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Are we ready for 5G?

  • Published at 12:03 am October 26th, 2019

5G could change our lives, but there are concerns

Bangladesh’s telecom minister has again said that the country will roll out 5G services by the year 2021, and that the government will ensure that the services spread across the country by the same year. 

Speaking from a customer’s point of view, the minister said, according to media reports, people cannot talk on 3G, they don’t get any speed on 4G, and the network is rare on 2G. 

He is very right about those Gs. Our experiences with the existing 2G, 3G, and 4G haven’t been great. If we look at the 4G network which was launched in February last year, the real 4G isn’t here. 

Despite the service-providing companies investing huge amounts, the speed hasn’t been satisfactory. But there are also issues that have been put forward by the operators, which need to be addressed. Without solving those issues, we should refrain from saying that people haven’t got satisfactory results.

When we launched 3G, we hardly thought of the devices on which we would be using the technology. There was hardly any penetration of smartphones in Bangladesh; only a few used them in this country. 

Therefore, despite investing crores, the people didn’t get the benefit of 3G. The companies that introduced the technology got their return on investment. But in most cases, they were blamed for the unavailability of the network.

What if history repeats itself when we enter the 5G era? There’s no denying that we want to enter that era and allow the people to reap its benefits, but how well do we understand the technology? Is our telecom act updated enough to sustain 5G? 

We have already displayed our inability to upgrade the act on time. This is a fast-paced world; the policies, as well as laws, would have to be upgraded at that pace. Otherwise, we won’t be able to resolve the complications that would arise at that time.

As far as I understand, 5G would transmit data by using higher radio frequencies. It would be less cluttered, and would carry the information much faster than the other generations of networks. The signals and capacity would also be highly boosted. 

5G.co.uk says that 5G will support up to 1,000 more devices per metre than 4G. 

It would also allow the operators to divide a physical network up into multiple virtual networks, depending on how it’s being used. 

Many have claimed that it would be as much as 100 times quicker than 4G. I have also seen new reports claiming that 5G would be 1,000 times faster than 4G and some claimed it would only be 10 times faster than 4G. 

But the experts have claimed that 5G could offer download speeds of over 1Gb/s. 5G would allow us to download a full high definition movie in less than 10 seconds!

Movies or games -- our experiences will see a sea-change when we start using 5G technology. An instant real-time internet is in the offing. That also means that we will also get a real-time cloud. 

The electronics (the machines) would be able to exchange data and information fast enough to make instant decisions. Driverless cars, drones, trains, health care gadgets, wearables, smart fabrics, and connected-everything is possible. The Internet of Things will see a paradigm shift when all this takes place.

What happens currently if we are in a crowded place? For example, if you are in a stadium with 50,000 people? 

We don’t even get a phone signal, let alone the internet. The texts also don’t go out. This will change. These problems will go away once we have 5G.

Apart from the speed of the internet, 5G will have many other uses, especially for businesses and industries. The minister said: “It is difficult to specify how it will benefit the people, industries, and businesses.” Now there lies the problem. 

The point is that we still don’t know “how” it would benefit us. And the questions are: Are we trying to find out how 5G would benefit us? 

Are we closely watching the experiences of the countries that have been experimenting with 5G?

If not, how are we going to develop a roadmap in such a short time? Is the implementation of 5G technology very urgent for Bangladesh? 

Would there be a big problem if we take the time to understand it? The reason I’m mentioning this point is that we have created big problems in the past without understanding the previous technologies. This time, that shouldn’t happen.

There’s another aspect of our knowledge. All this time, we have talked about all the positive aspects of 5G. 

However, there will always be some negative aspects. 

The biggest concern may be a potential problem with health -- cancer, to be precise -- from the installation of many more antennas in urban areas to create 5G networks. In November 2018, over 180 scientists called for an independent task force to “pause the roll out of 5G networks” amid concerns about “potential hazards for human health.” 

A professor of oncology in Sweden, Dr L Harrell said: “The telecom industry is trying to roll out technology that might have very real, unintended harmful consequences ... the consequences for the health of humans, plants, and animals are not discussed at all.”

There are many like him. Therefore, thorough research is mandatory before we in Bangladesh embark on this new technology. 

Ekram Kabir is a story-teller. His other works can be found on ekramkabir.com.