Foto Ana Morais

Ana Mendonça Morais
– Marketing & Communication Strategist –

COVID-19, the USA and security

Oh, where to start with the 5g network… the stories surrounding this technology have been extensive, intense and varied. From the connection to COVID-19 to acts of vandalism, passing through the USA and security issues. Perhaps it is best to start with a brief explanation of what 5G technology is. Then, analyze the biggest 5G controversies. Or could they be true Fear nothing – I guarantee that this article will not be a conspiracy theory!

 

What does the 5G network consist of?

The 5G network is the latest result from 40 years of technological evolution. It appears 4 decades after the launch of the 1G network. This is thus the fifth generation of mobile network – and of course promises to be much more effective than the previous ones.

Previous generations

Each generation of mobile network has made different advances. From voice calls, on the 1G network, we also move to the text messages on the 2G network. The 3G network also included internet access through mobile data. The 4G network joined all this and still guaranteed access to mobile broadband. And this without even mentioning the connection speeds of the networks, which have greatly improved. Furthermore, the 4G could reach 1Gbps per second, much more than previous networks – the speed of the 1G was less than 10Kbps. For references, the velocity units are, in ascending order, Kbps, Mbps, Gbps, whereas the next is 1000x faster than the previous one. Therefore, 1Mbps corresponds to 1000Kbps and 1 Gbps corresponds to 1000Mbps.

The characteristics of the 5G

We can start with the speed: the 5G has a minimum speed of 10Gbps. This means an increase of 10x compared to the maximum speed of the 4G! In other words… it’s really fast.

But there is more: the response time of the devices, after receiving an order, is also shorter. That is, the latency becomes almost a non-subject. This applies to, for example, to household appliances or even electric cars. But, of course, also to cell phones. Imagine, for example, that 2 free hours are coming up in your calendar and you really want to see a movie on your phone. Thanks to this technology, the  download is done in seconds! At a time when we are increasingly impatient, especially in digital, this is a great advantage.

In addition to speed, the 5G network also allows greater connectivity. It has a greater capacity to support various devices connected to the internet simultaneously – about 100, more precisely. This makes room for a better implementation of the “Internet of Things”. The Internet of Things is essentially the connection of everyday objects to the  internet. An example?  Smart sockets and lights at home, fully controllable through an app on your phone or tablet.

The 5G network promises to make the connections and our lives easier more than ever. Have you forgotten to switch off a light on at home? Check on the app and switch it off. It’s cold and you want the house warm when you get there? Turn on the heater in time via your mobile phone. Need to do a short trip in the city and cycling is a good option? Find the nearest one through the rental apps.

However, there are those who fear that so much connectivity actually has serious consequences. For both our freedom and our health. There are those who question the extent to which our privacy is protected and our security guaranteed. Some believe that this is just another step to sell our freedom without us realizing it – or, worse, without wanting to know. Almost like an idea of “Big Brother is watching you”.

The biggest controversies

The connection to COVID-19 and acts of vandalism

The beginning of 2020 saw what would become a global pandemic in Europe as a result of the spread of COVID-19. The virus, which originated in China, has taken the whole world by storm. At the same time, some messages were circulating on Twitter that associated this virus with the launch of the 5G mobile network. According to this theory the symptoms associated to the virus were in reality caused by the 5G network. And the quarantine was nothing more than a scheme for the government to implement this network more easily.

Is this new technology responsible for the spread of the virus?

Is it all part of a bigger plan?

Or is it just a coincidence?

The truth is that this was one of the trending themes of social network and, although it has no scientific basis, it captured the attention of many people through the hashtag #5GCoronavirus. In fact, the topic was so relevant that it became the subject of an article of investigation published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, which you can consult here. According to the study, almost 35% of tweets that included the hashtag supported this theory.

Admittedly, this topic seems to be nothing more than a conspiracy theory. After all, what are the comments on social networks? But this issue goes far beyond a first analysis. It touches a key point for taking positions and making decisions: information. Without information we have nothing. With information we can have everything. But what happens when we have the wrong information, or when we choose only the one that suits us?

Moreover, this also calls into question the responsibility of the social networks themselves. On the one hand, we can consider that the platforms themselves must ensure that fake content has not traction, especially when it can have a significant impact. On the other hand, we can also contemplate the extent to which this could be censorship and affect users’ freedom of expression. But we will keep this particular theme for another day.

Back to Twitter: from here, the conspiracy theory took to the streets. In the UK, dozens of 5G telecommunications structures have been vandalised. Set on fire, actually. Politicians and employees of telecommunications companies were harassed and even threatened. And all for the sake of a “revolution” to fight the villains. The theory thus became an imminent physical danger. The discernment got lost somewhere between one social network and another. Because, in reality, there is no scientific evidence about the negative impact of these technologies on our health – much less in the context of a pandemic.

The USA and the issue of security

According to The President of the United States of America, Donald Trump, the Chinese company Huawei is a danger and a threat to the national security of the U.S., and its components should be banned from the country. But the truth is that the company poses the greatest threat to the U.S. when it comes to wireless technology. Huawei is far ahead in technological development, particularly with regard to 5G. Which means that, deep down, China is way ahead.

At the moment, Huawei is the leading provider of technology used to build and develop the 5G network. Therefore, if 5G is the next step and the USA is unable to accompany its implementation – because it has been expensive and inefficient, as referred in this article in The New York Times – the devices of the future will all have Chinese components (and integration).  Therein lies the even greater danger in the eyes of the United States.

Could 5G become a spy weapon in the eternal power struggle?

The thing is, apparently and for the time being, there is no evidence that this has happened. Huawei has denied a connection to the Chinese government and stressed that it is an independent company. In other words, it supposedly has no political interest in developing and distributing components that could be used to endanger the national security of other countries. But the answer to this has been mostly “prevention is better than the cure”.

Today, this theme has had many more developments and repercussions, including in Europe. Sweden, for example, was the latest country to ban Huawei equipment from its 5G network, citing security reasons. The UK had already done the same a few months ago. You can see a timeline related to the bans  on Huawei in this article.

In summary, a new technological advance can, and should, raise questions. Especially when its application is as extensive as that of 5G. This technology represents another step towards a fully digital and technology-dependent life. It’s a so-called facilitator which, as we can see, isn’t that simple.

While it can be unreasonable to associate this technology to the global pandemic we are going through, it is also important to try to see beyond. Understand how technology integrates into our day-to-day and how it leaves us free or deprived of anything. Look beyond the obvious. Question, ponder, and decide whether the advantages outweigh the possible disadvantages. Especially if our safety is at stake.

Deep down, how far do we want to go and what are we willing to give up to get there?