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5G network technology: Sifting myth from reality

By Adeyemi Adepetun
26 April 2020   |   4:32 am
Technology has radically redefined human existence and in the process broken down barriers posed by distance, as well as improve every facet of human endeavour, ranging from medicine...

Technology has radically redefined human existence and in the process broken down barriers posed by distance, as well as improve every facet of human endeavour, ranging from medicine, aeronautics, maritime, etc. Like other inventions, technology keeps evolving. From the first generation (1G) of wireless communications technologies supporting cellular data networks, the country is on the verge of taking delivery of 5G. However, the introduction of 5G network technology in some parts of the world, and its inevitability in the country has attracted immense controversy, ADEYEMI ADEPETUN, reports.

When Joseph Adegbolu’s mobile phone rang, he hastily picked it up without bothering to confirm the identity of the caller was on display. Upon engaging with the device, the voice at the other end was a familiar one- his mother.

Obviously distressed, she yelled: “Joseph, tell the telecommunication firm that erected that mast that is about 40 metres away from our house to come and remove it. We heard it’s killing people, and has killed many people in China.”

Joseph’s mom is but one of the millions across the globe that are terrified and influenced by some informed and less informed commentaries about the evil they say the Fifth Generation of cellular technology, otherwise known as 5G technology represents.

This high level of apprehension and uncertainty is daily sending jitters down spines in different parts of the globe, with numerous conspiracy theories flying everywhere. From China to the United Kingdom, the United States to Belgium, Canada to South Africa, the story has been the same.

It is this conspiracy theories that have led to the destruction of several 5G masts, especially in China, where the technology has been linked to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), which has killed over 190, 000 people across the globe.

The belief in several quarters has been that 5G technology comes with very hazardous electromagnetic radiation, which is extremely dangerous to human health, and which has resulted in the death of many people across the world.

These wild claims about 5G are not new. The technology has outsized political importance because it may provide countries with a competitive edge, with faster wireless speeds enabling more rapid development of driverless cars, and other innovations, especially as countries compete keenly in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) era.

Internet trolls have remained on 5G and its political implications to sow fear, leading to protests in some countries, including the United States. Recently, Russians have been pushing claims that 5G signals were linked to brain cancer, infertility, autism, heart tumors, and Alzheimer’s disease, all of which lack scientific support.

Conversely, 5G is the next great leap in speed for wireless devices. This speed includes both the rate at which mobile users can download data to their devices, and the latency, or lag that they experience between sending and receiving information.

The fifth Generation aims to deliver data rates that are 10 to 100 times faster than the current 4G network, and users should expect to see download speeds on the order of gigabits per second (Gb/s), much greater than the tens of megabits per second (Mb/s) speeds of 4G.

Benefits Associated With 5G Network Technology
The 5G network technology has the potential to benefit everything from entertainment and gaming, to education and public safety. Over time, 5G is expected to deliver faster download speeds, real-time responses, and enhanced connectivity, giving businesses and consumers the potential to experience innovative technologies.

Apart from requiring high data rates, emerging technologies that interact with the user’s environment like augmented reality or self-driving cars will also require extremely low latency. For that reason, the goal of 5G is to achieve latencies below the 1-millisecond mark. Mobile devices will be able to send and receive information in less than one-thousandth of a second, appearing instantaneous to the user. To accomplish these speeds, the rollout of 5G requires new technology and infrastructure.

A lot of engineers believe that considering the power and control at the disposal of any country with the expertise to develop this network, the temptation to de-market it by other world powers is high. This may be one of the reasons why a network, which runs on a spectrum that is considered by experts as safe, is being linked to high radiation and COVID-19.

Meanwhile, scientists are working hard to ensure that these conspiracy theories are not allowed to stand as they can disrupt world development.

How Does The 5G Technology Work?
According to, 5G networks can be built in different ways from multiple bands of wavelength spectrum: low-band, mid-band, and high-band.

High-band millimetre wave frequencies have greater bandwidth available to carry more data in dense urban areas, but require cell sites to be close, and have limited penetration in buildings. Mid-band balances speed and range, providing broader coverage than high-band. And it is less impacted by buildings. However, much of its bandwidth is already in use, so there’s not a lot available for 5G growth. Low-band like the powerful 600MHz spectrum travels farther than other bands – over hundreds of square miles – and can pass through more obstacles, providing a better, more reliable signal both indoors and outdoors.

With 5G, higher amounts of data can be transmitted more efficiently than 4G LTE. That means stronger network reliability, faster downloads, and support for more connected devices than ever before. It is an advancement of 4G technology.

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the body in charge of global communication had planned that 2020 will be the year for the commercial launch of the technology after which its global standardisation would have been perfected.

Deployment Threatened By Conspiracy Theories
While 5G has been projected to have the power to enable the new normal in terms of superhighway transmissions, some theories have enveloped the globe about the alleged hazardous nature of this technology, which some claim can be devastating to human health. Besides, there are claims that 5G is the cause of COVID-19, and that the lockdown in several parts of the world translates to a government cover-up.

It was also claimed that the coronavirus can communicate through the radio airwaves and that 5G can kill birds and destroy plants among others.

Specifically, these claims have been bouncing around the industry for years, even ahead of the 5G technology being validated in lab trials. This even dates back to the 1990s, when mobile phone usage was incredibly limited, with critics claiming the 2G airwaves could cause cancer.

Although these rumours have been thrashed in most parts of the world, the emergence of 5G seems to have reopened these health claims. Finding a source is very difficult, but a lot of posts on social media seem to fan the flames of these fanatics. noted that a picture of an engineer climbing a telecoms mast in a hazmat suit in the United Kingdom was used as justification for these claims, though it was clear that the individual was using hazardous chemicals to clean the equipment. These illusions of proof help to paint the picture, as the blind following the blind, tend to ignore the thousands of images of healthy engineers installing or repairing telecoms equipment without such protective equipment on.

The idea that the airwaves used in mobile communications can be detrimental to health is reinforced by the idea of ionising and non-ionising radiation. Telecoms equipment does emit radiation, but so do most electrical equipment. The point, which seems to get lost, is that Electromagnetic Radiation (EMR) is not powerful enough to cause damage to humans.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there are two general kinds of electromagnetic radiation: ionising radiation and non-ionising radiation. Ionising radiation is powerful enough to knock electrons out of their orbit around an atom. This process is called ionisation and can be damaging to a body’s cells. Non-ionising radiation has enough energy to move atoms in a molecule around and cause them to vibrate, which makes the atom heat up, but not enough to remove the electrons from the atoms.

EPA stressed that the damage, which can be done to the human body generally depends on how far up the spectrum the airwaves being used are, or whether it is high or low-energy. A high-tension power line can create a much higher energy electromagnetic field that is still low in frequency. Therefore, there are safeguards around these sites, while medical equipment using x-rays makes use of much higher frequencies so it should also be regarded as dangerous.

However, numerous public health authorities such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), and the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), the Germany-based scientific body in charge of setting limits on exposure to radiation, have both stated on different occasions that the airwaves used by mobile communications is not harmful to health.

Perhaps, one of the conspiracy theories, which has gained the most significant traction in recent days, is that which alleges that 5G acts as an accelerator for the dreaded coronavirus.

As with many conspiracy theories, it is very difficult to trace the pseudoscience back to its origin, and this claim is a perfect example. Pre-dating the coronavirus outbreak, the idea that 5G suppresses the immune system is a popular one for critics and has been given a new life in conjunction with the spread of COVID-19.

The theory states that radiation from mobile communications is influencing the human body on a molecular level (suggesting it is ionising radiation), but also inhibiting the immune system.

As emphasised by the Cornell Alliance for Science, there is no evidence linking 5G technology to the COVID-19. The outfit maintains that if a hotspot emerges in one area, which happens to have 5G antennae, it is coincidental.

The most absurd of these theories is the claim that the lockdown (at the behest of the government) to prevent the spread of the pandemic is a cover-up, which will allow the installation of 5G masts en masse without the general public being aware. This remains an interesting one, which even the most hardened conspiracy theorists are unable to come to terms with.

The antagonists claim that by doing it in secret, the general public will not be able to comment, object, or protest until it is too late.

A popular evangelical pastor in Lagos, also recently reinforced the claim that the Federal Government enforced the lockdown to install 5G fibre pipes, most especially in Lagos and Abuja. He went as far as convincing his followers that the technology has the imprimatur of the Anti-Christ, which will ensure that human is installed with microchips.

No Cause For Alarm Over 5G In Nigeria
With a cocktail of controversies circulating daily and raising more questions about the technology in the country, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ibrahim Pantami, recently called on Nigerians to discard any unverified information about 5G and COVID-19.

He also tasked them to remain calm in face of the coronavirus pandemic, as the government is working hard to control its spread, adding that the government does not take decisions based on speculations, but only on facts and figures, which must be based on inputs from experts within the field.

Pantami cautioned Nigerians against fretting as no license for 5G has been issued to anyone, no spectrum for 5G deployment has been given, while no approval has been given to any telecoms operator to deploy 5G in the country.

The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), also advised Nigerians to disregard talks linking 5G with COVID-19.

Head, Public Affairs at NCC, Dr. Henry Nkemadu, said: “First, there is no correlation between 5G technology and COVID-19. The 5G technology amounts to advancement in today’s 4G technology designed to transform the world positively.

“Second, there is no deployment of 5G in Nigeria at the moment. The NCC back in November 2019, approved a trial test for the technology for a period of three months, and that trial has been concluded and installation decommissioned. The trial among others was to study and observe any health or security challenges the network might present. Relevant stakeholders including members of the security agencies were invited to participate in the trial.”

Fifth Generation Technology And Health Concerns
According to Professor Andrew Wood of the Australian Centre for Electromagnetic Bioeffects Research (ACEBR), a key contributor to the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP): “We believe the main biological effect of the electromagnetic radiation from mobile phones is a rise in temperature. There are also concerns that there could be more subtle effects, such as links between long-term exposure and certain types of cancer, but while there is some evidence from epidemiological and animal studies, these remain controversial.”

Wood, who noted that 5G mobile technology promises a 10-fold increase in data transmission rates compared to current 4G networks,underscored the commonly accepted electromagnetic radiation limit in the current international standards that apply to mobile technologies.

“As the frequency goes up, the depth of penetration into biological tissues goes down, so the skin and eyes, rather than the brain, become the main organs of health concerns. The major hurdle is that the power levels involved in mobile and wireless telecommunications are incredibly low, which, at most, facilitates temperature rise in tissues of a few tenths of a degree. Picking up unambiguous biological changes is therefore very difficult.

“However, it will be important to balance risk and reward. Wireless technologies bring enormous benefits, and being over-cautious would potentially deny these benefits to needy communities.”

From his perspective, a radiologist at the Alex Ekwueme Federal University Teaching Hospital, Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, Dave Okorafor, in a report said: “There are about seven different kinds of (natural but also artificially producible) radiations called electromagnetic radiations out of which three – gamma-ray, x-ray, and high-frequency ultraviolet ray – are capable of damaging human cells or the DNA in them. Gamma-ray, x-ray, and high-high frequency UV radiation are called ionizing radiations because they can change the structure of the smallest unit of matter found in living cells.

“By this mechanism, they can cause skin and other kinds of external and internal injuries to the human body. These bodily injuries usually manifest within days to months. The effects of these radiations can also lead to cancer when normal body cells run mad as a result of damage to or change in the DNA sequence (or gene) carrying information with which the body is supposed to produce proteins that should regulate the multiplication of the body cells.

“On the other hand, we also have four other electromagnetic radiations whose energies are not high and strong enough to cause the degree and kind of biological harm attributable to the three other radiations above.

“These weaker radiations are the visible light (with which we see in the day), infrared, microwave and radio wave. Microwave and radio waves are both called radiofrequency (RF) radiation. The radio wave is the weakest of the electromagnetic radiations because it has a lower frequency range and, as a result, a lower amount of energy. One unit of it is longer than all of the other radiations and, as such, it cannot easily pass through a lot of materials like metals. Microwave is a radiofrequency with a higher frequency and higher energy. Similar to the radio wave, it is also non-ionizing. This means that both radio waves and microwaves cannot cause cancer. Radio wave has been the electromagnetic radiation used for the conveyance of data in radio and TV broadcasting, wired and wireless telecommunications, WiFi, and Bluetooth communication, among others,” he added.

Years Of Research Established No Health Risks – GSMA
The Global System for Mobile Telecommunications Association (GSMA), which regulates mobile usage and standards has also reassured the world of the safety of 5G technology.

Its chief regulatory officer, John Giusti, said: “Twenty years of research should reassure people that there are no established health risks from their mobile devices or 5G antennae.”

A White Paper from Deloitte disclosed actually how 5G is capable of enhancing the effectiveness of pandemic prevention, treatment and drive the digital transformation of healthcare systems in response to major public emergencies, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic.

The White Paper titled, “Combating COVID-19 with 5G: Opportunities to Improve Public Health Systems,” was produced in collaboration with Huawei.

Amongst its findings, the document noted that the effectiveness of communication and data exchange has been essential in screening for infected individuals and controlling the outbreak. This is by enabling thermal imaging, continuous remote monitoring, and diagnoses during patient transfer.

The research also highlighted the need to build and upgrade public health emergency response mechanisms, through which governments can make right decisions promptly, and allocate resources more effectively.

In this regard, 5G can also promote collaboration by enabling connectivity, maintaining effective communication among hospitals, and enable medical data and reference sharing between hospitals and scientific research institutions, especially “in the rapid increases in data volume and mounting demand for remote and HD video-based treatment” scenario.

Stakeholders Views
In a public post, the Vice President, Corporate Communications and CSR, Airtel Nigeria, Emeka Oparah, also debunked claims linking coronavirus to 5G technology.

Oparah disclosed that there has been a strategic campaign against the 5G technology driven by business and diplomacy, 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.”

According to him, to understand 5G, it is important to first understand G. “G stands for generation. So, 5G means Fifth 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.”

A social entrepreneur and communications management specialist, Dr. Niyi Ibietan, said Monaco is the first principality, micro-state, and country to deploy fully functional 5G telecom services in the world, “which is situated between French Riviera in Western Europe, and the Mediterranean, Monaco is reputed as a wealthy country of about 40,000 residents but noted for $2.1m per capita income.

“At the moment, Monaco has recorded 66 cases of COVID-19, one death, and three recoveries. If 5G deployment correlates with COVID-19, Monaco ought to have disappeared from the face of the Earth.”

Indeed, on the BBC, scientists brand the so-called connection between 5G and Coronavirus as “complete rubbish.” According to them, the radio waves involved in 5G and other mobile phone technology sit on the low-frequency end of the electromagnetic spectrum, which is less powerful than visible light. Consequently, they are not strong enough to damage cells – unlike radiation at the higher frequency end of the spectrum which includes sun’s ray and medical x-rays.

A Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Bristol, Adam Finn, added: “It would also be impossible for 5G to transmit the virus. The present epidemic is caused by a virus that is passed from one infected person to another. We know this is true. We even have the virus growing in our lab, obtained from a person with the illness. Viruses and electromagnetic waves that make mobile phones and Internet connections work are different things. As different as chalk and cheese!”