With the rollout of 5G telecom technology threatening to unleash a new wave of tower building in the Sultanate, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) is weighing regulation to ensure, among other things, that new towers are aesthetically appealing in their design, particularly when constructed in scenic and culturally significant areas.
The measure is part of a slate of guidelines set out in draft regulations on Communications Towers published recently by the Authority to elicit feedback from industry stakeholders as well as the general public before they are formally adopted into law.
To date, there are an estimated 3,200 3G, 4G and 5G mobile network sites distributed across the length and breadth of the country – a figure that is set to grow when a third mobile operator commences operations, likely before the end of this year.
The proliferation of telecom towers in recent years, the Authority noted, has necessitated the adoption of a framework that regulates the construction of new towers.
Besides mandating telecom licensees to obtain approval before constructing new towers, the proposed regulations require that new installations should be designed in “accordance with the aesthetic standards and specifications of the area, in line with the elements of the environment surroundings as much as possible, such as using colour and architectural styles that minimise the visual impact on the public”.
Additionally, hardware and other equipment installed on the towers should be suitably concealed, it noted.
The move, say experts, will help reduce the potential for what is described as ‘visual pollution’ or ‘visual blight’ – the presence of towers – whether electrical, microwave, radio or other communications structures marring a scenic setting or historical structures or culturally sensitive locations.
Consequently, licensees will be required to adopt aesthetically appealing designs when installing towers in localities with some environmental or cultural significance.
Furthermore, to reduce the wanton construction of new towers, the draft regulations advocate the concept of shareable towers with the original licensee encouraged to lease space and capacity to other licensees on a tenancy basis.
Accordingly, applicants for permission to set up new towers will have to prove that there are no other towers in a given area that they can piggyback on.
Similarly, licensees permitted to construct new towers must set aside enough space to accommodate the requirements of other licensees on a tenancy basis.
Significantly, telecom towers are barred from displaying any advertising materials without the approval of the Authority.
The deadline for submission of feedback on the proposed regulations is November 30, 2021.
(Picture for illustration only)