How misinformation about 5G is spreading within our government institutions – and who’s responsible



Aris Oikonomou/EPA

Michael Jensen, University of Canberra

“Fake news” is not just a problem of misleading or false claims on fringe websites, it is increasingly filtering into the mainstream and has the potential to be deeply destructive.

My recent analysis of more than 500 public submissions to a parliamentary committee on the launch of 5G in Australia shows just how pervasive misinformation campaigns have become at the highest levels of government. A significant number of the submissions peddled inaccurate claims about the health effects of 5G.

These falsehoods were prominent enough the committee felt compelled to address the issue in its final report. The report noted:

community confidence in 5G has been shaken by extensive misinformation
preying on the fears of the public spread via the internet, and presented as facts, particularly through social media.

This is a remarkable situation for Australian public policy – it is not common for a parliamentary inquiry to have to rebut the dodgy scientific claims it receives in the form of public submissions.

While many Australians might dismiss these claims as fringe conspiracy theories, the reach of this misinformation matters. If enough people act on the basis of these claims, it can cause harm to the wider public.

In late May, for example, protests against 5G, vaccines and COVID-19 restrictions were held in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Some protesters claimed 5G was causing COVID-19 and the pandemic was a hoax – a “plandemic” – perpetuated to enslave and subjugate the people to the state.




Read more:
Coronavirus, ‘Plandemic’ and the seven traits of conspiratorial thinking


Misinformation can also lead to violence. Last year, the FBI for the first time identified conspiracy theory-driven extremists as a terrorism threat.

Conspiracy theories that 5G causes autism, cancer and COVID-19 have also led to widespread arson attacks in the UK and Canada, along with verbal and physical attacks on employees of telecommunication companies.

The source of conspiracy messaging

To better understand the nature and origins of the misinformation campaigns against 5G in Australia, I examined the 530 submissions posted online to the parliament’s standing committee on communications and the arts.

The majority of submissions were from private citizens. A sizeable number, however, made claims about the health effects of 5G, parroting language from well-known conspiracy theory websites.

A perceived lack of “consent” (for example, here, here and here) about the planned 5G roll-out featured prominently in these submissions. One person argued she did not agree to allow 5G to be “delivered directly into” the home and “radiate” her family.




Read more:
No, 5G radiation doesn’t cause or spread the coronavirus. Saying it does is destructive


To connect sentiments like this to conspiracy groups, I looked at two well-known conspiracy sites that have been identified as promoting narratives consistent with Russian misinformation operations – the Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG) and Zero Hedge.

CRG is an organisation founded and directed by Michel Chossudovsky, a former professor at the University of Ottawa and opinion writer for Russia Today.

CRG has been flagged by NATO intelligence as part of wider efforts to undermine trust in “government and public institutions” in North America and Europe.

Zero Hedge, which is registered in Bulgaria, attracts millions of readers every month and ranks among the top 500 sites visited in the US. Most stories are geared toward an American audience.

Researchers at Rand have connected Zero Hedge with online influencers and other media sites known for advancing pro-Kremlin narratives, such as the claim that Ukraine, and not Russia, is to blame for the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.

Protesters targeting the coronavirus lockdown and 5G in Melbourne in May.
Scott Barbour/AAP

How it was used in parliamentary submissions

For my research, I scoured the top posts circulated by these groups on Facebook for false claims about the health threats posed by 5G. Some stories I found had headlines like “13 Reasons 5G Wireless Technology will be a Catastrophe for Humanity” and “Hundreds of Respected Scientists Sound Alarm about Health Effects as 5G Networks go Global”.

I then tracked the diffusion of these stories on Facebook and identified 10 public groups where they were posted. Two of the groups specifically targeted Australians – Australians for Safe Technology, a group with 48,000 members, and Australia Uncensored. Many others, such as the popular right-wing conspiracy group QAnon, also contained posts about the 5G debate in Australia.




Read more:
Conspiracy theories about 5G networks have skyrocketed since COVID-19


To determine the similarities in phrasing between the articles posted on these Facebook groups and submissions to the Australian parliamentary committee, I used the same technique to detect similarities in texts that is commonly used to detect plagiarism in student papers.

The analysis rates similarities in documents on a scale of 0 (entirely dissimilar) to 1 (exactly alike). There were 38 submissions with at least a 0.5 similarity to posts in the Facebook group 5G Network, Microwave Radiation Dangers and other Health Problems and 35 with a 0.5 similarity to the Australians for Safe Technology group.

This is significant because it means that for these 73 submissions, 50% of the language was, word for word, exactly the same as the posts from extreme conspiracy groups on Facebook.

The first 5G Optus tower in the suburb of Dickson in Canberra.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

The impact of misinformation on policy-making

The process for soliciting submissions to a parliamentary inquiry is an important part of our democracy. In theory, it provides ordinary citizens and organisations with a voice in forming policy.

My findings suggest Facebook conspiracy groups and potentially other conspiracy sites are attempting to co-opt this process to directly influence the way Australians think about 5G.

In the pre-internet age, misinformation campaigns often had limited reach and took a significant amount of time to spread. They typically required the production of falsified documents and a sympathetic media outlet. Mainstream news would usually ignore such stories and few people would ever read them.

Today, however, one only needs to create a false social media account and a meme. Misinformation can spread quickly if it is amplified through online trolls and bots.

It can also spread quickly on Facebook, with its algorithm designed to drive ordinary users to extremist groups and pages by exploiting their attraction to divisive content.

And once this manipulative content has been widely disseminated, countering it is like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube.

Misinformation has the potential to undermine faith in governments and institutions and make it more challenging for authorities to make demonstrable improvements in public life. This is why governments need to be more proactive in effectively communicating technical and scientific information, like details about 5G, to the public.

Just as nature abhors a vacuum, a public sphere without trusted voices quickly becomes filled with misinformation.The Conversation

Michael Jensen, Senior Research Fellow, Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

No, 5G radiation doesn’t cause or spread the coronavirus. Saying it does is destructive



Shutterstock

Stanley Shanapinda, La Trobe University

A conspiracy theory claiming 5G can spread the coronavirus is making the rounds on social media. The myth supposedly gained traction when a Belgian doctor linked the “dangers” of 5G technology to the virus during an interview in January.

Closer to home, Facebook group Stop5G Australia (with more than 31,700 members) has various posts linking the disease’s spread to 5G technology.

Members of the Stop5G Australia Facebook group share posts and videos claiming 5G helps spread COVID-19.
Facebook

Peddling such misinformation is not only wrong, it’s destructive.

The Guardian reported that since Thursday at least 20 mobile phone masts across the UK have been torched or otherwise vandalised. Mobile network representative MobileUK published an open letter stating:

We have experienced cases of vandals setting fire to mobile masts, disrupting critical infrastructure and spreading false information suggesting a connection between 5G and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Celebrities – stick to what you know

Many outlets and people have rushed to debunk this myth, including federal minister for communications, cyber safety and the arts Paul Fletcher. But myriad groups and public figures continue to perpetuate it.

Actor Woody Harrelson and singer Keri Hilson have both shared content with fans suggesting a link between 5G and COVID-19.

Stop5G Australia members have claimed the Ruby Princess cruiseliner’s link to 600 reported infections and 11 deaths is because cruises are “radiation saturated”. That’s wrong.

A screenshot of posts from the Stop5G Australia Facebook group.
https://www.facebook.com/groups/Stop5GAustralia/?ref=br_rs

While cruise passengers can access roaming wifi services on board, these are not 5G services. Maritime cruises have yet to implement 5G technology.

One petition is calling on the Australia government to stop 5G’s rollout because the technology can supposedly “negatively affect your immune system” (a claim for which there is exactly zero evidence). It has received more than 27,000 signatures.

How 5G radio signals (radiation) work

The difference between 5G and previous generations of mobile services (4G, 3G) is that the latter use lower radio frequencies (below the 6 gigahertz range), whereas 5G also uses frequencies in the 30–300 gigahertz range.

This diagram shows different frequencies along the electromagnetic spectrum.
Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency/AUS GOV., Author provided

In the 30-300 gigahertz range, there’s not enough energy to break chemical bonds or remove electrons when in contact with human tissue. Thus, this range is referred to as “non-ionising” electromagnetic radiation.

It’s approved by the federal government’s Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency as not having the negative health effects of more intense radiation.




Read more:
There’s no evidence 5G is going to harm our health, so let’s stop worrying about it


Radiation can come into contact with the skin, for example, when we put a 5G mobile to our ear to make a call. This is when we’re most exposed to non-ionising radiation. But this exposure is well below the recommended safety level.

5G radiation can’t penetrate skin, or allow a virus to penetrate skin.
There is no evidence 5G radio frequencies cause or exacerbate the spread of the coronavirus.

Also, the protein shell of the virus is incapable of hijacking 5G radio signals. This is because radiation and viruses exist in different forms that do not interact. One is a biological phenomenon and the other exists on the electromagnetic spectrum.

5G radio waves are called millimetre waves, because their wavelength is measured in millimetres. Because these waves are short, 5G cell towers need to be relatively close together – about 250 metres apart. They are organised as a collection of small cells (a cell is an area covered by radio signals).

For 5G to cover a larger geographic area, more base stations are needed in comparison to 4G. This increase in the number of base stations, and their proximity to humans, is one factor that may stir unfounded fears about 5G’s potential health impacts.

Your phone may be dangerous, but its radiation isn’t

COVID-19 spreads through small droplets released from the nose or mouth of an infected person when they cough, spit, sneeze, talk or exhale. Transmission occurs when the droplets come into contact with the nose, eyes or mouth of a healthy person.

So if an infectious person speaks through a phone held near their mouth, enough infectious droplets may land on its surface to make it capable of spreading the virus. This is why it’s not advisable to share mobiles during a pandemic. You should also regularly disinfect your mobile.




Read more:
Can I get coronavirus from mail or package deliveries? Should I disinfect my phone?


Why are we having this discussion?

To many of us, it’s obvious a human virus can’t spread via radio signals, and such a conspiracy may be linked to a wider distrust of the government in general.

Addressing this myth is critical as property is now being damaged, and individuals attacked. Physical and verbal threats to broadband engineers can be added to a long list of assaults on health workers.

At a time when millions are relying on fast internet to work and study from home, vital telecommunications infrastructure is at risk of being destroyed. Conspiracy theories have motivated arson attacks on 5G towers in Belfast, Liverpool and Birmingham.

Youtube has announced it will devote resources to removing content linking 5G technology to COVID-19.

The announcement came after fingers were pointed at one video, published on March 18 (and viewed more than 668,000 times), in which an American doctor claims incorrectly that Africa is less affected by COVID-19 because it’s not a 5G region. The video remained online at the time of publishing this article.


Correction: this article was amended to make clear that, while millimeter waves lie within the frequency range of 30–300 gigahertz, 5G technology is also rolled out at lower frequencies than this.The Conversation

Stanley Shanapinda, Research Fellow, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

There’s no evidence 5G is going to harm our health, so let’s stop worrying about it



The scientific consensus is that 5G doesn’t pose a danger to our health.
From shutterstock.com

Sarah Loughran, University of Wollongong

Hype continues to surround the roll-out of 5G technology in Australia and across the world.

While there is promise of faster network speeds, and talk of exciting technologies like driverless cars, there’s also a growing movement to stop the implementation of 5G due to concerns about the effects it may have on our health.

But the scientific evidence we’ve got assures us there’s no reason to worry. The radio frequencies powering 5G will be well below the exposure limits known to cause harm.




Read more:
Do Wi-Fi and mobile phones really cause cancer? Experts respond


What is 5G and how does it work?

5G is the 5th generation of mobile phone technology. All generations of mobile phones work using what’s called electromagnetic energy. The specific type of electromagnetic energy used by mobile phones is known as radiofrequency, sometimes called radio waves.

This type of radiation is non-ionising, so it doesn’t damage our DNA like ionising radiation can, such as that from the sun or x-rays. Ionising means there’s enough energy to remove electrons from the atoms they are attached to. This makes them unstable and is something non-ionising radiation, such as that used by mobile phones, lacks the power to do.

Initially, 5G will use the same type of radio waves as used in 4G. But in the future it will operate at higher frequencies. Higher frequencies allow for faster connections and response times, while also increasing capacity for more users to be connected.

The higher the frequency, the shorter the distance the radio waves travel. As the 5G frequencies will be higher than those used by previous mobile phone technologies, a lot more mobile phone base stations will be required.

Much of the public concern has centred around these two new elements – that the frequencies used will be higher, and that there will be more mobile phone base stations. While some people believe these two factors alone will lead to higher exposures, the reality is actually very different.




Read more:
Can you be allergic to your Wi-Fi?


Higher frequencies don’t travel as far, meaning exposure is not as deep as previous generation technologies. This results in more superficial exposures which are mostly absorbed by the skin rather than deeper in the body.

The idea that more base stations lead to higher exposures is also a common misconception. A larger number of base stations will actually provide a more efficient network. This means mobile phones can operate at a reduced power, which is likely to result in reduced overall personal exposure.

Research and regulation

Importantly, we have no evidence of any established health effects from the exposures related to mobile phones, despite extensive research. This consensus has been reiterated by independent international expert bodies.

We know a lot about how radiofrequency interacts with the human body. Health effects occur from exposure when there is a large rise in body temperature. But this will only be seen at power levels far higher than those used in telecommunications, like from a microwave oven.

The temperature changes associated with mobile phones are very small, especially when compared with normal day-to-day or exercise-induced temperature variations.

5G is the next generation of mobile phone technology, and is currently being rolled out.
From shutterstock.com

Exposures from mobile phones and their base stations are tightly regulated. In Australia, safety standards are set by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA).

These standards are based on the current scientific evidence. They also cover the new frequencies that will be used by 5G. Importantly, the safety limits are set well below levels known to cause harm. And although technology can legally run at the safety limit, in reality, exposures are typically hundreds of times below these safety limits.

Challenging misconceptions

There is a lot of misinformation out there regarding 5G, and the electromagnetic energy associated with telecommunications more generally. While there’s no evidence of harm from such electromagnetic energy, there is evidence fear and anxiety can be harmful to our health and overall well-being.

While anti-5G sentiment and campaigning might be well-intentioned, without the scientific evidence to back these sentiments, it’s likely doing more harm than good. The challenge we now face is counteracting the misinformation out there.




Read more:
What is a mobile network, anyway? This is 5G, boiled down


The Conversation


Sarah Loughran, Research Fellow, University of Wollongong

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Blocking Huawei’s 5G could isolate Australia from future economic opportunities


Marina Yue Zhang, Swinburne University of Technology

Trade conflict between the US and China has accelerated towards the brink of trade war.

A recent Trump executive order preventing US companies from working with “adversaries” (China fits this description) was hammered home by a ban on selling US high-tech products to Chinese tech company Huawei.




Read more:
Blocking Huawei from Australia means slower and delayed 5G – and for what?


Australia too has put a halt on 5G infrastructure coming from China.

But this is about more than just which company’s poles and wires will provide internet for your phone and movie downloads in the future.

Choices the US, Australia and other nations make around how they set up 5G will determine how we use technology for collaboration, innovation and global business.

Huawei’s 5G is becoming a global standard

5G is the fifth generation network for mobile connectivity. It has been described as “game changing” due to high speeds and high capacity, and provision of superior service to high numbers of users.

5G relies on standardisation – the technical specifications used in mobile networks – supported by patents and licensing agreements.

In mobile networks, standard essential patents (SEPs) are those patents that any company will have to license when implementing 5G. History suggests companies holding SEPs benefit significantly from royalties.

Data from April 2019 shows China, collectively, owns over one-third of the world’s SEPs for 5G.

China lost its opportunity in 1G and 2G, learned an expensive lesson from its failed 3G standard, and achieved substantial catch-up in 4G. It is determined to lead in 5G.

Chinese tech companies such as Huawei and ZTE understand that transition to 5G opens a window of opportunity for them to achieve this goal. To do this they need to build followers – and momentum is already moving in this regard.

By the end of March 2019, Huawei had reportedly been awarded 40 5G commercial contracts from carriers around the world (including 23 from Europe, six from the Asia Pacific, ten from the Middle East and one from Africa).

The battle of radio spectra

In addition to standardisation, radio spectrum is another critical factor in 5G. Radio spectrum is a limited resource that is used for communications from Earth to space.

Spectrum allocation is at the heart of 5G competition.

Huawei’s 5G technology has been developed for mid-band spectrums which are available for commercial use in many countries, including Australia.

The best plan for Australia is that mid-band solutions be used to cover the bulk of 5G networks, with high-band technologies to provide complementary coverage in densely populated areas.

The US has limited access to mid-band spectrums for commercial 5G, as most in this range are for defence use. So the US developed its 5G technologies for high-band spectrums – which presents that country with a dilemma.

It is not easy for the US to switch from high-band to mid-band 5G in a short time. And it’s not likely the rest of the world will give up using mid-band solutions, which provide wider coverage and require less investment in infrastructure.

A short-term answer is for the US to push its allies to jointly exclude Huawei from their 5G networks. This might be sought to protect the US from 5G “isolation”, and perhaps have other commercial or political implications – or a combination of these factors.




Read more:
US ban on Huawei likely following Trump cybersecurity crackdown – and Australia is on board


The consequence is that Australia, as one of those allies, would likely need to spend more money on base stations and the necessary infrastructure and wait a longer time for a fully operational 5G system.

For example, a Huawei 5G base station is only one-third the size of its 4G equivalents and weighs only 20 kilograms: it’s easier to install, and the technology is at least 18 months ahead of its competitors such as Nokia. This advantage is lost if Australia continues to block Huawei.

Australia’s fourth mobile telco, TPG, argues that there is “no credible case” to rollout its 5G as planned without Huawei.




Read more:
Stakes are high as US ups the ante on trade dispute with China


Fractured globalisation?

5G will support many applications such as industry automation, self-driving cars, massive machine-to-machine communications, internet of things, smart cities and more.

This means the growth of 5G will accelerate development of an ecosystem in which different countries can co-exist and co-develop, supported by interconnected and interdependent supply chain networks.

Such ecosystems are built on mobile network infrastructures, upon which are layered technology platforms for manufacturing, medical treatments and payments (for example) and then applications for working, studying and living.

For example, in the future this sort of system might be used by Australian and Chinese academics and industry experts to work together on innovations related to health care, environmental protection or industrial automation.

But this may fall down if the involved countries build their 5G infrastructures differently.

Australia’s final 5G plan could have profound implications for Australia’s economic development into the future.The Conversation

Marina Yue Zhang, Associate Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Swinburne University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Blocking Huawei from Australia means slower and delayed 5G – and for what?


Stanley Shanapinda, La Trobe University

The United States and Australia are deliberately restricting the place of Chinese telco Huawei in their telecommunications landscapes.

We’re told these changes will be worth it from a security point of view.




Read more:
What is a mobile network, anyway? This is 5G, boiled down


But Huawei infrastructure is already ubiquitous in telecommunications networks, and we have other avenues available to us if we’re concerned about cybersecurity.

In the end, halting involvement of Huawei in Australia will be felt directly by customers. We will have to be satisfied with below-par 5G internet speeds and delayed service rollouts.

And we probably won’t be able to use Google Play on Huawei smart phones after 2020.

Huawei offers the best 5G

5G is a mobile phone network that promises top speeds, especially in highly populated areas. Australia has been expecting the network to be broadly up and running by around 2020 – there is limited availability in some central business districts right now.

Top 5G speeds can reach up to 10 gigabits per second, 20 times faster than 4G. This means movie downloads in a matter of seconds – as opposed to minutes with 4G. A mobile phone, gaming laptop or smart TV can communicate with a 5G network at a response speed of 1 millisecond, as opposed to 30 milliseconds with 4G.

Huawei, the world’s biggest manufacturer of telecommunications equipment, is leading the 5G race. The Chinese company is around 12 months ahead of its competitors Nokia and Ericsson.

Huawei has been involved in providing 3G and 4G services in Australia since 2004 – reportedly working with Vodafone and Optus, but not Telstra or NBN Co. Huawei built a private 4G network for mining company Santos, and digital voice and data communication systems for rail services in Western Australia and New South Wales. This includes radio masts, base stations and handheld radios, but not the core network.

But Huawei was restricted from participating in future development of Australia’s and the US’s telecommunications networks from August 2018 and May 2019, respectively.

This stems from apparent Australian and US government concerns that Huawei infrastructure could allow the Chinese government to collect foreign intelligence and sensitive information, and sabotage economic interests.




Read more:
US ban on Huawei likely following Trump cybersecurity crackdown – and Australia is on board


Costs passed on to consumers

Australia’s telecommunications networks have already felt the impact of the Coalition’s Telecommunications Sector Security Reforms announced in August 2018.

These reforms “place obligations on telecommunications companies to protect Australian networks from unauthorised interference or access that might prejudice our national security”.

The guidance effectively put the companies on notice, implying that use of Huawei could violate cybersecurity laws. No company wants to be in such a position. Continuing with Huawei after being informed that the company may pose a national security risk could bring legal and reputational risks.

The result is companies such as Optus and Vodafone were left scrambling to re-negotiate 5G testing and rollout plans that had been in the works since 2016. Optus has already delayed its 5G roll out.

Most operators do use additional manufacturers such as Nokia and Ericsson for networks and testing. But it’s already clear from cases in Europe that such companies have been slow to release equipment that is as advanced as Huawei’s.

Costs incurred by such changes and the delays in rolling out high-quality services are absorbed by mobile phone companies in the first instance, and eventually passed on to the consumer.

Given existing frustrations with the NBN, customers will continue to wait longer and may have to pay more for top 5G services.

Customers who prefer to use Huawei-made phones could be hit with a double whammy. Recent actions by Google to suspend business operations with Huawei could prevent these customers from having access to Google Play (the equivalent of Apple’s app store on Android devices) in the future.

Huawei is already here

It’s no secret that China’s foreign intelligence-gathering over the internet is increasing.

But it’s doubtful Huawei has assisted such efforts. Technical flaws detected in Italy are reported to be normal in the sector and not due to a backdoor.

Germany has decided to introduce a broad regulatory regime that requires suppliers of 5G networks to be trustworthy, and provide assured protection of information under local laws.

A similar approach in Australia would require telecommunications equipment to be tested before installation, and at regular intervals after installation for the lifetime of the network, under a security capability plan the supplier is required to submit.




Read more:
What skills does a cybersecurity professional need?


More broadly speaking, the Coalition has pledged A$156 million to cybersecurity, aimed at developing skills to defend against cyber intrusions and to improve the capabilities of the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC). These plans could reasonably be timed with the expected launch of 5G at the end of 2020.

Added to this, the 2018 Assistance and Access Act – commonly referred to as the Encryption Bill – already requires all telecommunications manufacturers to protect their networks and assist national security and law enforcement agencies to share information. Huawei is subject to this legal obligation.

If there are security fears about 5G, those same fears would exist in respect of 4G that has been installed and is supported by Huawei in this country for more than a decade.

It’s not clear what we gain by blocking Huawei’s involvement in Australia’s 5G network.The Conversation

Stanley Shanapinda, Research Fellow, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

5G will be a convenient but expensive alternative to the NBN


Rod Tucker, University of Melbourne

Will Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN) face damaging competition from the upcoming 5G network? NBN Co CEO Bill Morrow thinks so.

This week, he even floated the idea of a levy on mobile broadband services, although Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull quickly rejected the idea.

NBN Co is clearly going to have to compete with mobile broadband on an equal footing.


Read More: Like it or not, you’re getting the NBN, so what are your rights when buying internet services?


This latest episode in the NBN saga raises the question of exactly what 5G will offer broadband customers, and how it will sit alongside the fixed NBN network.

To understand how 5G could compare with the NBN, let’s examine the key differences and similarities between mobile networks and fixed-line broadband.

What is 5G?

5G stands for “5th generation mobile”. It builds upon today’s 4G mobile network technology, but promises to offer higher peak connection speeds and lower latency, or time delays.

5G’s higher connection speeds will be possible thanks to improved radio technologies, increased allocations of radio spectrum, and by using many more antenna sites or base stations than today’s networks. Each antenna will serve a smaller area, or cell.

The technical details of 5G are currently under negotiation in international standards bodies. 5G networks should be available in Australia by 2020, although regulatory changes are still needed.

Connections on 5G

In a mobile network, the user’s device (typically a smart phone) communicates with a nearby wireless base station via a radio link. All users connected to that base station share its available data capacity.

Australia’s mobile network typically provides download speeds of around 20 Mb/s. But the actual speed of connection for an individual decreases as the number of users increases. This effect is known as contention.

Anyone who has tried to upload a photo to Facebook from the Melbourne Cricket Ground will have experienced this.

Mobile base stations.
kongsky/Shutterstock

The maximum download speed of 5G networks could be more than 1 Gb/s. But in practice, it will likely provide download speeds around 100 Mb/s or higher.

Because of contention and the high cost of the infrastructure, mobile network operators also impose significant data download limits for 4G. It is not yet clear what level of data caps will apply in 5G networks.

Connections on the NBN

In a fixed-line network like the NBN, the user typically connects to the local telephone exchange via optical fibre. Directly, in the case of fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP), or by copper wiring and then fibre, in fibre-to-the-node (FTTN).

An important difference between the NBN and a mobile network is that on the NBN, there is virtually no contention on the data path between the user and the telephone exchange. In other words, the user’s experience is almost independent of how many other users are online.

But, as highlighted in the recent public debate around the NBN, some users have complained that NBN speeds decrease at peak usage times.

Importantly, this is not a fundamental issue of the NBN technology. Rather, it is caused by artificial throttling thanks to the NBN Co’s Connectivity Virtual Circuit (CVC) charges, and/or by contention in the retail service provider’s network.

Retail service providers like TPG pay CVC charges to NBN Co to gain bandwidth into the NBN. These charges are currently quite high, and this has allegedly encouraged some service providers to skimp on bandwidth, leading to contention.

A restructuring of the wholesale model as well as providing adequate bandwidth in NBN Co’s transit network could easily eliminate artificial throttling.

The amount of data allowed by retailers per month is also generally much higher on the NBN than in mobile networks. It is often unlimited.

This will always be a key difference between the NBN and 5G.

Don’t forget, 5G needs backhaul

In wireless networks, the connection between the base stations and internet is known as backhaul.

Today’s 4G networks often use microwave links for backhaul, but in 5G networks where the quantity of data to be transferred will be higher, the backhaul will necessarily be optical fibre.

In the US and elsewhere, a number of broadband service providers are planning to build 5G backhaul networks using passive optical network (PON) technology. This is the type used in the NBN’s FTTP sections.

In fact, this could be a new revenue opportunity for NBN Co. It could encourage the company to move back to FTTP in certain high-population density areas where large numbers of small-cell 5G base stations are required.

So, will 5G Compete with the NBN?

There is a great deal of excitement about the opportunities 5G will provide. But its full capacity will only be achieved through very large investments in infrastructure.

Like today’s 4G network, large data downloads for video streaming and other bandwidth-hungry applications will likely be more expensive using 5G than using the NBN.


Read More: The NBN needs subsidies if we all want to benefit from it


In addition, future upgrades to the FTTP sections of the NBN will accommodate download speeds as high as 10 Gb/s, which will not be achievable with 5G.

Unfortunately, those customers served by FTTN will not enjoy these higher speeds because of the limitations of the copper connections between the node and the premises.

The Conversation5G will provide convenient broadband access for some internet users. But as the demand for ultra-high-definition video streaming and new applications such as virtual reality grow, the NBN will remain the network of choice for most customers, especially those with FTTP services.

Rod Tucker, Laureate Emeritus Professor, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.