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The Gibraltar 5G “Live” Debate

Business / Featured / Technology / January 26, 2020

Fifth-generation technology, designed to create faster, more significant, worldwide connectivity has instead divided the globe. Everywhere we look debates and disagreements are taking place, marches and protests against this new technology. Against it are the so-called Luddites, holding back a technological revolution, those in favour carry the label of profit-hungry corporations with a greedy eye on the main prize, wealth.

The claims are that 5G allows for faster movie downloads, greater connectivity between devices, the possibility of new infrastructures such as self-driving cars, augmented reality, drones to deliver our food and parcels, real-time high definition reporting of crimes, missing persons, fires and natural disasters.

A full house gathered at the John Mackintosh Lecture Hall, some seeking answers, others wanting to make a point, and those of us who did not have a clue what to expect but hoping for enlightenment.

What commenced was two and a half hours of heated debate, with emotions running high and many questions unanswered much to the frustration of quite a few in the audience.

Jansen Reyes, Gibtelecom Director of Technology plus Adrian Moreno, Chief Operations Officer, commenced with a detailed but hasty explanation and PowerPoint presentation of the technologies surrounding 5G.  Following on from the Gibtelecom lecture, the debate squarely focussed on the Environmental Health Trust’s call for a moratorium on the proposed 5G rollout, mainly due to concerns surrounding radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (EMF), and the potential for these to cause harm.

The debate revolved around expert reports from the National Toxicology Programme, and results derived from research into mobile phone technology and its effects on rats where scientists stated that they “…believe that the link between radio frequency radiation and tumors in male rats is real, and the external experts agreed”.  Jansen Reyes of Gibtelecom relied upon the refuted comments by ICNIRP stating that any results of testing on EMF “need to be considered within the context of other animal and human carcinogenicity research.”  The jury is still out on the research.

What is clear is that providers such as Ericsson and Huawei are currently leading the way in 5G technology, experimenting with millimetre wave, high-frequency technologies. When we look at the numbers, it is staggering how far the technology can take us in terms of bandwidth speeds.

Right now, Gibtelecom’s 4G+ LTE (Long Term Evolution) mobile network, is delivering bandwidth speeds above 300Mbps. Back in 2017, Gibtelecom signed a £4million contract with Ericsson for the implementation of an IP Multimedia Subsystem. The deployment of the system paved the way to 2020’s roll of 5G. At the time, Jansen Reyes, Gibtelecom Director of Technology, knew that this IP Multimedia Subsystem would facilitate 5G. Fast forward 3 years and here we are, 5G is a reality and a foregone conclusion, despite concerns and lack of concrete, impartial and conclusive research into the safety of this fifth-generation technology.

Trying to win over the people of Gibraltar last year, John Mackintosh square hosted Ericsson’s so-called revolutionary 5G event. Instead, this event marked the commencement of a worrying journey for those more concerned with health and the environment rather than a super-fast connected “Smart Gibraltar”.

The question “do we need 5G?” is at the heart of this global debate. For instance, the promises that 5G promise to deliver include:

  • Wearable tech such as glasses to read our WhatsApp messages
  • Drones to find missing people, detect fires, with real-time reporting
  • Drones to deliver our pizzas
  • Cars that drive themselves

Technology is fast growing, impossible to control, impervious and it needs space to advance. Compared to, say, 10 years ago we have more people using wireless networks, more devices in the home, the consumption of data has escalated to such an extent that the radio waves bandwidth is a crowded space, resulting in slower connections. According to Gibtelecom, 4G LTE is likely to fail to provide the demands for new tech developments such as artificial intelligence.

Questions about the health risks still ricochet from opponent to proponent. One thing that evolved from the debate is that there is still no clear clarification or independent, non-partial, research providing definitive answers.

Gibtelecom stated that they are not performing any research themselves. Instead, they rely on scientific research already carried out, research which is clearly out of date, unreliable and refuted by many resisters to 5G. This element caused some concern due to unsatisfactory answers into the standards set by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation (ICNIRP).

Nobody wants to stop evolution or development, but the question persists, do we need it? How safe is it to allow our devices to take over our lives further than they do already? The Internet of Things (IoT) already has devices communicating with each other on our behalf, collecting our data and selling our data with one aim, to make money.  Anyone questioning the need, the safety, voicing privacy concerns, lack of research into the effects, have the label Luddites attached to them.

Gibraltar’s 5G upgrade requires four new masts dotted around Upper Town and the Rock. In fairness, these new masts, although ugly, are preferable to the controversial millimetre wavelength masts and significant drawbacks to this aspect of the technology, including the need for many more “base stations,” i.e. many masts on the ground using small cell technology.

However, there was a hint that the Chief Minister is not ruling out 5G in its entirety for the future meaning the likelihood of these controversial base stations in Gibraltar.

We were grateful for the meeting and for the time and effort by Gibtelecom, despite the feeling that the presentation felt more like a corporate PR exercise. Quite rightly, the business element of Gibraltar does not want to be adrift or stuck in a time warp. For gadget and media lovers, the ability to download a film in seconds rather than minutes is apparently essential and the advantages are numerous for sure, but the health risks have some of us running to the hills, away from the masts, gadgets, and new tech development.

Regulatory issues remain the remit of the GRA and, hopefully, the impartiality of the Chief Minister (who happens to be on Gibtelecom’s board of directors.)

Going forward the Environmental Health Trust can be trusted to keep a close eye on the matter of 5G, and they call for more information on exclusion zones, more research into millimetre cell technology and its potentially harmful effects as evidenced in laboratories.  The EHT also suggested a lobby group to provide recommendations into the everyday use of new technologies especially where children are concerned.  The EHT informed Gibtelecom that they expect new laws protecting consumers of wireless technology. Additionally, where possible, they hope to have guaranteed safer alternatives explored for the future, such as hard-wired fibre optic cabling rather than mini cell towers.

Take a look at the original 5G Gibraltar article.

Original Content by Tracy Jennifer on behalf of City Guide Gibraltar


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