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Updated: December 15, 2012 09:44 IST

Cellphone companies worried about customer backlash

    Laiqh A. Khan
    V. Sridhar
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Business may become unviable, fears cellular operators association. File Photo: M. Vedhan
The Hindu
Business may become unviable, fears cellular operators association. File Photo: M. Vedhan

Decommissioning of towers may hit quality of services

Mobile phone companies, which have decommissioned about 80 cellphone towers in the last few weeks in Bangalore, ostensibly because of the scare about dangerous radiation levels, are now worried about not only their business becoming unviable but also about a deterioration in the quality of services they offer subscribers. Speaking to The Hindu, Rajan S. Mathews, Director-General of Cellular Operators Association of India, which represents the interests of the private cellular companies, said that the problem is particularly serious in the metropolitan areas in the country.

“We are caught between a rock and a hard place,” Mr. Mathews said referring to the wrath the companies are likely to face from customers following a reduction in the number of towers, especially in congested urban areas.

Even though the adverse effect of electromagnetic frequency (EMF) emission from the mobile phone towers has never been scientifically established, Mr. Mathews said that Indian operators have nevertheless complied fully with the emission standards set by the Union government.

He pointed out that between 2008 and September 2012, the government had prescribed the maximum level of EMF at 9 watts per sq m (for the 1800 Mhz band) and 4.5 Mhz (for the 900 Mhz band), which is the standard recommended by the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), a specialist body on issues relating to non-ionising radiation protection recognised by the World Health Organisation.

On September 1, 2012, the Union government, as a measure of “abundant caution,” lowered the EMF level by 90 per cent, to 0.9 watts per sq m and 0.45 watts per sq m.

Mr. Mathews said that only a handful of countries have adopted a lower threshold than India; China and Russia for example, while most European countries follow the ICNIRP guidelines.

The lowering of the EMF forces operators to set up more towers to compensate for the lower transmission from towers. “It costs about Rs. 25 lakh to set up a tower and about Rs. 3 lakh per month to maintain it,” said Mr. Mathews.

He claimed that cellular operators are adhering to the emission standards and are “self-certifying” their compliance, as prescribed by Telecom Engineering Centre.

Moreover, the Government Telecom Enforcement and Monitoring also conducts audits of about 10 per cent of the towers on a random basis each year. While Mumbai and Delhi had lost 120 and 86 towers respectively in the recent past, cellular phone operators had to bring down about 80 of the approximately 3,600 in Bangalore. Most major cities are losing two or three towers every week, he said.

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