By Emeka Oparah
One would ordinarily have dismissed the “controversy” around 5G technology and the strange connection with COVID-19 being stridently pursued by some people as ignorant rants occasioned by the morbid fear of the rampaging Coronavirus, but with the prevailing circumstances of fear and tension, I have elected, as one familiar with the workings of the telecommunications industry, to say something.
Several years ago, I was part of a global campaign by mobile telecommunications operators to debunk a widely held belief that telecommunications base stations emitted radiations that led to Cancer. As an organization, my employers then spent a lot of money on an awareness campaign to explain that the radiations from telecommunications base stations were within the safe limits and definitely not injurious to health. It worked then and saved the operators a lot of trouble. I hope I succeed this time in helping to clarify this particular issue and stop these manipulative charlatans in their tracks. It has to be stated, though, that times like these are fertile moments for mischief-makers and conspiracy theorists to peddle their virulent wares taking undue advantage of the fears and vulnerability of the people, especially the ignorant and the illiterate. So, while we are keeping safe, we must remain vigilant and ever ready to challenge Fake News and outright lies wherever and whenever.
First, let’s discuss 5G. What is it? To understand 5G, we must first understand G.
G stands for generation. So, 5G means 5th Generation Mobile Technology. Most mobile telecommunications operations are currently running on 4G (4th Generation LTE and high-speed mobile internet). Before now, we have had 3G (voice and mobile data) and 2G (digital voice) and 1G (analog voice), of course. It must be admitted that the mobile telecommunications industry is probably one of the most innovative and fastest developing of all. Perhaps, the other will be television and aviation. Lest I digress, 5G is the next level, after 4G, and will “elevate the mobile network to not only interconnect people, but also interconnect and control machines, objects, and devices”, according to Qualcomm. Continuing, the technology research and development company says “5G will deliver new levels of performance and efficiency that will empower new user experiences and connect new industries. 5G will deliver multi-Gbps peak rates, ultra-low latency, massive capacity, and more uniform user experience.”
5G is similar to 4G but it has much better speed, low latency and has capacity to take more users. It has the capability to enhance the broadband we know today to do more, connect more people and devices and generate more revenue. It is indeed super-fast and has a much smaller cell site than what we already know. And that is no surprise as the world seems to be going smaller, especially in the world of technology. Comparably, 5G is a unified platform that is more capable than 4G.
Here’s how Qualcomm classified the advantages of 5G:
A. Enhanced Mobile Broadband: 5G will not only make our smartphones better, but it will also usher in new immersive experiences, such as VR and AR, with faster, more uniform data rates, lower latency, and cost-per-bit.
B. Mission-Critical communications: 5G will enable new services that can transform industries with ultra-reliable/available, low latency links—such as remote control of critical infrastructure, vehicles, and medical procedures.
C. Massive Internet of Things: 5G will seamlessly connect a massive number of embedded sensors in virtually everything through the ability to scale down in data rates, power and mobility to provide extremely lean/low-cost solutions.
D. A defining capability of 5G is also the design for forward compatibility—the ability to flexibly support future services that are unknown today.
In essence, this is technology that will redefine the way we communicate, entertain, shop, and generally love our lives. If you think 3G and 4G changed the aforementioned, 5G will transform them. By the way, there isn’t much more you really need as a user to know about how 5G is delivered to your device, your device or your home, except that you should get ready for new realities-devices, content, apps, lifestyle. Medical scans and other results will also be delivered much faster than ever before. I still treasure the video of the Esophagoscopy test I did 5 years ago! I know Tito and Muna, my twins will forever cherish the video of their first steps and first words! I’m keeping them safely in iCloud! Now to the conspiracies around 5G and the untenable and fallacious connections to the Coronavirus pandemic.
It is customary in times of strife and great difficulties for bad guys with a proclivity for mischief to take undue advantage of the emotions, the fears and the vulnerabilities of others to peddle all sorts of nonsense including Conspiracy Theories. I must say here that people in that business are usually clever, but they are more often than not clever by half. On the issue of the relationship between 5G and Coronavirus, nothing can be more ludicrously deceptive. The choice of this moment to change the narrative against 5G makes it all too obvious. There has been a strategic campaign against the 5G technology driven by business and diplomacy and propagated by an orchestrated campaign to discredit the innovation. How it got twisted to establish a link to Coronavirus is perhaps the most important argument to debunk the fables.
I would rather not rehash the claims and allegations by those who are behind the fallacious pretensions to intellectualism, so we do not lend further currency and even credence to them, but suffice it to say that the conspirators refer to two theories to support the claim that 5G accelerates the new coronavirus. Firstly, that 5G might suppress the immune system and, secondly, that viruses can communicate through radio waves.
Of course, neither of these theories is backed up by evidence and indeed the new coronavirus is also affecting countries and regions where no 5G is currently present. So what are we even talking about?
The most important point here is that those who should know have come out strongly to debunk them. The UK government yesterday came out with perhaps the strongest rebuttal of these figments of the fertile imagination of some self-styled scientists. “There is absolutely no credible evidence of a link between 5G and coronavirus,” the UK’s department of Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) tweeted, noting that “inaccurate information” was being spread online about 5G. The DCMS pointed to research debunking the supposed link between 5G and the coronavirus, as well as links discussing the actual cause of the infection — direct exposure to COVID-19 particles spread through physical contact, not radio waves.
Trade association Mobile UK, a group which represents all of the major UK carriers, issued a statement, calling the conspiracy theory “baseless” and “not grounded in accepted scientific theory’, and noting that “some people are also abusing our key workers and making threats to damage infrastructure.” The statement read in part: “During this challenging situation, it is concerning that certain groups are using the COVID-19 pandemic to spread false rumours and theories about the safety of 5G technologies. The mobile industry is putting 100% of its effort into ensuring that the UK remains connected and the Government has rightly recognised our workers and the mobile operators as critical to the national effort.”
Continuing, it said: “The theories that are being spread about 5G on social media are baseless and are not grounded in accepted scientific theory. Research into the safety of radio signals including 5G, which has been conducted for more than 50 years, has led to the establishment of human exposure standards including safety factors that protect against all established health risks.”
Categorically speaking, there is no evidence that 5G networks are harmful to health.
Like the previous generations of wireless network technology (4G, 3G and 2G), 5G mobile data is transmitted over radio waves. Other types of technology that use radio waves include smart meters, TV and radio transmitters, and radar and satellite communications. Most modern medical laboratory equipment use radio waves, some use nuclear radiation, but they are used within the guidelines. By the way, every medication has recommended dosage. Even too much food and drinks can become injurious to health. This is basically the same principle on which radio waves operate. There are acceptable safe limits, which are determined, specified, regulated and supervised by International Technology Regulatory bodies. That is a universal truth in international best practice. practice.
According to Kate Lewis of Full Facts, “Radio waves are a small part of a wider electromagnetic spectrum of waves, which all emit energy called electromagnetic radiation. Radio waves are found at the low-frequency end of the spectrum and—alongside microwaves, visible light and heat—only produce non-ionising radiation. This means that these waves cannot damage the DNA inside cells, which is how waves with higher frequencies (such as x-rays, gamma rays and ultraviolet light) are thought to cause cancer. To improve the speed and capacity of our wireless technology, 5G uses a higher frequency of radio waves compared to its older generations. The frequency of this new wireless technology remains very low: the maximum levels of electromagnetic radiation measured by Ofcom were about 66 times smaller than the safety limits set by international guidelines. Public Health England states that “the overall exposure is expected to remain low relative to guidelines and, as such, there should be no consequences for public health.”
Continuing, Lewis wrote: “The Daily Star quotes an “activist and philosophy lecturer at the Isle of Wight College” saying that electromagnetic radiation from 5G suppresses the immune system, helping the virus to thrive. As mentioned above, the level of radiation from 5G is far below levels of electromagnetic radiation thought to cause damage to cells in the human body. The second theory appears to be that “viruses “talk to each other” when making decisions about infecting a host”. This is not true. The Daily Star article links to a 2011 research paper which suggested that bacteria may produce electromagnetic signals to communicate with other bacteria. This hypothesis is disputed, and refers to bacteria and not viruses like the new coronavirus.
“The new coronavirus is also spreading in places without 5G networks. There are many parts of the UK that do not have 5G coverage yet, but are still affected by the virus (for example, Milton Keynes and Portsmouth). There are no 5G networks at all in Iran, yet this country has been severely affected by Covid-19 (at the time of writing, Iran had the sixth-highest number of reported Covid-19 cases and fourth-highest number of deaths of 177 countries and regions in the world).”
It is regrettable and highly unfortunate that people should prey on the vulnerability and fears of others in a critical time like this. One would even begin to wonder which generation of mobile technology facilitated the spread of the Spanish Flu aka Influenza, which ravaged the world between 1918 and 1920 and killed over 50 million people worldwide including 500,000 Nigerians! What is even more regrettable is the tendency of otherwise educated, enlightened and widely travelled even influential people to lend credence to these fallacies and flights of academic fantasies by either sharing them without commentary or propagating them as truths and facts.
In the long run we are all dead, so said the fatalistic Social Economist Thomas Keynes. We are already surrounded by televisions, refrigerators, microwaves cookers and ovens, wireless electronics, computers and all sorts of mobile devices in addition to the radiations we experience during visits to medical laboratories for one health-related investigation of the other. Why cause panic with 5G? The law of unity and conflict of opposites presupposes that everything we eat to stay alive ultimately contributes to killing us, one way or the other. It is preposterous to single out 5G technology particularly at this time. I will NOT forget that the United States is not particularly pleased that China beat her to the race for 5G, the reason Huawei Technologies has suffered tremendous (apologies to President Donald Trump) persecution in the hands of the US government. In the end, facts are facts, fiction is fiction. Science is fact not fiction. Stay woke! Be safe! Thank you!
Emeka Oparah, leading Corporate and Crisis Communication Expert, writes from Lagos.