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5G, unbundling the internet

By Teri Sequeira:

Does anyone really understand all this techno-speak regarding 2G, 3G and 4G LTE internet services? We, or course, always want the latest version of everything – but what do these mean. The first thing is “G” stands for “Generation”.

So – 1G were the first cellular networks. 2G was when networks allowed text messaging. 3G allowed access to the internet via mobiles phones. 4G has expanded on 3G options, especially around increased speeds. All this technology is based on microwave technology – which allowed the wireless transmission of cellular services across great distances. So now, you know.

This year will see the introduction of 5G technology. At first glance, this sounds amazing. We are talking about two improvements on areas which have caused bottlenecks with users and the type of service accessible. The first is speed, which impacts on every internet-based service, such as WhatsApp calls and video streaming. The second is latency.

Latency is the amount of time taken for the network to respond to user requests. Clicking on a link to stream video, for example. 5G promises to increase internet speed between 10 and 100 times the existing 4G speeds (up to 10Gbps). Even faster than a direct fibre optic link. Latency is also improved with a comparison that responding to a click will be as fast as a camera flash response. And – one more thing – a 5G network is also designed to connect a lot more devices at the same time.

This enables expanded use of the Internet Of Things (IOT) —where devices will talk to each other without human intervention. This enables such technology as self-driving cars, and intelligent home appliances, amongst other things.

All together 5G offers some amazing technological benefits – accessing data heavy apps based on virtual reality for example, or even remote surgery. Sounds amazing, right? Ok, but perhaps not – if we look at this further. 5G is not based on microwave technology. It uses a higher frequency bandwidth, called millimeter waves.

This means – amongst other things, that it can only be efficiently transmitted for shorter distances and is less efficient at penetrating buildings and other objects. This means that many, many more transmitters (or antennae) will need to be deployed closer to user networks. Some researchers are talking about new towers in the millions to ensure uniform and reliable coverage.

Therefore, if you are in a 5G network area, it is likely that you will be more exposed to radiowave transmitters – I have no doubt the skyline of many cities will be transformed. Secondly, you will not be able to access 5G on your current 4G – or earlier – phone. This will mean wholesale purchases of new phones – good news to the mobile phone manufacturers, no doubt. So – if you are in an area where 5G is planned in the next 24 months – this is how long any phone you have, or buy, will last. Unless you wish to remain with an earlier generation phone and miss out on all the new technologies and applications. Of course, mobile operators will continue to offer a mix of the old and new technologies to its subscribers.

Finally, here is the elephant in the room. 5G service providers have not acknowledged any health risks with this technology, and in fact very little research on this technology has been carried out. There has been no premarket testing of this technology or the mix of frequencies users will be exposed to.

There are no protective regulations to assure monitoring of radiation levels for each transmitter – and remember – there will be a lot more of them. Public health officials and scientists have rightly red flagged this technology, for several reasons. Most importantly, that unlike microwaves, exposure to millimetre waves can have adverse effects on the human body, including skin and eye damage.

They also highlight damage to plants and trees and the insect ecosystem. In short, we do not know enough yet on this technology. Shouldn’t we know more, or will the attraction of instant communication, fast video streaming and virtual reality win the day?

Teri Sequeira is Managing Director of SyncIT Solutions Ltd. He can be reached on or

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