A Look at 5G and the Hype from Both Sides

By Tamara Wilhite posted 18 days ago


There was a group discussion on 5G, and a woman said her son had researched it in detail. She then started talking about the harm 5G was supposed to inflict. I mentioned that I was familiar with radio frequencies and wireless technology. I had a ham radio license, had worked with radar systems for years and now worked for an RF firm. I said it was not dangerous. I was promptly shot down.

Someone brought up how 5G radiation is worse than prior forms of wireless radiation because it is so much more intense. Here came the rants on 5G will cause cancer and everything we have already heard attributed to living near power lines. I almost brought up the fact that all the wireless devices we’re already surrounded with. I almost mentioned the benefits of 5G. It was at this point I realized there is a lot of hype from both sides.


The Fears about 5G


  • It will cause cancer, birth defects, retinal damage, etc.

This is bunk. Much of this fear-mongering is copy-pasted from lists about what smart phones and power transmission lines are supposed to be doing to us. The irony that some people complaining 5G will kill us are doing so on smart phones connected to 4G networks now is lost on them.

  • All the wireless sensors and technologies will collect data on you and pose a risk to your privacy.

This is a realistic concern given that we have already had Big Tech firms suck up all your data and share it without your permission. However, this is not the fault of 5G technology. 5G simply enables more real-time data collection from smart devices. It is more data that could be misused – or not.


The Hype about 5G


  • Periscope streaming all the time everywhere creating a surveillance society and will solve all our problems.

If you realize how much of your privacy is eroded by massive Big Tech data collection, imagine how much worse it is when your neighbors are live streaming their lives. Imagine how worse online mobbing is when you are in a conversation and a dozen friends are telling you what to do. On a more mundane note, think about the stupid online challenges we have had like eating Tide pods and add more real-time egging on of the subject. This is not a selling point for the technology and may be an argument against it.

  • It will enable self-driving cars.


If your self-driving car relies on constant communications with other cars, controllers and the broader network, it is not safe to ride in. It will become dangerous or unusable if the communication network is hacked, overwhelmed or simply down.

  • Augmented reality brings virtual reality to life.

Augmented reality can be quite useful. I do not want doctors who need to consult with 10 strangers while doing surgery. Yet it will certainly aid in the training of new doctors to see real surgeries that may never occur in their local operating theater. The diagnostic tools designed around smart phones today to allow nursing aids in remote areas to provide better care should be replaced with virtual medical consultations, assuming those people have 5G access.

If you are going to generate hype about a consumer technology, the main points to sell are convenience, safety and fun. This is why you hear stories of 5G turning your morning run into a video game. It may actually increase people’s physical activity, given the example of Pokémon Go.

The more revolutionary applications are the mundane cases where we wish we had expert advice but may not be able to get it. For example, when you are working on your car, you could pay a mechanic $20 to look through your headset or phone give their opinion on what is wrong with your engine.

In industrial environments, this is the best use-case I can see for the technology. Allow someone who sees something strange show the engineer what they see. Let the expert tell them what they should do at that point instead of trying to find the right person and bring them there. Even worse are the cases where they choose to ignore it, because it was not worth the hassle to report that hot or noisy piece of equipment. Every time you can get an expert opinion on solving technical problems, speeding up repairs or preventing costly downtime, you have just made the case for the technology.



10 days ago

Michael Hughes, thank you. It felt weird to be pounced on when discussing 5G as an engineer with experience with the technology and have that count against me. It was as if I were a nurse discussing the importance of vaccination, and getting swarmed by anti-vaxxers citing autism.

10 days ago

As a former ink-stained wretch who fled 10 years ago from dusty newsrooms, I wish more of my former colleagues would pay attention to reasoned analysis from technical people who know something rather than fear-mongers. Thanks, Tamara.
Thank you for your comments, useful to read.