The Nigerian upper legislative chamber has ordered that further process for deployment of fifth generation internet technology (5G) be suspended in Nigeria until it is satisfied the technology is suitable for the people. OMOBAYO AZEEZ reports that this condition has presented fresh huddles for rollout of the fastest internet technology.
It is the dream of every discerning nation to take an early bird position in the deployment of 5G technology as the fifth generation network presents an array of improvements in internet connectivity that will better serve the people and the economy.
This excitement towards the new internet generation was heartily felt in Nigeria starting from November 25, 2019 after the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the country’s telecoms regulator, facilitated a demo of 5G network by MTN Nigeria, the biggest telecoms players in the country, which was later on followed with another trials in Calabar and Lagos.
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However, in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic ravaging the world, 5G has received heavy blows coming from pervasive insinuations that it may be responsible for the deadly disease, and as such, majority of the public have seen it as unsafe and hazardous to human health.
While this strange accusation, and many other conspiracy theories against 5G continued, local authorities in Nigeria, particularly the NCC and the Federal Ministry of Communication and Digital Economy, have made swift efforts to debunk allegations against the technology and assure the public of its suitability.
Supported by other players in the nation’s telecoms industry, the local authorities tried to clarify that 5G is a fifth generation of mobile technology which is an improvement of today’s 4G technology with enhanced capabilities.
According to Association of Telecommunication Companies of Nigeira (ATCON) and Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), the 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 we live and work.
All these efforts have however proven unsatisfactory to allay the fear of risking public health and safety in the name of any technology that guarantees the fastest internet speed the world has ever seen, even though the technology has not become operative in Nigeria.
Senate’s intervention or interruption?
Not satisfied with all vindicating explanations from local and international authorities such as the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), World Health Organisation (WHO), GSM Association (GSMA), the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), among others, the Nigerian Senate, went ahead on Tuesday, May 5, to declare 5G persona non grata in the country at the moment.
While it promised to launch an investigation to probe the suitability of the technology, it ordered concerned federal government’s authorities and agencies as well as operators alike, to suspend any further action or process aimed at deploying 5G technology in Nigeria.
This came two days after Vodacom, a teleco in the South African telecoms market, announced that it had switched to 5G to provide faster speed and better internet fidelity for its subscribers in the country, which was widely celebrated.
Meanwhile, the Senate’s resolution was sequel to a motion on “the present status of 5G network in Nigeria” sponsored by Senator Uche Ekwunife, representing Anambra Central.
In her motion, Ms Ekwunife said the uncertainty on whether or not the 5G network has been launched in Nigeria will continue to fuel speculations and rumours concerning its effects on citizens of Nigeria.
She noted that it has become a source of concern that the deployment of the network in urban areas would lead to the installation of “a strong radiating mobile communications antenna approximately every 100 meters, producing a radiation tsunami and taking up to a 1,000 fold increase in the transmission power.”
Several countries including Switzerland, one of the world leaders in the roll out of the 5G mobile technology, has placed an indefinite moratorium on its use because of its health hazards, she said.
The lawmaker urged the Senate to note the concerns by some scientists and medical experts that the emissions from the 5G towers could adversely affect the health of citizens by causing symptoms “like damage to the eye, antibiotics resistance, as well as other physiological effects on the nervous system and the immune system”.
Consequently, the Senate mandated a joint committee made of Communications, Science and Technology, ICT & Cyber Crimes to conduct a thorough investigation to determine the status of the 5G network in Nigeria and its technological impact on Nigerian citizens and report back within four weeks.
Association of Telecommunication Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) has declared readiness to work with the National Assembly and other arms of government to address grey areas regarding the fifth generation network (5G) telecommunication networks deployment in Nigeria.
Olusola Teniola, ATCON President however, cautioned against listening to false claims in different quarters that tend to link 5G network to Coronavirus (COVID-19).
According to him, the World Health Organisation (WHO), International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and worldwide renowned associations and associates have explained these false claims and fake news have no linkage to COVID-19 and any other health hazard.
Teniola added that the four weeks the legislators have requested a committee to report back to them is sufficient time for the industry to make its case and work with them to ensure that Nigeria maximises the opportunity that 5G technology offers.
He said: “ATCON will like to work with both the legislators and executive arms of government to address any concerns the Senate has raised regarding 5G.
“During the extensive COVID-19 lockdown a number of false claims have been made about 5G and it appears the Senate is also concerned about these false claims and wants to verify if there is anything behind these claims.
“WHO, ITU and worldwide renowned associations have put paid to these false claims and fake news that has been taken down by social media companies. It has always been the case that NCC will hold wider stakeholder engagement concerning 5G deployments in Nigeria.
“The four weeks the legislators have requested a committee to report back to them is sufficient time for the industry to make its case and work with them to ensure Nigeria maximises the opportunity that this technology and future technologies bring to the development of our nation.
The Association Telephone, Cable TV and Internet Subscribers (ATCIS) disclosed to businessa.m. that prior to the latest resolution by the senate, it had written a letter dated April 5 to the office of the Senate President and the Senate Committee on Communication.
Sina Bilesanmi, the president of the association said the letter was informed by lingering fears among ATCIS members about health havoc that could be wrecked by radiation from 5G facilities.
He explained that the intention for taking the matter to the country’s legislature was to douse tension and ensure that a fresh investigation is conducted here in Nigeria, for everybody to see, adding that subscribers would accept the outcome of such probe more reliably than those provided by foreign sources.
Bilesanmi further cautioned that “clearing all grey areas around 5G is a necessary evil as failure to may result in hostility towards telecoms facility and their vandalization as already seen in some other countries where people lack trust and adequate information about the 5G deployment.”
He said as much as subscribers desires high speed internet that can better support their work and social lives, “any threat on our lives emanating from such technology cannot be taken with levity. Even if we cannot prove the harmful effect of 5G, government should have proof for its suitability and settles it.”
Experts have posited that perpetual doubt against the newest generation of internet connectivity is not good for its deployment in a country such as Nigeria, where broadband still remains low in penetration.
They also called out Isa Pantami, minister of communications and digital economy to showcase the outcome of a 3-month trial he said was being carried out since 25th of November, 2019 to critically review and study the health and security implications of deploying 5G in Nigeria.
Meanwhile, when contacted via a telephone call to give update on the three-month study, Uwa Suleimon, spokesperson to the minister, promised to get back to Business a.m. However, she has not got back to our correspondent as at the time of filing this report.
Industry watcher also posits that the step taken by the Senate was drastic pointing out that the lawmakers should have engaged with relevant authorities before imposing of 5G technology deployment.
Industry pundits have described the decision of the Nigerian Senate to halt further deployment of 5G technology in Nigeria until it can guarantee its suitability as misplaced, warning that such sporadic interruptions can spell doom that will further stifle the progress of the sector.