The telecommunications industry is a thriving industry in Nigeria. The industry owes its steady success to the available market. Following the deregulation of the telecommunications industry in 1992, private operators were permitted to provide services. However, the then Babangida administration lacked the will to fully implement the liberation policy. Moreso, there was low private participation as policy and regulatory climate was unpredictable and investment risk high due to presence of military in power. Thus, less was accomplished in this regard before 1999.
The privatization and deregulation policy took a new dimension under the civil rule in 1999, it therefore became clear that there was need for a principal legislation and a regulatory body overseeing the telecommunications industry. The National Assembly, in a bid to ensure the effective functioning of the industry, enacted the Nigerian Commissions Act, 2003 (hereinafter referred to as the NCA, 2003). The Act in Section 3, establishes and empowers the Nigerian Communications Commission (hereinafter referred to as NCC) to see to the compliance with its provisions.
It is against this backdrop that the NCC made and published a number of guidelines and regulations, one of which is the Guideline on Technical Specifications for the Installation of Telecommunications Masts and Towers enacted and published on 9th of April, 2009. It is the 2009 Guidelines that chiefly governs this topic: ‘Technical and Regulatory Specifications for Base Transceiver Station (BTS) Installations in Nigeria’. The National Environmental (Standards for Telecommunications and Broadcast Facilities) Regulations, 2011 is also fundamental to this discourse.
This article aims at providing a detailed insightful and enlightening exposition of the technical and regulatory specifications for BTS installations in Nigeria with reference to the above-mentioned legislation.
What is a Base Transceiver Station?
Wikipedia defines ‘Base Transceiver Station’ as “…the transmission of information by various types of technologies over wire, radio, optical, or other electromagnetic systems.” In addition, the University of Missouri-St. Louis defines it as “the means of electronic transmission of information over distances.” These two definitions point out that it has to do with the transmission of information through electromagnetic systems over a distance. It therefore follows that there are certain devices and equipment that enable the transfer of electronic information over a distance, whether nationally, internationally or inter-continentally. These equipment are called Base Transceiver Stations (BTS).
As aforementioned, central to telecommunications is the Base Transceiver Station (herein after referred to as BTS) which must be installed to enable operations. The BTS is indispensable because it is the hub for the transfer and reception of electronic information. It is therefore necessary that there are technical and regulatory specifications put in place for the installation of BTS in Nigeria to avoid harm to Nigerians and to the environment (in regard to the mandate of Section 20 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended). The National Assembly in recognition of this mandate and of the need to generally regulate the telecommunications industry, enacted the Nigerian Communications Act on August 19th, 2003, which established and empowered the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to ensure conformity with its provisions and to make subsidiary legislation as an addendum to the Act.
The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) saddled with the responsibility of ensuring conformity with the Act and making secondary legislation (pursuant to its authority in Section 70 of the NCA, 2003) published laws on telecommunications. One of these is the Guidelines on the Technical Specifications for the Installation of Telecommunications Masts and Towers, 2009. The scope of the guideline ranges from: The General Introduction; Design and Construction; Specifications; Maintenance and testing; Environment; Applications; and General guidelines. This scope provides for all that needed for installation of the BTS.
The general introduction opens with an instruction:
“These guidelines provide standards to be adhered to by telecommunications services providers/operators, designers, fabricators and installers of telecommunications towers towards ensuring environmental safety and sound engineering practices.”
It therefore mandates all telecommunications services providers/operators to adhere to its provisions. Failure to do constitutes an offence which is punishable with a fine or with imprisonment or both.
The 2009 Guidelines recognizes the different types of masts and towers and its constituents. The types of towers and masts recognized were provided for in Chapter Two. It provides for only four types and anything outside these four is illegal and will not be granted approval by the NCC. The four types are: monopole towers or post masts, guyed towers, self-supporting towers and roof mounts. Therefore, any telecommunications services providers/operators that intend to construct and install a mast or tower is allowed to construct and install only these four. The general features of towers were also described.
Siting of towers and masts
Focusing on the technical aspect of the installation of BTS, the Guidelines in Clause three provides for the siting of towers and masts. Clause 3(1) recognizes the importance of collocation and infrastructure sharing and encourages it where it is possible. It provides that all masts and towers sited in cities must conform to the guidelines and standards of the Commission. It further provides that all sites within residential areas must conform to the setback stipulated in the Guidelines under Subsection 5 and Clause 9(9) to mitigate the effect of heat, smoke and noise pollution arising from generating sets. As earlier mentioned, it is because of the mandate of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that there is a need to ensure that the activities of the telecommunications industry do not cause harm to the environment.
The Guidelines further provides that telecommunications towers above 25 meters in height would not be permitted within districts delineated as residential. However, a mast in excess of 25 meters in height in a residential area will be permitted if it is placed at a minimum setback of 5 meters distance of the nearest dwelling property, excluding the fence. But prior permission must be obtained from the NCC. It is pertinent to note that the minimum setback of the National Environmental (Standards for Telecommunications and Broadcast Facilities) Regulations of 2011 conflicts with the aforementioned setback permitted by the NCC 2009 Guidelines.
The NESREA’s 2011 regulations in Regulation 5(3) opens with a caveat:
“Without prejudice to the Guidelines on Technical Specifications for the installation of Telecommunications Masts and Towers issued by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and any relevant Guidelines or Code issued by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) … all new facilities shall have a minimum setback of ten (10) meters from the perimeter wall (fence) of residential/business premises, schools and hospitals to the base of the mast/tower”.
Additionally, where there is no perimeter wall (fence), the minimum setback of twelve (12) meters from the wall of residential business, premises, schools and hospitals to the base of the mast/tower.
This indicates the remarkable difference between what is permitted by the NCC and the NESREA. The minimum setback as permitted by the NCC and the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) was also an issue for determination in HELIOS TOWERS LTD v. ISIAKA BELLO. This difference also led to squabbles between the two governmental bodies, which came to a head in 2012 in the Efab Estate case. The fact of this case is MTN built a mast in Efab Estate, Abuja, the residents in the area complained that the masts was too close to the residential buildings, thereby causing harm to them due to close, direct contact. NESREA visited the site and sealed it, claiming that the distance between the mast and the residential buildings (a pharmacy and a bar) was 1.2 meters, which falls short of the requirement by the National Environmental (Standards for Telecommunications and Broadcast Facilities) Regulations of 2011. It therefore sealed the site. The NCC upon hearing of the unilateral sealing of the site went there and measured the distance from the mast to the next residential building and found for itself that the distance was 5.6 meters and therefore reopened the site. Subsequently, the NESREA sealed the site. In a bid to resolve this issue, both bodies met in 2014 (called the 2014 Resolution) and agreed that a minimum of 10 meters setback is required and where 10 meters cannot be achieved, 7.5 meters will be used [after efforts have been made to find another site].
Design and construction
The differences we notice in masts and towers are not arbitrary, they are in keeping with the law. For example, it may have been observed that some masts and towers have red and white paint, while others have an orange and white paint, and that some masts or towers have fixed red light, while others have a flashing red light. The differences are provided for in the 2009 Guidelines. These two specifications are provided for in Clause 4(3) and (4) respectively.
Clause 4(3)(a) provides that all skeleton type structures must be painted to International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) stipulations on obstruction painting. This is to ensure aviation safety and to prevent endangering lives and property. The ICAO stipulates that:
- For structures up to 212 meters, the structure shall be given seven equal bands of red and white paint or orange and white paint.
- For structures above 212 meters, nine bands of paint in altering red and white or red and orange.
- In all cases the top and bottom of mast and tower must be painted red or orange.
- Paint shall be nongloss finish (matt).
Clause 4(4) of the Guidelines provides for the specification for obstruction lighting. Paragraph (a) provides that all mast and tower structures in Nigeria must conform strictly to ICAO/ Nigerian Airspace Management Authority (NAMA) guidelines with respect to obstruction lighting of tall structures. Paragraph (b) provides for light intensity and colour specifications. It provides that a tower below 45m`s light intensity should not be below 10 candelas and that the light colour should be red and fixed. While a tower between 45 and 150m`s light intensity should not be below 1600 candelas and that the light colour must be red and flashing. Also, masts and towers whose height is greater than 150m, should have a light intensity between 4,000 and 20,000 candelas and their light colour should be white flashing. This explains why some of the masts have a fixed red light and others have a flashing red light. Although, it is rare to see a flashing white light, it is for masts in excess of 150 meters.
Earthing and lightning protection of towers and masts
No matter how heavily it rains, if telecommunications services providers/operators that intend to build a mast and tower strictly follow the provision for earthing and lightning protection of towers and masts, then the masts and towers will not be endangered. Neither will it endanger the lives and properties around it. The Guidelines stipulates that earthing and lightning protection must be provided in all completed towers sites to protect equipment from damage and personnel from harm which may result from excessive voltages during a lightning strike. There is also a provision on protective grounding.
Safety devices for towers and masts
The Guidelines also provide for safety devices installation on every tower above the height of 45 meters.  Safety devices comprise the following: fall arrest systems, climbing ladders or step bolts, guard rails, work/test platforms, rest platforms and anti-climb system. This is to ensure safety for the riggers.
Additionally, Chapter Five provides for environmental requirements as it relates to the height, which should not exceed 150 meters, however a tower exceeding 150 meters in height may be approved by the Commission if it is satisfied that the increased height of the tower: will not be detrimental to public health, safety or general welfare or will not have negative effect on the neighbourhood; and is in conformity with the plan of the particular area and the general plan of the community. It must not also impair compliance with any other applicable laws or guidelines.
It further provides for space requirements, stipulating that every tower site shall be served by a parking/loading space. In addition, any tower site lying 50 meters or less from a paved road shall be paved. Also, where a tower site is more than 50 meters from a paved road, hard-surfacing of the parking/loading spaces and driveways shall not be required for those portions of the site lying more than 50 meters from any paved road.
There is also provisions for the screening of telecommunications masts and towers; fencing, mandating that security fencing, where installed, shall be a wrought iron, barbed wire, or steel chain link fence with evergreen hedge or a masonry wall not less than 1.8 meters in height.
Setbacks specifications are also stipulated; it provides that all towers as well as guys and guys anchors shall be located within the build-able area of the property and not within the front, rear, or side building setbacks. Also, all towers in excess of 150 meters in height shall be set back by a minimum of 50 meters from the right-of-way of all controlled access, federal and state roadways designated as freeways, in order to provide unobstructed flight paths for helicopters. Whereas, in all other cases where the height is below 150 meters, the distance for setbacks shall be: 5 meters from any dwelling building excluding the fence; the distance specified as a potential hazard area by the designer of the structure; and guy wire anchors and accessory structures shall not encroach into the mandatory setbacks listed above.
Lighting is also provided for in the 2009 Guidelines. All towers shall be illuminated as required by NAMA and/or ICAO, no signals, lights, or illumination of any kind shall be permitted on or directed towards any tower unless as required by the NAMA or any other appropriate public authority; and the security lightning around the base of a tower must be shielded so that no light is directed towards adjacent properties or rights-of-way. Also, obstruction lighting must be mounted as it is necessary to ensure that an obstruction to air navigation remains visible at a range sufficient to permit a pilot to take appropriate action in order to avoid the obstruction. There is also provisions for tower to tower spacing which shall be one kilometer for towers in excess of 55 meters of height; In addition, nearness to power lines is vehemently discouraged; alternative mounting structures 30 meters or less in height may be permitted in residential areas and those in excess of 30 meters in height may be permitted in non-residential areas.
The antenna mounts are focal in BTS installation and it is specified that they must have structural integrity so as to guarantee public safety and strict specifications are given for whip and panel antenna mounts and dish antenna mounting standards
Having discussed extensively on the technical specification for the installation of Base Transceiver Station, it is vital to therefore discuss the regulatory specifications for the installation of BTS.
Chapter six provides for this. Clause 10 stipulates the procedure for the application to the Commission for permits to build a BTS. Sub (1) of Clause 10 provides that any person erecting a telecommunications mast or tower whose height exceeds 20 meters shall be required to obtain a permit from the Nigerian Communications Commission before such mast or tower is erected. Also, certain documents must accompany the application, viz.: a site plan showing the location of the proposed structure; evidence of ownership of the property or a written consent of the owner; and the geographical coordinates of the proposed location and that of the nearest airport, heliport or helipad (this is because a mast or tower must not be within 15km of an airport, unless, licensed by NAMA) or in the alternative, a permit issued by the NAMA for the erection of the structure in the proposed location. Also, a design of the structure showing its effective height, foundation, guys (where used) [this is the lines that supports the tower, if it cannot stand on its own], members, ladders, rest and work platforms, earthing, lightning protection and aviation lighting. In addition, a detailed information on the software package used in the design to enable easy verification of the fidelity of the design of the structure.
Further, the guideline in Clause 11 provides for license. It states that it is not lawful for a person to engage in the business of installation of telecommunication mast and towers without a valid license issued by the Commission. Any purported act of installation by an unlicensed person/body is criminal and is liable to be punished. The Guidelines provide that any company that applies for a mast or tower certification/licence shall satisfy the commission that it has: enough capital equipment to enable it deliver safe and quality fabrication (packer, excavators, bull dozer, forklift, long boom arm crane and concrete vibrator and poker); in it employment, qualified and licensed fabricators; a good workmen`s compensation insurance policy from a reputable insurance company; a good third party accident insurance policy; a viable health, safety and environment policy.
Further, prior to the installation of a tower, mast and antenna support structure on any building or roof, the Commission shall be provided with a structural engineer`s certification that the structure will support and not be adversely affected by the proposed mast, tower, antenna and associated equipment.
The Guidelines also make provision for general matters in chapter seven. Some of which pertains to the installation of the BTS and they are: the terrain; basic wind speed; tolerable radiation level; and permissible generator setback, sound level, smoke and vibration, stipulating that all generators within a base station must be sited 5 meters away from all demised properties excluding the fence, also all generating sets must be sound proof and installed on good shock absorbers so as to reduce vibrations to the barest minimum. The exhaust of all generating sets must not be directed towards any demised property.
The National Environmental (Standards for Telecommunications and Broadcast Facilities) Regulations, 2011
The installation of the BTS is simultaneously regulated by the National Environmental (Standards for Telecommunications and Broadcast Facilities) Regulations, 2011 specifically in Regulation five. It begins with a caveat:
“Notwithstanding the provisions in any other Regulations or Guidelines on Environmental Requirements for siting and installation of telecommunications/broadcast base stations, masts and towers…”
It provides that all new telecommunications…base stations and masts/towers shall be erected and operated in compliance with the provisions of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Act, Cap. E12, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, in addition to the submission of site-specific Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to the Agency.
It further provides that the siting and installation of base stations and masts/towers shall: not be detrimental to environmental protection, public health, safety or general welfare; shall not have any negative effect on the host and immediate transit neighbourhood; be in conformity with the plan of the particular area and the general plan of the host and immediate transit neighbourhood; have an Environment Compliance Signage (ECS) issued by the Agency; comply with all extant natural resources conservation laws, regulations and guidelines with regard to siting of facilities near any protected and ecologically sensitive areas such as National Parks, Forests and Games Reserves, Wildlife Sanctuaries and Corridors, Biosphere Reserves as well as sensitive Wetlands and Watersheds; adopt stealth and/or camouflage design of masts and towers to reduce their visual impacts in designated areas and other places as may be determined by NESREA, from time to time; and not violate compliance with any other applicable laws, regulations or guidelines issued by relevant authorities in Nigeria.
In addition, all new facilities shall: primarily be located in industrial, commercial and business areas; have a minimum setback of ten (10) meters from the wall of residential/business premises, schools and hospitals to the base of the of the mast/tower; and where there is no perimeter wall(fence), have a minimum of twelve meters from the wall of residential/business premises, schools and hospitals to the base of the mast/tower. Further, all new facilities shall not be intrusive by way of excessive height or clustered structure, design and arrangement.
Any person who violates the provisions of Regulation five commits an offence and shall on conviction be liable to a fine not exceeding #5,000,000 (Five Million Naira) or imprisonment for a term of 5 (five) years or to both such fine and imprisonment and in additional fine of #50,000,000 (Fifty Thousand Naira) for every day the offence subsists. Also, any person found guilty shall in addition to the sanction, clean up and remediate the polluted environment.
In light of these ample laws and examples cited to elucidate the technical and regulatory specifications for the installation of BTS in Nigeria, it is vital to note that an infraction of these laws constitute a crime which is liable to punishment and may in extreme cases, lead to the suspension and revocation of licence by the Nigerian Communications Commission. It is hereby submitted that to be a holder of a licence for installation of BTS and to ensure continuous possession of such licence, all the laws cited above must be conformed to.
 Nigeria Communication Decree No.75 of 1992
https://www.globalacademicgroup.com/journals/the%20nigerian%20academic%20forum/Ologunde60.pdf (accessed on March 30, 2022)
 Chapter one of the 2009 guidelines
 Chapter two of the 2009 guidelines
 Chapter three of the 2009 guidelines
 Chapter four of the 2009 guidelines
 Chapter five of the 2009 guidelines
 Chapter six of the 2009 guidelines
 Chapter seven of the 2009 guidelines
 Clause 1(1) of the 2009 guidelines
 Clause 1(2) of the 2009 guidelines
 Clause 3(2) of the 2009 guidelines
 Clause 3(3) of the 2009 guidelines
 Clause 3(4) of the 2009 guidelines
 Clause 3(5) of the 2009 guidelines
 Regulation 5(3) of the 2011 Regulation
 Regulation 5(4)(b) of the 2011 Regulation
 Regulation 5(4)(c) of the 2011 Regulation
 Clause 4(3)(a)(i) of the 2009 Guidelines
 Clause 5(2)(a) of the 2009 Guidelines
 Clause 5(5) of the 2009 Guidelines
 Clause 6(1) of the 2009 Guidelines
 Clause 9(1) of the 2009 Guidelines
 Clause 9(2) of the 2009 Guidelines
 Clause 9(3) of the 2009 Guidelines
 Clause 9(8) of the 2009 Guidelines
 Clause 9(9) of the 2009 Guidelines
 Clause 9(11) of the 2009 Guidelines
 Clause 9(12) of the 2009 Guidelines
 Clause 9(13) of the 2009 Guidelines
 Clause 9(14) of the 2009 Guidelines
 Clause 9(15) of the 2009 Guidelines
 Clause 9(16) of the 2009 Guidelines
 Clause 11(2) of the 2009 Guidelines
 Clause 11(1) of the 2009 Guidelines
 Clause 12(1) of the 2009 Guidelines
 Clause 13(1) of the 2009 Guidelines
 Clause 13(2) of the 2009 Guidelines
 Clause 13(5) of the 2009 Guidelines
 Clause 13(6) of the 2009 Guidelines
 Regulation 5(4)(1) of the 2011 Regulation
 Regulation 5(1)(a) of the 2011 Regulation
 Regulation 5(3)(a-g) of the 2011 Regulation
 Regulation 5(4) of the 2011 Regulation
 Regulation 11(2)(3) of the 2011 Regulation
- Nigerian Communications Act, 2003
2.https://www.globalacademicgroup.com/journals/the%20nigerian%20academic%20forum/Ologunde60.pdf (accessed on March 30, 2022)
- The University of Missouri-St. Louis education page
- The Nigerian Communications Commission Guidelines on Technical Specifications for the Installation of Telecommunications Masts and Towers, 2009
- The National Environmental (Standards for Telecommunications and Broadcast Facilities) Regulations, 2011