Government involvment is crucial to roll-out of 5G in Jamaica

Government involvment is crucial to roll-out of 5G in Jamaica

Friday, February 14, 2020

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As the world moves to upgrade existing 4G wireless networks to the next generation of 5G, Government involvement will be crucial towards its success, according to Rohan Pottinger, chief technology officer at Digicel Jamaica.

Pottinger was speaking recently on what is needed to create the local infrastructure to support 5G, at a public forum, 'For Better or Worse? The Pros and Cons of 5G' hosted by the Mona School of Business & Management (MSBM) at the Mona Campus of the University of the West Indies.

“For us to get the speeds possible with 5G, we need to be able to create connections back to the main system which connects the world. Currently, Digicel and Flow are the only providers with the largest bandwidth, but much more is needed,” Pottinger said.

He noted that currently there were challenges in the building of new transmitter towers, due to legislation. According to him, the launch of 5G networks in Jamaica would require more than triple the number of towers now installed.

“Government involvement is, therefore, crucial to the roll-out of 5G in Jamaica. So, legislation allowing for the erection of towers and funding would aid the process,” Pottinger said.

The panel discussion focused on the local implications of 5G, during which moderator Dr David McBean, executive director of Mona School of Business and Management, posed the question: “Is Jamaica approaching 5G from the leading or bleeding end?

“We were driven to organise this forum given the advances taking place in wireless communications and the 5G networks which are expected to provide faster, more secure, and more reliable wireless connectivity,” said Dr David McBean, executive director of MSBM.

The goal of 5G is to provide higher speed, higher capacity per sector, but at a lower latency than 4G, however, the roll-out of 5G has not been without controversy. Some proponents want to forge ahead with the roll-out, while others have expressed concerns about the potential risk to public health and security.

Other panellists included Stephen Price, country manager, Flow Jamaica; Dr Maria Myers-Hamilton, managing director, Spectrum Management Authority; Lyndel McDonald, manager for telecommunications systems, Spectrum Management Authority; and Dr Paul Aiken, senior lecturer and general manager at Mona-Tech Engineering Services Limited.

Each presenter spoke on the potential use of this new technology and how it could propel Jamaica into a new era.

“We are now living in the age of constant disruption, and one of the most disruptive technologies is 5G,” said Price. He said revenue generated by the 5G network infrastructure globally would reach US $4.2 billion by the end of 2020, with an 89 per cent increase in the following years.

Price stated that both local network providers had an obligation to meet the expectations of their customers. “Our consumers want us to be on the cutting edge of technology — they do not want to be left in the dark ages. For them, capacity and speed are key when they are on the go, and, 5G will be 10 times faster than 4G,” stated Price.

Myers-Hamilton shared information from peer-reviewed scientific studies which indicates the potential adverse impact of 5G on the environment and human health.

According to such studies, radio frequency radiation may cause harm to human health by altering heart rhythm and metabolism, and causing neurological damage. It may also adversely affect birds, frogs, honeybees, ants, other insects and mammals, due to the multiple antennas that would have to be installed to facilitate the 5G technology.

While these potentially adverse impacts may sound daunting, Myers-Hamilton also shared the counterarguments that have been put forward. The official position from regulatory bodies, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA and the World Health Organization (WHO), is that the exposure from mobile and radio transmitters is far below the limits for what is harmful to health and that there is no reason to believe that 5G will change this.

“This is still very new, but the evidence is based on credited data pulled from peer reviews. Although these are the conclusions so far, more research needs to take place. We hope to establish a lab at The University of the West Indies which will assist with this research,” Dr Hamilton announced.

As the research on 5G progresses, MSBM has aligned itself to be a part of the process. “Our input will focus on the impact on consumer and business, health, the cost of the technology, as well as effect on remote medicine and productivity.”

Aiken unearthed the history of cellular technology from 1G to 5G in his presentation. “This is a very young technology and applications to use it have yet to be conceived,” he said.

“As King Canute said, you cannot tell the tide to stay back. When technology advances you either stay behind or join it. The question then is: “How do we use it to our benefit?” asked McBean.


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