December 12, 2019

The Rise of 5G

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05.01.2020, by Karlijn Raaijmakers

 

The fifth generation of telecommunication and mobile internet, better known as 5G, is on its way! The European Union is planning to implement 5G in at least one big city in every EU country in 2020, which for the Netherlands will be Amsterdam. This means that our internet will be a lot faster in terms of downloading, streaming, web surfing, and so on. It is expected to be 50 to 500 times faster (ranging because of factors such as location, provider, etc.) than current 4G networks. On this website, you can see the difference in speed between 3G, 4G and 5G in downloading, for example, a standard album on Spotify, Fortnite from the app store, an episode of a series or even the entire series. 

Concerns and Hoaxes

However, there are some concerns when it comes to the rise of 5G in Europe. Firstly, 5G uses much shorter wavelengths than 4G. This means that antennas can be smaller than the existing antennas used for 4G, but it also means that more antennas would be needed, as the wavelength only covers a length of around 300 meters. 

Additionally, there have been some hoaxes and conspiracy theories about the effects of 5G. It is often claimed that 5G could be a potential health hazard, and some do claim to feel ill because of WiFi and telecommunication antennas, which is described as electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS). An example of this is covered in the first episode of the Netflix series Afflicted, called Toxic World, which shows how WiFi and electricity can trigger a non-specific variety of symptoms for some people. However, scientific research strongly disagrees with these claims, as over 4,500 scientific studies have been conducted on this matter, yet EHS is not supported by science and is therefore not a recognised medical diagnosis. At the end of 2018, there was even a widespread conspiracy theory about how the secret testing of 5G in The Hague would have been the cause of death of hundreds of birds. After dead birds kept falling out of the trees, 5G testing was accused as a cause. However, after careful research, it turned out that the birds were poisoned after eating not just the berries, but also the poisonous parts of a bush.

The Battle of the Telecommunication Providers

Though research does not show any health risks related to 5G, there are still some reasons why the switch from 4G to 5G is not yet going very smoothly. This has nothing to do with health, but everything with telecommunication providers and privacy. At this moment, the Chinese company Huawei is the frontrunner in the battle of the telecommunication providers, as it is not only the cheapest, but also of the best quality, compared to Scandinavian competitors such as Ericsson and Nokia. 

The Netherlands, as well as various other countries, had been planning on working together with Huawei for their 5G networks. However, after the AIVD (the Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service), NAVO and national security experts have all argued against Huawei as our 5G provider because of privacy and security risks, the Netherlands has decided against the collaboration with Huawei. The reasoning behind this is that, as Huawei is a Chinese company, they are (according to Article 7) legally obliged to support national intelligence work, which is often interpreted as the obligation to aid the Chinese government in international spying practices. Though Huawei argues that they are an autonomous company, and not necessarily representing or working for their country, data shows that countries such as Australia, the USA and Japan have chosen to not work together with Huawei, and some European countries such as Germany, France and the UK have introduced tight regulations on the matter. 

Huawei’s argument is valid, and a company should not always be held accountable for their country and its laws. However, it is understandable that the risks are too high. If we hypothetically would work together with Huawei and they do decide to abuse their power, the consequences would be enormous. For example, they would not only be able to access private data, they could also put a stop the entire telecommunication network, causing a chainreaction of systems to collapse, such as the Rotterdam harbor, payment options, the national emergency services and the internet in general. 

There will most likely always be concerns about the new and unknown. Therefore, the rise of 5G might be a slow and difficult process, with quite a few bumps in the road as well as important privacy matters that we have to take into account. Hopefully, being able to download, stream and surf the web even quicker than before will all be worth it. 

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