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5G or not 5G: that is the question

18 May, 2020

Conspiracy theorists have had a field day with 5G communications, resulting in their followers burning down dozens of 5G transmitter masts. Nikesh Mistry*, Gambica’s sector head for industrial automation, argues that there is no scientific basis for these fears and that 5G promises enormous potential benefits for industrial users.

The fifth generation of wireless communication protocols – ­more commonly known as 5G – has been the recent victim of umpteen conspiracy theories. Yes, it is a new technology and the first time that millimetre waves are being employed, but it is a technology that is still in its infancy, and thus too soon to link it directly to these conspiracies. Instead, it is essential that we focus on the facts we know about 5G.

First and foremost, 5G is not designed to replace 4G at this point. Both protocols are intended to operate in parallel and have different use case scenarios. As we move into a world filled with IoT devices, and as Industry 4.0 is adopted more widely by manufacturers, 5G is the enabler that will allow industries to connect greater numbers of devices. These devices will be able to communicate with each other and with other devices to allow near-real-time exchange of information. 

5G waves are known as millimetre waves because this is the unit that is used to measure their wavelengths. The 5G waves are shorter than those of 4G, which means their area of coverage is more limited. This is why we need to erect new masts to increase 5G’s coverage. 

With more masts and shorter wavelengths, what does this mean for the data itself? You guessed it: rapid transmission speeds. Faster transmission means access to files from cloud servers will be quicker than ever, allowing the capability for close-to-real-time remote intervention. While 5G promises to achieve speeds that are 100 times faster than 4G, speed is by no means its only benefit. 

Latency, while similar to speed, is another benefit of 5G technology. It refers to the elapsed time taken by an order or signal to pass from one device to another. 5G supposedly has a latency  of 1 millisecond – much lower than that of 4G. This makes it possible to be able to control devices remotely and boost productivity on all communicating devices. 

We have established what makes 5G faster than 4G, but is it a danger? This seems to be the hot topic of many 5G-related discussions. There is no solid evidence that any mobile communications technology can have a harmful effect on the human body or our health. 5G is simply an upgraded form of radio frequency (RF) communications.

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