What’s the 5G hype all about?


by Marie Aspiazu

5G has become a buzzword. It’s nearly impossible to go online these days and not see a story that relates to it. But what is 5G actually and what does it mean for the future of connectivity and Internet users?

5G is the next (5th generation) of Internet and wireless connectivity, which will rely on higher frequency bands known as the “micro-millimeter wave spectrum” which is able to carry larger amounts of data compared to today’s 3G and 4G LTE networks. It will be characterized by faster speeds (10 to 100 times faster than current offerings) and make latency – the delay in transmitting and processing data – nonexistant. This will allow people to download Internet movies in a matter of seconds and make the delay between sending and receiving a text less than a millisecond!

Socially, the hyper-connectivity of this new technology could be revolutionary. It will enable the new era of the Internet of Things, like self-driving cars, smart cities and remote surgery. But it also comes with great risks and concerns, particularly in terms of vulnerability to cyber attacks and enhanced surveillance capabilities. When combined with real time location data that telecoms and online platforms already collect en masse from users, facial recognition technologies and artificial intelligence, 5G could make it easier to track individuals and identify very specific characteristics about them. And it could completely wipe out anonymity.

5G has also become a contentious issue between nations, with the US, Australia, Japan and New Zealand banning Huawei – the Chinese tech giant and largest supplier of telecommunications equipment in the world – citing national security concerns. In other words, countries like the US are worried that Huawei could be an avenue for the Chinese government to spy on other nations. But beyond national security concerns, this is also about power: controlling 5G could make it possible for certain interests to track what everyone is doing online all the time. Creepy, right?

Canada is currently holding off on its decision on whether to ban Huawei, possibly until after the federal election. Yet our national telecoms are Canada is currently holding off on its decision on whether to ban Huawei are eager to deploy the new technology.

However, as the excitement over 5G builds up, it is important avoid letting the 5G hype undermine some of the most fundamental aspects of the open Internet. We need to build and deploy the network with foresight to tackle some of its unintended and harmful consequences.

For instance, Ian Scott, the Chair of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), has already hinted at undermining Net Neutrality, using new technologies like 5G as an excuse. Additionally, Big Telecom has recently used the deployment of 5G as as an argument against allowing, in Canada, the setup of Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) – smaller wireless providers that lease broadcasting space from national carriers. The latter is of particular concern given that the CRTC is currently doing a comprehensive review of the mobile market . The review could be a game changer for people in Canada who pay some of the highest cell phone bills in the world due to lack of competition. Moreover, pushing back against MVNOs, using 5G as an excuse, is at odds with the new CRTC policy direction, which focuses on affordability, competition, and the interests of consumers rather than market forces and telecom self-regulation.

The introduction of 5G could also worsen the digital divide as telecoms focus on its deployment – while shifting investment away from 4G/LTE (which offers better coverage) and even fixed fibre, which is essential to 5G in the first place. Additionally, it is worth noting that 5G is not an adequate substitute for fixed fibre for connecting rural communities.

Lastly, we can’t let the 5G hype blind us to the fact that we need to build resiliency into our new networks, with security by design as a forethought rather than an afterthought.

The topic of 5G has multiple layers to it and its deployment will add even more complexity to our society. So we need to start asking ourselves what would be the best way to deploy 5G. How can we take advantage of the hyperconnectivity of this new era without sacrificing things that we cherish, such as privacy, affordability and bridging the urban-rural digital divide?

P.S. If you have any thoughts our concerns about 5G, feel free to shoot us an email at contact@openmedia.org.

Marie Aspiazu is a campaigner and social media specialist at OpenMedia, a community-based organization that works to keep the Internet open, affordable and surveillance-free. openmedia.org

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