The destruction of a mobile phone mast in the West Midlands has led to concern that campaigners against mobile phone base stations are increasingly taking matters into their own hands, and could hamper the rollout of third-generation (3G) mobile services.
The base station, at Wishaw near Sutton Coldfield, was pulled down in the early hours of 6 November. It has been sited there for a decade, and people living nearby blame it on a number of cases of serious illnesses in the area.
Since the destruction of the mast, which police are said to be treating as an act of vandalism, local residents have maintained a vigil at the site to prevent a replacement base station being built.
The attack in Wishaw occurred around the time of another incident in Dudley when mobile network equipment was set alight, and comes just months after one of Hutchison 3G's masts was pulled down in Tiverton, Devon. At least two further masts have also been destroyed in Northern Ireland. These actions appear to indicate a trend of direct action by communities who fear that mobile phone masts are a health threat.
Thousands of additional mobile masts are being built across Britain to support 3G networks, and this rollout is thought to be responsible for a surge in the number of mobile protest groups now in existence. But according to the mobile phone industry, these attacks won't have a major effect on the rollout of new data services -- but could cause serious damage to those responsible.
"Pulling down a mobile phone mast is dangerous, both to the perpetrators and people living nearby," said a spokesperson for the Mobile Operators Association (MOA), which represents Vodafone, Orange, T-mobile, O2 and Hutchison.
These five all operators all own 3G licences, which means they must have built 3G networks that cover at least 80 percent of the population by 2007. According to the MOA, erecting the extra masts needed shouldn't be a big problem.
"The operators estimated they will need a total of 48,000 mobile phone masts to hit the 2007 coverage requirement, and they have 40,000 at the moment," the MOA spokesperson explained. "The vast majority of mobile phone masts are built with no problems at all, and there is plenty of opportunity for people to make their views felt during the planning application process".
Back in 2001, the UK government commissioned an investigation into the possible health dangers of mobile phone masts. This inquiry concluded there was no evidence of a problem, but recommended a precautionary approach to the issue.