Allaying Fears of Purported 5G Link with COVID-19

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Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta

The position of telecoms industry regulator and technology experts in the unfounded allegation that 5G network has some correlation with COVID-19 outbreak, will go a long way in addressing the growing fears of Nigerians, write Emma Okonji and Nosa Alekhuogie

Palpable fear gripped Nigerians last week, when unverified news on the purported 5G link with Coronavirus also known as COVID-19, was trending on social media. It was alleged that the Coronavirus that has infected over one million people and killed over 65,000 people globally, including Nigeria, was triggered by the switching on of 5G network in China.

The fear was further heightened among Nigerians, when the peddlers of the unverified information further alleged that the two weeks sit-at-home order given by the Federal Government to curb the spread of the virus, was a deliberate attempt by government to enable telecoms operators in Nigeria to complete the installation of their 5G networks across the country.

It became very obvious that the information was not correct because China had long rolled out its 5G network before the discovery of COVID-19 in December 2009 in Wuhan, an industrial city in China, from where the virus spread to other countries through physical contact and by association.

In order to douse the rising fear among Nigerians, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the telecoms industry regulator, as well as experts in telecoms networks, including the a Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ibrahim Pantami, came out with empirical figures from various research carried out by globally authorised bodies, to prove to Nigerians that is no correlation between 5G and COVID-19. NCC therefore called on Nigerians to remain calm and discard all unverified information about the cause and spread of the Coronavirus pandemic.

About 5G

5G is a fifth generation of mobile technology, which is an improvement of today’s 4G technology with enhanced capabilities. 5G technology provides the platform for new and emerging technologies such as Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Big Data to improve the way people live and work. Currently there is no 5G network in Nigeria, but the NCC, last year, approved the trial launch of 5G network in Nigeria, and permitted MTN to do a demo on 5G trial launch in three cities, Lagos, Abuja and Calabar, and the trial launch was to last for three months.

Although Nigeria has available spectrum for 5G rollout, such as the millimetre wave spectrum from 24GHz and above, but till date, NCC has not come up with the exact frame time for the actual launch of 5G network in Nigeria. It plans to auction it at the appropriate time.

In Nigeria, the National Frequency Management Council (NFMC), chaired by the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, has the responsibility for allocating bulk spectrum for various services.

Countries like South Korea, China, USA, Germany and others had since June 2019, launched 5G network in their various countries.

Giving the many benefits of 5G, NCC has said that Nigerians do not need to worry about the alleged linkage of 5G and COVID-19, insisting that safety and human health are top priority in the design and deployment of 5G networks globally.

Minister’s position

The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ibrahim Pantami, who featured on Channels Television on Sunday to discuss 5G and COVID-19, called on Nigerians to discard any unverified information about 5G and COVID-19, and to remain calm in face of Coronavirus pandemic as government work hard to control its spread.
Pantami said government does not take decisions based on speculations, but only on facts and figures, which must be based on the input from experts within the field.

According to Pantami, “For this reason, when the issue of COVID-19 came up, the first thing government did was to discourage people from talking unnecessarily in order to allow experts in the area to speak so that from what they say, the world would be able to know what to do.

“Nigeria had a demo trial of 5G on the 25th of November 2019, which was initially arranged to be conducted in September same year, but I directed NCC to put it on hold till November 25 to enable government accommodate all stakeholders and prepare them for the trial launch. “During the trial launch, we invited stakeholders, security institutions and many more. After the trial launch, we gave them a challenge to go and review the trial, come up with recommendations that will be a guide for government to take decisions to either deploy it or not.

If government is to deploy, then that recommendation will be accommodated in the regulatory instrument to be developed by NCC. The trial has been concluded since, NCC has been working on the report, collecting observations, recommendations, and many more from the stakeholders who witnessed it. From that report, the government will take a decision and so far the report is yet to reach me. I will be the last person that the report will come to within the ICT sector. So the report is still with NCC and they are still working on it. When the report comes to me, we will review it and make our position very clear.

“We have never deliberated the issue at the National Frequency Management Council to give spectrum to either the NCC or the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC). From my interactions with NCC, the Commission has never given any operator the license to operate 5G in Nigeria, and the decision to do so would be taken based on the research and the opinion of experts.”

Pantami therefore called on Nigerians not be worried because no license for 5G has been issued, no spectrum for 5G deployment has been issued and no approval has been given to any telecoms operator to deploy 5G in Nigeria.

NCC clears doubts

In order to clear the air of all doubts and fears, NCC, on Monday, released an official statement for the first time, clarifying all grey areas about the purported link between 5G and COVID-19.

The statement, which was signed by the Director, Public Affairs at NCC, Dr. Henry Nkemadu, read in part: “In view of the recent development in which misleading materials with no proven evidence being circulated to link COVID-19 with 5G technology, it has become imperative for the NCC to provide the following clarifications; Firstly, there is no correlation between 5G technology and COVID-19. 5G is an advancement on today’s 4G technology designed to transform the world positively.

Secondly, there is no deployment of 5G in Nigeria at the moment. The NCC back in November 2019,mapproved trial test for 5G for a period of three months and the trial has been concluded and installation decommissioned. The trial among others was to study and observe any health or security challenges the 5G network might present. Relevant stakeholders including members of the security agencies were invited to participate during the trial. The NCC will continue to maintain its policy of technology neutrality and will continue to encourage Service providers to deploy the best technology that will meet the needs of the society in a secured and friendly manner.”

The Director, Technical Standards and Network Integrity at NCC, Mr. Bako Wakil, had earlier told THISDAY that there were no scientific studies to show that electromagnetic emissions from telecoms facilities, including mobile phones, could cause health hazard to humans. He therefore called on Nigerians to discard the speculations linking 5G network to COVID-19.

The Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta has put several measures in place to ensure the safety of Nigerians, ahead of the release of the report by NCC that will determine how and when 5G will be commercially rolled out in Nigeria.
NCC has been at the forefront of enforcing compliance to standards by Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and other licensees in the industry.

Through its Technical Standards and Network Integrity Department, the Commission has continued to raise the bar of ensuring standardisation in the nation’s telecoms industry to safeguard the health of citizens.

Stakeholder’s advice

Collaborating with NCC, the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), on Monday, released a statement, where it explained that there was no correlation between 5G and Coronavirus pandemic that is plaguing the world.

According to the statement signed by ALTON’s Chairman, Mr. Gbenga Adebayo: “ALTON’S attention has been drawn to the recent issue in the media space regarding the strange connection of 5G technology to the Coronavirus pandemic across the globe. We would ordinarily have dismissed this ‘controversy’which is being vociferously pursued by some people as ignorant tirades occasioned by the morbid fear of the rampaging Coronavirus, but with the prevailing circumstances of fear and tension, we have decided to categorically make the following statements.

While aligning with the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami that 5G has not been licensed by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) in Nigeria, let us bear in mind that telecommunication standards are prescribed for use by the relevant international Regulatory Agencies after thorough and comprehensive tests have been carried out to ensure particularly that all approved standards are safe for the Human environment and health. Note therefore that all spectrum and frequencies used today by the mobile and satellite industries, have been extensively researched and are covered by the international safety guidelines.

“There is no iota of truth that 5G Technology is the cause of the Coronavirus pandemic. The virus is also spreading in places without 5G networks like Nigeria. There are many parts of the world that do not have 5G coverage yet, but are still affected by the virus.”

In the same vein, the Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), also issued a statement on Monday to correct the misinformation about 5G and Coronavirus. President of ATCON, Mr. Olusola Teniola said in the statement that “ATCON wishes to inform telecom consumers, other stakeholders and the entire Nigerians, without any equivocation, that the purported claims that 5G is responsible for COVID-19, is baseless and it should be discountenanced by Nigerians as what it is false information. The claims have not been substantiated, by any conclusive empirical evidence, by either the World Health Organisation (WHO) or other health research institutions.”

Global view

A study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) radiation from Base Transceiver Stations (BTS) and public health, had earlier stated that from the very low exposure levels and research results collected to date, there is no convincing scientific evidence that the weak radio frequency signals from base stations and wireless networks cause adverse health effects.

In a special report on USA Today, Bob O’Donnell said: “The coronavirus pandemic and its ongoing consequences have given us all plenty to think about and worry about. 5G has no causal connection to COVID-19, contrary to several recent misguided online rumors.

“In fact, according to a seven-year-long scientific study published just this month, 5G has no detrimental health effects in general.

But it’s worth examining why 5G can’t possibly be related to the coronavirus from a scientific and factual perspective and why it isn’t a health concern in general.”