New Zealand's largest telecommunications operators are urging the government to step up efforts to counter scaremongering suggesting that microwave exposure from 5G internet services could affect human health.
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Opponents of the emerging technology have announced a four-date national speaking tour by a Finnish academic, Dariusz Leszczynski, an adjunct professor of biochemistry at the University of Helsinki, Finland, who argues that the absence of proof that 5G radio frequencies cause health effects doesn't mean that they don't.
However, an invitation for the Ministers of Health, Environment and Communication, David Clark, David Parker, and Kris Faafoi, to be briefed by Leszczynski "so they can be better informed when they make decisions on behalf of the New Zealand public" will not be taken up, the ministers' offices told BusinessDesk.
The national coordinator for the tour is Nelson-based lawyer and anti-1080 poison activist Sue Grey.
Telco representatives urged the government not just to ignore a growing clamour of what they say is anti-science opposition to a technology that is an extension of existing 3G and 4G internet technology. 5G, standing for 'fifth generation', services will be fundamental to the emergence of the so-called 'Internet of Things' to enable such services as self-driving cars, smart grids, automated industrial processes and delivery of digital services, such as e-healthcare.
Spark yesterday announced its 5G rollout plans, even though spectrum has yet to be allocated and it is uncertain which vendors will be allowed to supply the new network following pressure from the United States for nations not to use equipment sourced from Chinese-owned Huawei for national security reasons. A showcase 5G service is planned for The America's Cup series in Auckland, in 2021.
For local activists, one of the fears is that the technology requires a far larger number of cell sites than other mobile telephony because the reach of each site is more limited.
"From our perspective, this (5G alarmism) is one for the government to front up on – and quickly," said 2Degrees mobile network spokesman Mat Bolland. "They set a standard we comply with and have produced a paper outlining why 5G is no different to other versions of mobile technology and, if anything, is likely to involve lower level exposure."
2degrees had "never attempted to influence the standards and I doubt others have either. It's 1080 all over again – rational people are becoming really upset because this kind of misinformation is not being corrected by government agencies," Bolland said.
Chorus spokesman Ian Bonnar says "addressing the misinformation is important because we're already starting to see negative public policy outcomes in other countries – most recently in Switzerland where I understand there has been a temporary freeze put on the installation of new mobile sites in Geneva."
Vodafone's Richard Llewellyn echoed the call for government-led rebuttals.
"We believe the government needs to work harder to counter false and misleading information about 5G", which he said was proliferating on social media.
"Fears about the potential impact of technology are not new – for example vaccinations were being protested against as far back as the late 1800s. Every use of radio spectrum over the last century, from radios, to TV's, to microwaves has led to the same sorts of questions, which is why there have been tens of thousands of studies conducted over the decades."
While the Ministry of Health had published a fact sheet and the Prime Minister's Science Adviser was working on a report to rebut claims about 5G safety, Llewellyn said the government needed to "act swiftly" to counter misinformation.
Spark spokesman Andrew Pirie said the company operated with electro-magnetic frequency emissions "at a very small fraction" of government-imposed standards.
"It seems Dr Leszczynski has concerns about EMF in general," said Pirie. "But anti-EMF groups are going overboard trying to paint 5G as something radically different (and therefore with unique concerns) relative to earlier generations of wireless technology. The reality is 5G utilises similar radio spectrum ranges to 4G, 3G etc (in some cases, identical spectrum). It's just a newer, better technology."
Leszczynski said in his statement that he would "present the current scientific knowledge as well as the current lack of scientific research on the biological and health effects of the 5G millimeter-waves. I will also present the evidence, and the reasoning, for the invocation of the precautionary principle and for the temporary moratorium on 5G deployment, while awaiting for the much needed scientific research."