Perception of ‘naked’ telecom towers in Sarawak inaccurate, says minister

Datuk Julaihi Narawi

KUCHING, May 30: The perception that there are ‘naked’ telecommunication towers or towers without satellite dishes in Sarawak is inaccurate, says Sarawak Minister of Utility and Telecommunication, Datuk Julaihi Narawi.

“In principle, any tower will go through a transition period where the tower will be bare or ‘naked’ for a period between the completion of the tower and the start of installation of telecommunications equipment and can be extended due to factors such as Covid-19, unpredictable weather, and the availability of repeater towers,” he said in a statement issued today.

He elaborated that the perception or impression of ‘naked’ towers rose due to the equipment installation work during the first phase of the Sarawak Multimedia Authority Rural Telecommunication (Smart) towers (project) being affected during the pandemic.

“This situation becomes more acute because the supply of telecommunication equipment is disrupted globally. However, all these towers have started to be installed with telecommunication equipment in stages by Sarawak Digital Economy Corporation (SDEC).

“This installation work is being actively implemented at various levels where 197 towers have been equipped with telecommunications equipment. Of these, 70 towers have been operating since Hari Raya and another 55 towers are expected to be operational this coming Gawai.

“The entire first phase of the Smart tower (project) is expected to be fully operational or ‘on-air’ in the third quarter of 2023. At the same time, the second phase of the Smart tower (project), which also involves the construction of 300 towers, is being actively implemented in various stages and is expected to be operational by the first quarter of 2024,” he said.

On May 24, Padungan assemblyman Chong Chieng Jen alleged that out of the 600 telecommunication towers built by the Sarawak government, nearly 500 of them are ‘naked’.

To this, Julaihi said that the construction of 600 Smart towers comprising various heights and designs faces many challenges.

“Among the main challenges is the location of settlements in remote and scattered (over) rural areas where most do not have the ideal infrastructure and are difficult to reach, coupled with challenging topography.

“These rural areas have received less response from telecommunications service providers to provide the Internet coverage needed by the people,” he said.

He explained that the components and scope of work for the Smart tower project include, among others, identifying sites, site surveying works, soil investigation works, construction of access roads, tower erection, supplying electricity, installation of new fibre optic cables, and many more.

“All work related to the construction of a Smart tower will take at least 18 months. This means the first nine months are for the tower’s structure until it reaches the required height based on the related tower design.

“The remaining nine months are for installing, testing, and commissioning telecommunication equipment until it can be used.

“The construction period will take longer if the implementation faces issues such as permission and acquisition of land and past permits such as permission for site access and use of utilities,” he said. — DayakDaily