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CWA # 284, 10 May 2020

The Neo-Luddites and the Conspiracy Theory
Is there an overlap of 5G Networks and COVID hotspots?

  Prof PM Soundar Rajan

The densely populated areas, that are more prone to the fast spread of the coronavirus, are the regions where the telecommunications companies will find much demand for its products. This is a coincidence and not a conspiracy.


Attacks on 5G infrastructure like the mobile towers continued to happen in the UK, and other parts of Europe as conspiracy theorists assaulted cell towers, other types of equipment and harass network engineers, believing the technology causes the novel coronavirus. The conspiracy is that 5G is spreading the virus. 

Till now we have been using frequencies up to 3GHz for 2G, 3G and 4G technologies. Initial 5G deployments use frequencies below 6 GHz, and we have been exposed to such frequencies for a long time, without known health damages. 

5G however, differs from its predecessors. It uses millimeter-wave (mmWave) frequencies starting at 24–28 GHz and 39 GHz in the US. The short range from these frequencies will require many "small cells" located on light poles, buildings, utility poles, or wherever they can be mounted. 

The health effects of RF radiation 
This subject has been studied and debated over the years. The RF energy can cause three potential effects: ionization, thermal health risks and electromagnetic. The first two are manageable. Ionization is not a risk at mmWave frequencies because it does not have sufficient energy to remove an electron from an atom to cause ionization. 

Thermal effects are also minimal and could only occur by placing a transmitter next to one's skin. Even then, the evidence is unclear, and one can easily avoid that situation by using headphones or operating one's cellphone in speakerphone mode. 

The electromagnetic (EM) effects are not too apparent. After reviewing several scientific studies, it could be argued that there could be negative impacts from electromagnetic radiation. For example, the mmWave frequencies, though unable to penetrate the skin, could conduct the interior of the body through the sweat glands.

The potential risks of continuing to deploy 5G, lack strong evidence of health effects. There is a need for more studies to prove the above. However, the lack of evidence raises the fear among conspiracy theorists that we do not know about negative effects until it is too late. 

Is there an overlap of 5G Networks and COVID hotspots? Why the correlation of coronavirus with  5G specifically? 
Some believe it must be too much of a coincidence that the virus strikes just as more of these networks are being installed and deployed. Many believers of this conspiracy have been reading closely into American maps showing the overlap of 5G networks with the places hardest hit by COVID-19. They seem to have missed the fact that both these things, separately, by a simple fact: the presence of large, densely populated areas (which provides an excellent environment for spreading the disease and a place where telecommunications companies will have much demand for their products). They also ignore the fact that COVID-19 has hit Iran hard despite the country being nearly devoid of 5G connectivity.

So, how do we put this conspiracy theory to rest? 
The 5G conspiracy is just another part of the "infodemic," and stopping it means stopping disinformation on social media. According to an analysis in the New York Times, "487 Facebook communities, 84 Instagram accounts, 52 Twitter accounts, and dozens of other posts and videos pushing the conspiracy. On YouTube, the 10 most popular 5G coronavirus conspiracy videos posted in March were viewed over 5.8 million times." 

Tragic events bring out the best, and worst in some people. True to form, a group of conspiracy theorists, the Luddites, illiterate celebrities and ill-informed activists have surfaced to suggest that 5G and the 'radiation' that its towers emit is actually responsible for coronavirus.
 


Prof PM Soundar Rajan is a Visiting Professor at the International Strategic and Security Studies Programme in NIAS. He is a leading expert in combat aircraft avionics, HW and SW and COTS-based mission computers.

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