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Brislen on Tech: Closing the circle

Paul Brislen, Editor. 25 September 2020, 1:12 pm

It's been a while since the first concerns about 5G came my way. I remember it well because it came from an usual source - a Stuff news article referencing an MBIE study that would consider the best way forward for 5G deployment in New Zealand.

One of the key areas of concern, says the article, would be the health implications of any deployment.

"Among the issues raised in the document is how 5G will be rolled out in New Zealand and what the societal impacts will be. In particular, there are health concerns about the increased number of cell towers - estimated to be double the current number - that will be required for a 5G network."

5G Debate

I was gobsmacked because of course any deployment of wireless networks has to abide by the maximum settings signed off by the Ministry of Health and I knew that 5G was no different - it could operate so long as it didn't breach those limits and those limits are really rather low.

Even with double the number of cellsites over a 4G network the power output would be nowhere near 10% of the maximum allowable, let alone exceed 100% but there it was.

The story references an upcoming study into the effects of 5G deployments and while the Massey University Telecommunication and Network Engineering Research Group that would conduct the study hadn't even begun its work when the article was written in 2018, the work has since been completed and shared internationally.

"Approximating Electromagnetic Exposure in Dense Indoor Environments" takes a look at the potential impact a 5G network would have but because, at the time, no 5G network was available to test, the researchers base their findings on a "simulation analysis" which looks at an indoor deployment in the 28-38GHz range (well above current deployment frequencies).

The report isn't available on the Massey University website but you can buy a copy for $15 if you're not affiliated with a university. The co-author, and head of the network group, Dr Faraz Hasan kindly sent me a copy. The upshot is: "The results reported in this paper indicate that the estimated power density still remains within the permissible thresholds."

There's more to it of course, plenty of detail outlining how the group came to that conclusion, and the paper has been internationally peer reviewed so we know it's robust, but of course nobody has written about the finished report, just about the press release (alarming titled "Could future wireless communications be harmful?") because it's quite attention grabbing.

Since then we've seen an explosion in the number of so-called "news" stories suggesting 5G is somehow dangerous in ways ranging from the vaguely plausible to the alarmingly stupid and the spreading of such fear, uncertainty and doubt via social media channels.

For some it's a bit of a lark and they like to see how many conspiracy theories they can believe before breakfast. For others though, it's a lot more difficult and when towers are damaged or destroyed because "we're not having your death rays in our town" you start to wonder just what it's all about.

It's important when covering news stories that we provide what the Americans call closure on that story. If you report on the arrest of someone, you should cover the trial and final verdict. If you write about an upcoming study that might discover potential health impacts from a new technology, you should probably cover the results of the study pointing out there aren't any.

Dr Hasan presented this report to the international community in 2018 but I suspect I'm the first reporter to cover it since then. Given how often we're told there's no research to demonstrate 5G is safe, surely if we have such a report and it was worth covering in the first place, it's worth sharing more widely when it does give the all clear?

If we don't, how are we supposed to fight off the fake news and extremist content that is becoming all too prevalent in our society?


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