Following the growing number of cellphone masts and boosters in communities around Johannesburg, Fourways Review spoke to telecommunications company Vodacom about this issue.
In 2010 the community of Dainfern lobbied until Vodacom agreed to remove a Vodacom cellphone tower. A resident who asked not to be named said Vodacom did not do public participation or considered the alleged health impact associated with cellphone masts.
The Electromagnetic Radiation Research Foundation of South Africa has spent years researching and highlighting the side effects of cellphone masts and requesting the World Health Organisation (WHO) to, according to a statement on their website, ‘adopt a more protective exposure guidelines for electromagnetic fields and wireless technology in the face of increasing evidence of risk’.
Vodacom spokesperson Byron Kennedy confirmed that the cellphone mast in Dainfern was removed. Asked why Vodacom agreed to remove the mast he said, “As a company with strong local roots, we always strive to balance our business needs against the various concerns of the communities we operate in.”
Regarding beliefs that cellphone masts and boosters cause cancer, Kennedy explained that the majority of experts and national advisory boards say there is no scientific reason to distance base stations from places where people live and work, as long as the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) guidelines are adhered to.
Quoting, he said the organisation states in its summary of health effects about electromagnetic fields that ‘despite extensive research, to date there is no evidence to conclude that exposure to low-level electromagnetic fields is harmful to human health’.
According to the organisation’s site, in relation to base stations and health, it states, “Considering the very low exposure levels and research results collected to date, there is no convincing scientific evidence that the weak radio frequency (RF) signals from base stations and wireless networks cause adverse health effects. Surveys in this field have shown that the RF exposures from base stations typically range from 0.002 per cent 2 per cent of the levels of international exposure guidelines.”
Kennedy stressed, “Vodacom complies with ICNIRP guidelines on levels of exposure to RF fields, including that from mobile phones and base stations. These guidelines have a large safety margin built into them. Voluntary compliance with the ICNIRP guidelines is recommended by the South African Department of Health.”
He added, “It may help to explain the need for additional base stations. South Africa is in the middle of a mobile connectivity boom. Data traffic on Vodacom’s network and across all mobile network companies is growing as more and more people use the internet and applications every day.”
Today, in excess of 20 million people across the country use mobile devices to access the internet on the Vodacom network. In comparison, there are less than one million fixed-line ADSL connections in the country. There is a proven link between increased internet access and economic growth, so by providing connectivity, the mobile industry is playing a crucial role in driving South Africa’s economy, said Kennedy.
He explained that due to the lack of fixed-line connections, this is something that cannot be addressed by other means. The capacity of each base station is limited and given the growth in data traffic, if the service provider is not able to add new sites, both the quality of calls and the speed of data connections will suffer.
In the absence of additional base stations, there is likely to be an increase in the incidence of dropped calls as the limited base stations will not be able to cater for the increased number of cellphones and data connections. It is for this reason that that Vodacom has invested in excess of R27,4 billion over a three-year period in South Africa alone to add base stations and increase capacity to carry quality calls and cater for data growth.
“We can confirm that Vodacom fulfills and obtains all the necessary approvals from the local Municipal Council for all its base station sites. As a matter of fact and business process, Vodacom never starts erecting base stations until it has obtained all the necessary approvals from the relevant Municipal Council.”
In addition to receiving approval, Kennedy said Vodacom embarks on public participation process as required by the Council where residents are notified about the intention to erect a base station site in their area.
The public participation process in accordance with the Telecommunication Mast Policy specifies the following requirements:
- Letter of notification sent to directly adjacent landowners via registered post
- Letter of notification sent to the ward councillor of the area
- No site notices are required; no newspaper or Government Gazette advertisements are required.