Connectivity & Data
Governance and Citizen
Energy & Environment
There’s no shortage of hope and hype about the benefits 5G is going to bring but something else is gaining traction too: dissent. Who is going to step up and provide a coherent response?
There’s no shortage of hope and hype about the benefits 5G is going to bring to cities, citizens and businesses. And if that’s not enough, momentum is now starting to build around 6G. But something else is gaining traction too: dissent.
An increasing number of public demonstrations and online campaigns are citing concerns around 5G’s potential impact on health and the environment. These fears about mobile technology are not new, but this time something feels different as the effect is amplified through social media and ‘alternative news’ outlets.
In Finland, a petition for the government to ban 5G completely garnered over 7,000 signatures. A petition in the UK for an independent enquiry into the health and safety risks of 5G received over 32,000 signatures but was turned down by the government.
In April, plans to pilot 5G in Brussels were blocked due to concerns over radiation levels.
Some dismiss fears around high-frequency 5G radiation killing birds, being used by the military as a weapon and causing cancer as the rantings of the ‘tin foil hat’ brigade, but they’re gaining traction in higher places too. In April, plans to pilot 5G in Brussels were blocked due to concerns over radiation levels.
Some towns and cities in the US have banned 5G antennas from residential areas under the weight of calls from citizens, while mainstream media articles have highlighted meteorologists’ warnings that 5G systems could harm weather forecasting, further heightening concerns. Numerous cities tell me their 5G roll-outs are facing significant push-back from a vocal minority of residents.
The risks of unchecked misinformation (or a lack of any usable information at all) go beyond technology projects – and their potential benefits – being stalled. I recently heard an insider report of a UK city council representative who has to take security personnel with them when they go into communities to talk about 5G because they have received death threats over the matter.
Perhaps what surprises me even more than the scale of the push-back is the industry’s lack of a coherent response. Behind closed doors, the issue has been raised at the last five smart city conferences I have attended. I haven’t seen this awareness turned into public action, either from cities or technology companies.
Perhaps what surprises me even more than the scale of the push-back is the industry’s lack of a coherent response.
Many telcos, who are perhaps best-placed to explain the technology, say that they would be dismissed if they tried to step in due to their vested interest. The Swiss Telecommunications Association (ASUT) is a notable exception. Backed by Swisscom and Sunrise, the body published a 5G ‘fact check’ in the face of growing “misinformation” and consumer concerns around 5G.
In turning down the petition for further research into 5G, the UK government said: “Exposure to radio waves has been carefully researched and reviewed. The overall weight of evidence does not suggest devices producing exposures within current guidelines pose a risk to public health.” It also included some links to published and ongoing 5G safety research which are pretty tough going to hack through and heavy on the acronyms and tech-speak.
The message isn’t cutting through.
Some note that the fears are based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how mobile technology works. Stating this alone doesn’t help.
We urgently need more transparency and information that is simple to understand. And it isn’t just about 5G. The issue speaks to a wider need for more openness and clarity about how often-complex technology is being deployed in cities or the push-back will grow stronger.
In the meantime, the silence around 5G is deafening.