Are 5G Benefits Worth the Risks?Fifth Generation (5G) network technology is currently available in many cities and will be launched globally in 2020. 5G is expected to herald a new phase of computing, by enabling tactile internet and smart interaction. This system is being promoted enthusiastically while recognizing some security, financial and technical obstacles. The sociological, psychological and physiological impacts are rarely part of the 5G discussion and should be the most important factors in the risk-benefit analysis.What is 5GWireless technology has evolved rapidly over the past four decades.
First Generation (1G) voice-only devices were released commercially in 1979. The Second Generation (2G) replaced analog devices with digital cellular systems used for voice and data transmission (e-mails, pictures, and short messages). Third Generation (3G) systems were introduced in the 2000s with increased capacity and services such as video calls, location services, web browsing, multimedia services, mobile TV and video streaming. Fourth Generation (4G) systems were introduced in the 2010s providing higher speeds, efficiency and new services such as high-definition streaming and 3D television.
5G will transform human-computer and computer-computer interaction by creating a completely wireless, real-world communication system with no limits. It is faster in speed, with very low latency and enables the connectivity of more advanced devices. Data delivery will go from the current 70 milliseconds with 4G networks down to 1ms or less. Consumers will be able to download at the speed of 20 gigabits per second, as opposed to 4G’s speed of 1 gbs per second. Thus, 5G should provide better support for autonomous vehicles, virtual reality, smart homes and cities, smart grids, robotics, e-health applications and future developments in Internet of Things. 5G is being progressively rolled globally, to reach the telecommunications industry’s self-imposed deadline of 2020. The implementation of 5G is met with many technical, economic and security challenges. First, 5G networks provide a smaller coverage range and require that base stations are placed every 250 meters or so throughout cities, which is challenging and costly. Secondly, the infrastructure comes with some network safety and privacy vulnerabilities for consumers. Another concern highlighted by security officials from 30 countries, is that the main supplier of 5G equipment is China’s Huawei Technologies Co. Officials are reluctant to depend on a country that does not participate in international agreements on cybersecurity and data protection. Health and Socio-psychological ConcernsThe 5G discussion is dominated by the above obstacles, with less concern for the sociopsychological impact and health hazards. Instead, the literature underscores 5G’s potential to transform healthcare by enabling technologies such as robot-assisted telesurgery. Cellular and Wi-Fi services currently operate at frequencies below 6GHz, which is linked to numerous ailments including degenerative brain disorders. The dangers of electromagnetic frequency (EMF) radiation are so pervasive that 224 scientists from 41 nationals appealed for the United Nations and World Health Organization to take protective measures. The appeal was based on their combined 2000 peer-reviewed research papers on this subject. 5G will essentially form an electromagnetic microwave blanket above each city and poses a greater risk by introducing new millimeter (needle-size) wave bands at 26GHz and 60GHz. According to scientists, this intense level of microwave exposure at higher frequencies will be even more detrimental to the health of humans and the environment. Information and communication technologies have improved the human condition with some quantifiable negative consequences. Living in an information society comes with issues such as loss of privacy and social isolation. For some, overuse and misuse of technology has led to decreased cognition, depression and other mental health issues. 5G enabled tactile internet and smart interaction could exacerbate the current sociopsychological issues. Innovators should no longer ignore the consequences of their creations and take the human factor into account.ConclusionNonetheless, the tech industry continues to expedite the deployment while ignoring the concerns of scientists and grassroots organizations. As we have seen with the tobacco and pharmaceutical industries, commercial production often precedes research on consumer protection and health effects. The difference here is that the adverse effects are already well documented. 4G already delivers data at a high speed so there’s no critical need for 5G. Therefore, it’s irresponsible to rush the deployment without considering the impact on human beings. Governments and corporations should make a concerted effort to mitigating the risks, and only deploy 5G when independent researchers can prove that it’s safe. After all, emerging technology is supposed to improve, not depreciate our civilization.