INWIT talks up wooden telco towers but there are drawbacks

Italian infrastructure company INWIT has installed a wooden mobile tower in northern Italy to be more sustainable, but we’re unlikely to see masses of them dotting our skylines any time soon.

The towers operator, jointly controlled by TIM and Vodafone, announced it has completed construction of a telecoms tower made of glued, laminated timber, rather than steel. It’s located to the north east of Milan, adjacent to a sizeable park and a major road.

Using a wooden tower here serves two purposes, the firm explained: it forms part of plans to redevelop the park as a wildlife corridor and represents the best choice of material for the environment and to enable the tower to be integrated into the landscape. It will replace an existing steel tower in the area, which INWIT plans to dismantle.

But we cannot take this as a sign that INWIT, or indeed any other tower operator, will set about pulling down existing steel towers and replacing them with timber.

Wood is clearly a sound environmental choice; even laminated timber is sustainable and can be reused and recycled. But it’s likely to be more expensive than steel. So even though telecoms operators have sustainability high on their agendas, their wallets will also come into play when it comes to building materials. We may see some showcase wooden towers in key areas, like INWIT’s Milan installation, but the usual steel towers are going nowhere.

Furthermore, given the activities of the past couple of years around telecoms towers, you have to look to steel as being more flame-retardant.

As telecoms body ETNO pointed out recently, since the arrival of Covid-19 in Europe at the start of 2020 there have been more than 288 arson attacks against mobile antennas, triggered by the online spread of reports of links between the disease and 5G technology, as well as general 5G health fears.

Presumably the wood used in the tower is not highly flammable, but it’s got to be more tempting for a 5G doom monger with arsonist tendencies than the steel equivalent.

That’s probably a fairly minor point of consideration, admittedly. For telecoms operators, being seen to be delivering on their oft-touted sustainability goals is a big deal at present, and wooden telecoms towers can play a part in that.

“Our choice aims to be responsible and sustainable,” said INWIT chief executive Giovanni Ferigo.

“With an increasingly more connected future on the horizon, more towers will be needed to support telecoms operators. It is, therefore, our duty to come up with alternative materials that reduce the environmental impact throughout the life cycle of the infrastructure and that are more harmonious with the landscape and urban surroundings,” Ferigo said. All great points, and we look forward to seeing what other materials telecoms operators turn to for infrastructure in the coming years.

“We are convinced that glued laminated timber is an excellent choice in this regard, to create an environment that is increasingly more connected, sustainable and circular,” he concluded.

We will watch with interest to see how many more wooden towers appear, in Italy and elsewhere.

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