The 5G Dilemma
Business Today|June 27, 2021
The pandemic has opened a fresh debate around the future of 5G in india. Infrastructure requirements could further delay its launch
Manu Kaushik

There are still believers of the flat earth theory,” says S.P. Kochhar, director-General, cellular operators association of India (coal), a lobbying body representing Indian telecom operators. “The doubting community will always be there. It’s not black and white. Enough studies have been done already,” he says on the issue of fresh concerns over possible links between 5G technology and the spread of coronavirus.

Over the past couple of months, telcos and the department of Telecommunications (DOT) officials have been fighting a perception battle against a group of people who believe that 5G could harm humans. Last month, telecom towers in certain parts of Haryana and Punjab were vandalised and doT issued an official statement to allay concerns. “It has come to the notice of the doT that several misleading messages are being circulated on various social media platforms claiming the second wave of coronavirus has been caused by the testing of 5G mobile towers...these messages are false and absolutely not correct...the general public is hereby informed that there is no link between 5G technology and spread of covid-19...moreover, it is informed that testing of the 5G network has not yet started anywhere in India,” according to the statement.

The anti-5G lobby got greater prominence when Bollywood actor Juhi Chawla recently filed a petition in the Delhi high court against the roll-out of 5G in the country. Though the court dismissed her petition and fined her ₹20 lakh for “abusing the process of law”, the matter is unlikely to die down soon. Why?

A telecom consultant says the reasons are two-fold: malicious intent of some people and lack of information about the effects of radio waves on living beings. “There are two types of people behind it. Those who have a vested interest, and have an axe to grind. The second type is sitting on the fence, but if someone creates a doubt in their minds, they start to believe in the worst,” he says, adding, people who spread rumours mask pertinent details. “Nobody wants to go into the depth of it. The government should step in to take action against people with bad intent. As for fence-sitters, the industry needs to spread awareness,” he says.

Truth vs Hype

The race for 5G in India began early this year when Sunil Mittal-led Bharti Airtel became the first telecom operator to demonstrate live 5G services over a commercial network in Hyderabad. Last year, Reliance Industries Chairman Mukesh Ambani indicated that Reliance Jio would launch 5G services in the second half of 2021. That seems unlikely, given that its 5G test runs have just started, and the government is yet to auction 5G spectrum (3,300-3,600 megahertz or MHz).

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