Vodafone, Spark and 2degrees are warning of the possibility of lost emergency calls or interrupted internet as a string of attacks on cell towers continues.
Two more Auckland cell phone towers went up in flames overnight in suspicious circumstances - meaning there have now been 10 attacks in Auckland over the past six weeks, and 14 nationwide.
Outages have already been caused by an attack on a Spark tower in Māngere on Tuesday, and a fire in Porirua last month that interrupted service for thousands of 2degrees customers (although in that instance, police now believe an electrical fault was to blame).
In a video uploaded to Facebook of an earlier attack, in Manurewa (see clip above), the perpetrators made anti-5G statements.
Police said this afternoon that a 37-year-old man has been charged in relation to the Manurewa arson and is currently before the Manukau District Court. He is next due to appear on May 28. Police said they could not name the man, now the court process has commenced. Investigations into the other attacks are ongoing.
"This is not a valid form of protest on any level and instead will deprive communities of phone and internet access at a time where connectivity is more important than ever," Technology Users Association head Craig Young said this afternoon.
"On behalf of all users we call for this destructive behaviour to cease and for critical infrastructure to be left to provide the services we all need to remain safe."
And Geoff Thorn, head of the Telecommunications Forum, which represents the major telcos, told the Herald in early April: "We know that damage to mobile networks in other countries has been linked to groups opposed to 5G."
Facebook says it is removing content that repeats the baseless conspiracy theory that the coronavirus outbreak was caused by 5G mobile network upgrades.
The telcos are urging community members to report any suspicious activity near cell sites.
"These attacks are infuriating and can have real connectivity impacts for New Zealanders – meaning people could have reduced mobile phone and internet coverage in an area with a damaged cell site, which is a real issue particularly in South Auckland," said Vodafone NZ
wholesale and infrastructure director Tony Baird.
"While we've been able to keep customers connected so far, each attack has a cumulative negative impact."
The spate of recent arson attacks included the fire at a Spark tower in Māngere on Tuesday.
The latest fires took place in Ōtāhuhu and Favona overnight, acting Detective Inspector Shaun Vickers said.
"At around 2.38am, a police unit has spotted smoke on Todd Place, Ōtāhuhu and on further inspection the cell tower has been located on fire.
"Police were also called to another incident on Savill Drive, Favona at around 3.44am."
He said police were investigating the fires.
"Scene examinations have been conducted at both sites and we are treating these as suspicious."
One of the wildest conspiracy theories to emerge on social media recently has been that the introduction of 5G wireless technology had caused the Covid-19 outbreak.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was asked about it in early April and said it was totally false.
"I almost hesitate to even speak to it on this platform. It is just not true," she said.
Director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield also raised eyebrows at the suggestion.
Anti-5G protesters have been linked to at least two cell tower attacks recently.
This included the destruction of a new 4G cell tower in the Far North last month, just before to it was due to be switched on, and an arson attack on a cell site in Manurewa - whose protagonists posted a video of their efforts to Facebook.
Telecommunications companies were said to be privately fuming about the repeated threats made against towers.
Geoff Thorn, head of the Telecommunications Forum, which represents the major telcos, told the Herald in early April: "We know that damage to mobile networks in other countries has been linked to groups opposed to 5G. "
After Tuesday's attack on a tower in Mangere, a Spark spokeswoman said the telecommunication company was in close contact with police.
"We think that acts of vandalism against critical infrastructure like cell towers is outrageous, particularly during a pandemic – a time when connectivity is more important than ever," she said.
"Spark has been working with police about threats made to some of our cell sites, as well as some instances of arson. Generally, damage has been fairly negligible, but this is the second event which has caused an outage in the surrounding area."
In the UK, there have been about 80 incidents of cell tower arson or vandalism since the start of the outbreak.
Vodafone UK chief executive Nick Jeffery described attacks on 5G towers as a "matter of national security", and said police and counter-terrorism authorities were investigating the attacks, which Jeffery labelled the work of "deluded conspiracy theorists".
Police said their inquiries in last night's attacks in South Auckland were ongoing and they were treating the matters seriously.
"Anyone with information that may assist police is asked to contact Counties Manukau Crime Squad on (09) 261 1321 or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111," acting Detective Inspector Vickers said.