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Mobile Phone Masts Go Undercover

Rafael Heiling (dre)June 14, 2004

European companies are finding ingenious ways to disguise ugly, but necessary, mobile phone antenna masts. Customers can pick everything from trees to crucifixes.

Antenna masts disguised as crucifixes are too much for some.Image: dpa

Those willing to set up mobile phone antenna masts on their property can get good money for their cooperation -- along with grief from their neighbors.

The masts are typically unwanted in neighborhoods, either because of fears that they can damage your health or due to their ugly appearance. There's an answer to that last objection, simply dress the masts up as trees, chimneys, or even crucifixes.

"Different authorities always request ways to make the masts look nicer," said Josef Skuk, manager of the Austrian company Industrieanlageabau. So Skuk's company started disguising their masts to look like full-grown trees.

"Pine needle or trees with leaves, we have both on offer," Skuk said.

Als Baum getarnter Sendemast
Is it a tree, is it a mast?Image: Kaal Mastenfabrik

A growing number of companies across Europe provide similar services. Kaal in Holland and the British company, Francis & Lewis, offer trees that can be "built in a day" and look real, even down to the bark.

The starting price for Skuk's trees is around €25,000 ($30,200). But if the client wants to avoid foliage, the company also produces chimney masts and crucifixes for churches.

Jesus on the antenna

The latter crosses the line for some congregations, who are not willing to see Christ on a cross, with antennae sticking out here and there. The mayor of Schwabhausen, in deeply Catholic Bavaria, has come out against such an antenna in his village church. Mobile phone companies are hesitant as well.

"The churches actually don't like it so much," said Susanne Satzer-Spree, a Vodafone spokeswoman.

However, some houses of worship have managed to make their masts part of their identity.

"Everyone recognizes the church now," said Johannes de Fallois, pastor at a church in Neuburg.

Mobile phone companies are careful to emphasize that the camouflage is not supposed to actually hide mast construction from community residents, but Hans Ultich-Raithel of Munich's Environmental Institute is not too sure.

"Mobile phone masts are hidden often in chimneys because of protests from residents," he said.