After three more celltower arsons in Auckland overnight - taking a recent spate of attacks to at least 18 - telcos have revealed they are now taking extra security measures.
"We have been introducing additional security measures such as surveillance cameras in a bid to protect cell sites," Vodafone NZ infrastructure director Tony Baird told the Herald this morning.
The move has a degree of irony, given attackers recently filmed their own arson attempt on a Manurewa cell site, then posted it to Facebook.
Spark said it was also installing cameras.
2degrees said it was also working on extra security measures, but did not want to disclose them.
The first alleged arson happened around 10.45pm at a 2degrees site in Papatoetoe's Ferndown Ave, police said.
Similar incidents were then reported on Miller Rd in Mangere Bridge around 11pm and on Idlewild Ave in nearby Mangere around 12.30am, hitting another 2degrees site, plus one owned by Spark.
"The tower is damaged although customers are continuing to receive service from nearby towers.," a Spark spokeswoman said.
Acting Detective Inspector Shaun Vickers of the Counties Manukau Police said police were investigating all three fires.
Last month a 37-year-old man appeared in the Manukau District Court over a Manurewa arson attack at a cell tower in the south Auckland suburb that was videoed then shared widely on Facebook. Police would not name him while he was before the courts but said he is due to reappear on July 30.
In the UK, a spate of at least 30 attacks has been fuelled by a social media faction that makes false ties between the Covid-19 outbreak and 5G mobile network upgrades, according to a Financial Times report.
While local telcos have been loath to publically tie celltower attacks to 5G conspiracy theorists, Geoff Thorn, head of Telecommunications Forum (TCF), which represents Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees, said, "We know that damage to mobile networks in other countries has been linked to groups opposed to 5G."
None of the towers attacked overnight would have hosted 5G gear, as Spark and 2degrees have yet to upgrade to the faster new mobile network technology, but that's a nuance often lost on anti-5G protestors, such as those who recently mobbed the comments section on 2degrees' Facebook page.
'Social media-fuelled idiots'
The continued attacks have left commentators baffled and angry at the attacks, and the conspiracy theories behind them.
"Cellphones don't give people Covid and they don't cause cancer, yet there are still people out there spreading outrageous conspiracy theories that have no basis in science," says the Institute of IT Professionals' tech pundit Paul Brislen said this morning.
"How do they explain the increase in use of cellphones, even the new 5G capability, at the same time as we see Covid being eliminated from New Zealand's shores? There simply isn't a link, and never has been."
Brislen added that some 80 per cent of calls to emergency services are made from mobile devices.
"It's incredibly important that people have access to essential services, yet idiots like this put lives at risk because of some nonsense they read on social media."
On April 13, a brag video depicting the Manurewa cellphone attack went viral on Facebook, with two offenders shouting comments about 5G as they went about the arson.
It was shared at least 405 times and garnered 5500 views and counting, and 268 likes before Facebook responded to complaints and took the footage down.
A spokesman for Facebook said, "We're taking aggressive steps to stop misinformation and harmful content from spreading on our platforms and connect people to accurate information from the World Health Organisation about coronavirus.
"Content encouraging attacks on 5G masts clearly violates our policies and we have removed a number of pages, groups and posts. Over the last week, under our existing policies against harmful misinformation, we have also begun removing false claims that 5G technology causes the symptoms of or contraction of Covid-19.
"We will continue to work closely with governments, other tech companies and third parties to remove harmful misinformation and promote official guidance from local health authorities."
Not a valid form of protest
Whatever the merits of arguments against 5G (and he would say "none"), Telecommunications Users Association head Craig Young warns, "This vandalism 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. "
Anyone with information about the incidents or who saw suspicious activity at any of these locations is asked to contact Counties Manukau Police on 105 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
5G myths debunked
The persistence of conspiracy theories around 5G even forced Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to address the topic during last Wednesday's Covid-19 press conference.
She said there was no link between 5G and the virus and urged anyone who was concerned to refer to the Ministry of Health and Chief Science Adviser websites.
A comprehensive "What is 5G?" explainer published on the Chief Science Adviser's website notes the difference between harmful ionising radiation, such as that produced by X-rays, which has enough energy to harm cells with prolonged exposure, and non-ionising radiation (such as the radio frequencies used for 5G transmission, 5G phones and Wi-Fi) that do not have enough energy to damage cells.
Those concerned about 5G often cite that radiofrequency radiation was classified as a "possible human carcinogen" by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (an arm of the United Nations' World Health Organisation) in 2011.
The Chief Science Adviser's 5G Q&A puts this into context, noting the "possible" category - unlike the IARC's "probable" list - includes phenomena where a link to cancer cannot be completely ruled out and "catches many commonly encountered things, such as pickles and dry cleaning, so represents a low-risk rating. To put this in perspective, even the classification above this, 'probable human carcinogens,' includes widely encountered activities including drinking very hot drinks and working night shifts".