the workshop. "That's a very strong statement and some people would say 'let's not leave it there.'However, when you have a study that says cellphones cause cancer, other people have to interrogate your findings and accept them.What we have is isolated cases where people cannot substantiate their findings. Our EMR instruments were recently sent to Germany for calibration so that their findings could be relied upon".Luke said other research had found that mobile phones emitted radiation up to 1,000 times stronger than base stations. Even at these levels, the radiation, he said, is characterised as non-ionised and only has a thermal effect on users rather than a neurological effect.

Despite the lack of evidence, BOCRA advises cellphone users to opt for landlines where possible, keep their calls short, use hands-free kits, carry phones away from their bodies and make calls near base stations."One could ask that if we say they are not dangerous, then why all this?" Luke said. "We are saying the research is not conclusive and in the absence of evidence, it's good to take precautions". Cellphone subscriptions in Botswana reached 3.08 million at the end of last year, nearly double the number recorded in 2008.Previous estimates suggest Mascom generally accounts for just over half of all mobile subscribers, with Orange's market share ranging between 33 and 35 percent and beMobile taking the balance.

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