Okim-Alobi Oyama, Brand Manager, Pan African Towers
Okim-Alobi Oyama, Brand Manager, Pan African Towers

Impact of Coronavirus on the Global Economy

The year 2020 is a year that will never be forgotten in the minds of generations all over the world as the coronavirus (COVID-19) has disrupted economic and social activities globally. According to the Cable News Network (CNN) over 40.5 Million people globally have been infected by the coronavirus with more than 1.1 Million people losing their lives to this virus as at October 20th, 2020. The highly devastating virus has disrupted economic activities, throwing the world in a global recession as more than 30 million people lost their jobs in the United States and the price of crude oil crashed to less than $20 per barrel during the lockdown. According to Statista, over $810 Billion have been lost from business travels and the stock market has also suffered a tremendous fall as the Dow Jones recorded its highest single day low, losing about 3,000 points on March 16, 2020. In an April 7, 2020 article, the BBC reported that over 81% of the global workforce of about 3.3 Billion people have had their workplace fully or partly shutdown as a result of the restrictions imposed by governments of various nations across the globe. According to the International Labour Organisation, about 1.6 Billion people in the informal economy could see their livelihoods destroyed as a result of the lockdowns globally. This is to say that not only are people in the formal sector losing their jobs due to the impact of the virus on the economy, but those who depend on the informal economy, who work day-in, day-out on the streets for their livelihood, will also be affected by the impact of COVID-19.

People queuing in drive-through food charity in the US. Photo from (CNN,2020)

In an April 16, 2020 CNN special report on “With people out of work, food banks are stepping up”, people were seen to be queuing in drive through open food vendors looking for food to eat. A lot of people can no longer feed at home and now rely on open food charities, situated on the streets to feed in order to survive. In fact, the CNN in its May 8, 2020 article titled “Record 20.5 million American jobs lost in April. Unemployment soars by 14.7%”, reported that over 20.5 million people have lost their jobs according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics.

How Will the Telecommunication Industry Fare?

Several sectors like Agriculture, Aviation, Manufacturing, Textile, Tourism, Energy, Mining, Automobile, Transportation, Finance, Construction, have all been affected by the coronavirus pandemic as people in these sectors have lost their jobs with a lot of companies and businesses in these sectors filing for bankruptcy. At a time where the global economy has been seriously hit by a devastating recession, one sector could stand the test of time and help the world connect with one another. According to a report on “COVID-19: What it means for the telecommunication industry: Pwc” by the Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC), the company stated that the telecommunication industry could benefit from the ongoing shift to remote work as this will drive demand for networking infrastructure and connectivity.

As businesses are shutting down office operations, with social distancing being recommended by the World Health Organisation as an effective strategy to reduce the spread of the COVID-19   virus, businesses have resulted to working remotely and people have turned to the internet as a way to connect with their colleagues, friends, families and co-workers. This new shift in the modus operandi of business organisations and social activities, has triggered a tremendous increase in the demand for data and voice calls in order to connect with partners, friends and family members in different parts of the world. The telecommunication sector has experienced a boost economically as telecom companies globally have recorded growth and development during this coronavirus outbreak. In Nigeria, the industry accounted for 14.3% to Nigeria’s GDP as at Q2 2020. In spite of this contribution, towercos were faced with the challenge of supply chain disruptions as it delayed roll-out of new sites. Also, even though telecommunication was captured under essential services that was allowed to move during the lockdown, it was very difficult for site Engineers and other workers to move freely to the sites which posed a lot of challenges for towercos in Nigeria.

The telecommunication industry is a very dynamic market where technology keeps evolving, metamorphosing the dynamics of how mobile networks and data services are provided to private individuals, government and organisations. In today’s global world, telecommunication drives all spheres of the economy from finance, ICT, media, agriculture, real estate, health, maritime, just to mention but a few. It is practically impossible for any sector to operate without being synced to the telecommunication industry. The industry is so integral because it helps to create the ambience whether virtual or reality for businesses to thrive. It fosters communication between individuals, organisations, groups, and the likes, from diverse parts of the world. The importance of telecommunication in the polity and scheme of things cannot be overemphasised as today’s world is practically run by the players of the telecommunication industry as they determine how information is transmitted and conveyed between parties.

The Importance of Landlords in Driving Telecommunication Services

For telecommunication services to continue to improve; tower companies (Towercos), mobile network operators (MNOs) and internet service providers (ISPs) must continue to research for new opportunities, explore innovations and must invest heavily for the future. The services of mobile operators and internet service providers are tied to the tower companies which must build the infrastructure they need. This therefore means that tower companies must continue to erect formidable infrastructures for other telcos to do business. If tower companies must erect these infrastructures, they need sites in form of spaces that will provide telcos with the infrastructure they need to provide networks and data services to the populace.

Greenfield Site
Greenfield Site

The spaces they need to build their sites are owned by landlords who prefer to lease these spaces out to towercos in exchange for annual payments depending on the location and the terms of contract. Some landlords may sell the spaces required by the towercos and get a one-off payment for such outright purchase. Towercos pay these landlords in order to erect their towers at the acquired locations. This means that towercos need the landlords for them to build their infrastructure and provide services to mobile network operators and internet service providers.

The Need to Sensitise Landlords and Property Developers to Incorporate Telecommunication when Developing Properties

As a result of the importance of the landlords to the towercos, it has become integral to sensitise landlords on why they must have telecommunication in mind when erecting buildings. For example, in highbrow urban centres, most developers choose to construct three to ten-storey buildings and even sky-scrapers. It is recommended that such property developers plan the structure to include spaces on the rooftops which could be used by towercos. Rather than build a greenfield site in such locations, it will be easier and cost effective to erect a miniature tower on the rooftop. This is because there are certain guidelines and safety nets or principles towercos must adhere to, to erect a site.

Rooftop Cell Sites

Some landlords have entertained certain myths and make-beliefs that tower sites are dangerous to the human health. As a matter of fact, some landlords believe that tower sites emit radiation that could cause cancer and brain damage and so most of them do not even see the need to consider having tower sites on their property as a result of this mythology. In fact, some of them think that they could have body fatigue, sleep/memory disorders, joint pains, hearing problems and even cardiovascular complaints, as a result of siting towers on their properties.

In reaction to these myths and fears, the American Cancer Society, has categorically stated that there is no correlation between cancer and cell towers. In fact, the radiofrequency waves (RF) cannot damage your brain or expose you to a high risk of diseases including cancer. Studies have shown that while RF waves are linked to increased tumor activity in rats, it will require extremely high exposure over a long period of time for rats to develop tumors. Mobile phones, cell towers and other sources of these waves do not emit that level of radiation that is tumorous like gamma rays, x-rays and UV rays. Just as the American Cancer Society have made these findings, the Cellular Operators Association of India and the Indian Department of Telecommunications have also confirmed the lack of inconclusive evidence to fully demonstrate health issues being triggered by mobile towers. They report that since antennas are mounted at a higher altitude atop the mobile towers, the health hazards posed by the cell towers is trivial at the ground level. And since waves are transmitted intermittently from these towers, the danger is not ubiquitous. Landlords need to know that it is safe to site towers at their residences.

With this, it is safe to have towers built around residences without the landlords having to worry about safety issues and health implications and other biohazards. As a matter of fact, one is more likely to face high levels of RF waves from their own cell phones and leaking microwaves rather than the cell tower sites. There has been no substantial evidence that establishes a valid link between RF waves and cancer, brain damage or other diseases. These myths or make-beliefs need to be meticulously debunked and landlords must be sensitised to know that it is safe to have towers built on their properties.

Cell Sites powered by Solar Panels (Clean and Green Renewable Energy)

Asides from the fear of radiation from RF waves, exposure to carbon emissions from using dirty fossil fuels like diesel to power cell sites, is another precipitating factor why landlords are scared of letting towercos erect cell towers on their properties. It is conspicuously veracious that exposure to carbon emissions is hazardous to the human health and environment. However, towercos are beginning to become innovative in seeking alternative green sources to power their cell sites. These days, towercos are exploring alternative clean green energy. They are now using solar panels to convert sunlight into electrical energy in order to power cell sites. Pan African Towers is already exploring this alternative energy sources as the company entered into a $20 Million deal with First Watt Renewables, a Canadian firm to generate clean green energy to power its sites using solar panels. These panels do not emit carbon or any greenhouse gas that will have a negative effect on the environment. Also, these are silent and do not make noise which means landlords can still enjoy the benefit of leasing out their properties to towercos and not get exposed to noise pollution or air pollution since these alternative green energy sources are clean, seamless and environmentally friendly. Landlords have absolutely nothing to worry about when towercos approach them for a lease. In fact, landlords have to become proactive when developing their properties and erecting buildings. They should always think ahead by making provisions for towercos to set up their cell sites, so they make it easy for the engineers to conform with the safety standards and erect cell structures. If landlords are sensitised enough about how safe it is to erect tower infrastructures on their properties, they will begin to plan ahead in erecting future buildings to accommodate the installations of tower sites either on rooftops or on the ground. If they do this, it makes it easy for the Engineers to install these towers without facing much encumbrances which could impede high quality service delivery.

The Way Forward

The world is indeed an evolving ecosystem where people are connected to people, people connected to their environments and people connected to systems. Everyone depends on the services the other person can provide to deliver an improved service. There is no denying that with the inception of Global Systems for Mobile communication (GSM), life has become quite interesting as it has created the perfect ambience and environment for other systems to flourish. Landlords need better network to make use of their mobile phones to communicate with friends, family, business associates and the likes. They need data to keep in touch with the contemporary happenings in their environment and the global world. How can they use this data if towercos do not erect good cell towers to help MNOs and ISPs provide the connectivity they need for them to transact businesses and communicate with their folks? So, they need the towercos just as towercos need them too because without these towers, there will be no network for them to use in their day to day activities.

Therefore, there is an urgent need to start sensitising landlords on the need to consider the telecommunication sector in mind when erecting their building structures. A programme must be started immediately to engage these landlords so there will be a paradigm shift in their perception about erecting towers on their properties. The best way to trigger this paradigm shift in their perception, is to persistently engage them and sensitise them to know that the myths, fears and beliefs they have about cell sites being hazardous to their health if sited on their properties are fallacious and just a mere hoax. Sensitising landlords about thinking telecommunication when developing properties, could go a very long way to positively metamorphosing the telecommunication industry especially in Africa.

Telecom Connectivity Drives Every Sphere of the Economy

With COVID-19 in our immediate environment, then landlords must know that this virus has had tremendous impact on the economy and has slowed down economic activities, thereby causing millions of people to lose their jobs, businesses, sense of livelihood and the sources of income. Landlords need to realise that telecom will continue to drive healthcare, education, research, finance, insurance, energy and several sectors of the economy. The future of the economy and the world lies in the ability of telecom companies to accelerate growth and business continuity by adapting to the growing needs of corporations and people in the world. This is the era of big data, and broadband connectivity is needed to bridge the digital infrastructure gap globally. Telecom companies must reposition themselves to meet the increasing demand in voice and video data and so must expand their services to every rural and urban communities in the world. Telecom companies will need towercos to build more sites for them to fill the gap. Therefore, Landlords must be abreast of the ongoing demands and telecom infrastructural needs to provide the broadband connectivity and data to the global economy. They must always think telecommunication when developing their structures and should know that these structures are needed and are also safe for the environment.