For a lot of people, 5G is an exciting new technology which will bring countless benefits to our day-to-day lives, as well as to society as a whole. However for others 5G is scary, unsafe and may even be linked to COVID-19. This fear has led to protests and the burning of 5G masts, which has had a series of knock-on effects that might actually worsen the situation in the UK.
As the name suggests, 5G is the fifth generation of wireless communications technology. The main benefit of 5G over 4G for the average consumer will be speed, allowing them to download films in seconds, stream TV or play online games with absolutely no latency issues or buffering. But the benefits of 5G stretch far beyond this, with future potential in digital-based ‘smart cities’; these could potentially yield safer roads, smarter energy networks, higher-efficiency health services and so much more.
However, not everyone shares such an optimistic view of the technology, with several anti-5G protests and conspiracies emerging recently. Although concerns regarding 5G have existed ever since it was announced, many current theories link the technology to the matter quite literally dominating the world at the moment: COVID-19 (you might have heard of it!).
There are variations of these theories. Firstly, some claim that 5G weakens the immune system and makes people more vulnerable to the virus. Secondly, some say that the technology actually spreads the virus itself. According to Full Fact (a UK fact checking website), one of the earliest known theories appeared on Facebook in late January. This theory falls into the first category and points to the fact that Wuhan, where the virus originated, was the first city to roll out 5G technology. This may seem like pretty damning evidence, but correlation does not mean causation. More importantly, the correlation isn’t even true. Wuhan was one of several cities which piloted the technology, and you only need to look at countries with high rates of COVID-19 like Iran, which despite their high rates of infection do not possess 5G technology.
If you ignore this, the argument can still be made that 5G may have a negative effect on our immune systems, but the science doesn’t support this. Much of the concern comes from the fact that 5G uses millimeter waves, which are shorter than 4G waves, and shorter waves mean more damage. Concerns have been raised that these shorter waves may be able to alter our DNA and therefore weaken our immune system. This might sound scary, but the truth is that 5G waves are nowhere near powerful enough for this; they are non-ionising, and so are unable to detach electrons from atoms in our body and change them. In short, it is biologically impossible for 5G to weaken our immune systems. Safety regulations on radiation are very strict, and telecoms companies are constantly testing their 5G technology to ensure it complies with these.
Besides, it doesn’t seem like a great business model to kill all of your potential customers.
On top of this, Professor Stephen Powis, the medical director of the NHS, described these theories as ‘the worst kind of fake news’.
Conspiracies exist about a whole range of topics and are generally harmless. Unfortunately, the 5G-coronavirus theory no longer is harmless. There have been cases in Birmingham and Liverpool of 5G masts being set alight by protestors. Even more ridiculously, some of the towers being set on fire aren’t even 5G towers.
This vandalism is even more damaging than you might first think, especially given our current situation. Social distancing has made us even more reliant on telecommunications than we already were. Because of these acts of baseless vandalism, some people may lose their phone signal in their house and won’t be able to call for help should they need it. If this continues, people will be less able to stay in contact with friends and family members. Ultimately, this means that more engineers and technicians need to be outside so they can fix the damage. As such, this protest has the potential to actually worsen the COVID-19 situation in the UK, due to the fact that these people won’t be able to stay at home and thus limit the transmission of coronavirus.
Whatever side of the debate you lie on, hopefully we can all agree that damaging communications technology at the exact time when we need it most is not the right way to get your point across.