AS a tech enthusiast, I have been eagerly anticipating the arrival of 5G for a while now. With the potential for faster download speeds, lower latency and more reliable connections, it is no surprise that many people are enthusiastic about the possibilities of this new technology.

However, as the rollout of 5G networks continues around the world, it is becoming increasingly evident that the actual benefits of 5G may not be as significant as initially touted.

According to the latest data from Ericsson’s November Mobility Report, 5G subscriptions were expected to reach 780 million by the end of 2022. China, the US and South Korea are expected to lead in terms of deployment.

While these numbers may seem impressive, the report also emphasises that subscription numbers alone will not measure 5G’s success.

The reality is that the deployment of 5G networks is slow and expensive, and many people may not have access to 5G for years to come.

Let us explore some of the concerns and challenges associated with 5G, and why it may not be the game-changer that many of us had hoped for.

Health concerns

One of the major concerns about 5G is its potential health impact due to increased exposure to radiofrequency radiation. Some studies have suggested a link between radiofrequency radiation and health problems, such as cancer, infertility and electromagnetic hypersensitivity. However, the scientific community has not yet reached a consensus on the extent of the potential risk.

On one hand, some experts and organisations, such as the World Health Organisation and the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), have stated that based on current scientific evidence, 5G technology does not pose a significant risk to human health.

According to ICNIRP chair Eric van Rongen, “the exposure from 5G is expected to be similar to or lower than that from existing mobile phone technologies, and any potential health effects are expected to be negligible”.

On the other hand, other scientists and organisations have expressed concern about the potential health risks associated with 5G. Environmental Health Trust epidemiologist and founder Devra Davis said: “5G radiation has not been proven safe for humans. On the contrary, scientists worldwide are calling for a halt to the rollout of 5G, citing health effects ranging from cancer to reproductive harm to electromagnetic hypersensitivity.”

While the debate about the safety of 5G is ongoing, it is important that we consider and evaluate all available scientific evidence.

As we continue to deploy 5G networks, we should prioritise research and studies to further understand any potential health risks and how to mitigate them.

Expensive rollout

Another issue with 5G is the high cost of deploying the necessary infrastructure. Building a 5G network requires a significant amount of investment in new equipment and infrastructure, which can be costly for telecommunication companies and governments alike.

For example, according to a report by Deloitte, the total cost of building a nationwide 5G network in the US can range from US$130 billion (RM576.90 billion) to US$275 billion. As a comparison, Nasa’s (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) budget for its lunar exploration programmes, including the Artemis programme to land humans on the moon by 2024, costs only US$25.2 billion, according to its 2022 fiscal year budget request.

The high cost of 5G deployment can be attributed to a few factors. First, 5G networks require a significant amount of new equipment and infrastructure, including new cell towers and small cells, fibre optic cables and specialised radios and antennas.

Second, the deployment of 5G networks can be more challenging and costly in certain regions, such as rural or mountainous areas, where there may be limited access to existing infrastructure or difficult terrain to navigate.

Finally, the cost of deployment may also depend on the regulatory environment in a given country, with some governments, like the US, China, Japan and the UK, providing subsidies or other incentives to encourage the rollout of 5G networks.

Despite the high cost of deployment, many telecommunications companies and governments view 5G as a worthwhile investment. It has the potential to support the development of new applications and services in areas, such as healthcare, education and transportation.

Security concerns

While 5G networks offer the promise of faster and more connected devices, there are concerns about the potential security risks that come with this increased connectivity.

As more devices become connected to 5G networks, there is a greater risk of cyber-attacks and data breaches. In addition, the use of new and untested technologies in 5G networks may create vulnerabilities that could be exploited by hackers.

While these security concerns are valid, it is important to note that telecommunication companies and governments are aware of the potential risks and are taking steps to address them. For example, the 5G security standards developed by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project include features, such as encryption, authentication and network slicing, that can help protect against cyber-attacks and data breaches.

Additionally, governments and regulatory bodies are also implementing regulations and guidelines to ensure that 5G networks are secure and reliable.

It is worth noting that security concerns are not unique to 5G networks and that all networks are potentially vulnerable to cyber-attacks and data breaches.

Similar concerns were also raised when 4G was introduced commercially in the late 2000s. While there were some bona fide incidents of security breaches and cyber-attacks on 4G networks, like the “Fake ID” vulnerability, the impact was relatively limited and the industry was able to develop effective security measures to address these issues.

The same can be expected for 5G networks too as the industry continues to work to develop and implement security measures to protect against potential vulnerabilities and threats.

In conclusion, the introduction of 5G networks represents a significant leap forward in mobile connectivity, promising faster speeds, lower latency and greater reliability. However, as with any new technology, there are also potential challenges and risks that must be addressed.

Ultimately, the decision of whether to jump onto the 5G bandwagon or not will depend on a wide range of factors, including individual preferences, available infrastructure and the potential risks and benefits of the technology.

As with any decision involving new technology, it is important to stay informed and to carefully weigh the potential risks and benefits before making a decision.

So, are you ready to embrace 5G and all the benefits it has to offer? “To go 5G or not to go, that is the question.”

The writer is the Chief Operating Officer of Uniten (Universiti Tenaga Nasional) and Associate Professor at the Department of Computing, College of Computing and Informatics, Uniten. Comments:

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