Nigeria: COVID-19, 5G Mix-Up - Why Nigerians Are Worried

8 April 2020

Electromagnetic radiation is the new buzz word. Naturally, any mention of 'radiation' alarms a random person. It is apparently on this basis a wide claim that the rampaging Coronavirus pandemic, COVID-19, has a root in radiations emitting from 5G facilities like base stations and masts has caught the world in awe.

While the world is battling to contain the deadly pandemic which has changed not only the world health, but economic order, a deadly allegation that the fifth-generation network, 5G is behind its spread is brought into the mix, sending wrong signals to both countries that have deployed the revolutionary technology and those striving to do so.

The claims are seriously making the rounds and with social media heightening the effects, a lot of people across the world including Nigerians are worried.

The claims are that the virus started in a 5G smart city in China. It was reported that the first case happened exactly the day mandatory vaccines started in China. According to the claim, the vaccine contained replicating digitised Ribonucleic acid, RNA, which was activated by 60Ghz 5G waves that were just turned on in Wuhan, as well as other countries using 60Ghz 5G; and that incidentally, the acid created smart dust that everyone on the globe has been inhaling through Chemtrails.

The Danger

While the wide misperception of the adverse biological effects of Electromagnetic radiation might divert people's attention from the real dangers of the pandemic, it is deeply concerning that developing economies like Nigeria, may totally lose the opportunity of using technology to fight such health challenges.

Evolution of Generation networks

Over the years, the world has used about four generations of network; including first, second, third and fourth Generations of telecommunication networks. In other words, telecommunications companies across the world has used 1G, 2G, 3G and 4G telecommunication networks, respectively, to deliver telecommunications services to users across the world.

Each new generation comes with increasingly more efficient telecommunication network performance in terms of the geographical area covered. They also determined the number of devices connected and powered, the speed of uploading and sending or downloading of data over the network which may depend on the amount of data used or processed per second.

For the telcos, the competition has been on the power to usher in or quickly join a new generation of telecommunication because of the capability it evolves.

Telecom engineers also say that new technologies improve their ability to generate and transmit radiofrequency radiation at a higher frequency to create a network with wider coverage and greater efficiency.

For example, while the first, second and third generations of network with all their capabilities came with minimal data speed capabilities, 4G network works which also works on same radiofrequency of 2.5Gigahertz, can power 100,000 devices within a square kilometre.

5G enters the stage

However, the fifth generation network, 5G, will operate at humongous 95 gigahertz and power up to 1 million devices per square kilometre. It will power internet of things and do a lot more.

5G is the new world order considering the transformations it has the capability to user. Internet of everything which is expected to usher a world where people will not only connect with fellow human beings but also with machines, boasts of 5G as backbone. Driverless cars, electric cars and distance medical surgeries which appears impossible are made possible through 5G.

A lot of engineers believe that considering the power and control at the disposal of any country with expertise to develop this network, the temptation to de-market it by other world powers is high.

It may likely be why the conspiracy theory of a network which runs on a spectrum that is considered by experts as safe is being credited to a high radiation and linked to COVID-19.

Meanwhile, scientists are not letting the conspiracy theory stand as it has the capability to disrupt world development.

Electromagnetic radiation

According to a radiologist at the Alex Ekwueme Federal University Teaching Hospital Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, Dave Okorafor, " there are about seven different kinds of (natural but also artificially producible) radiations called electromagnetic radiations out of which three - gamma ray, xray and high-frequency ultraviolet ray - are capable of damaging human cells or the DNA in them.

Gamma ray, x-ray and high-high frequency UV radiation are called ionizing radiations because they can change the structure of the smallest unit of matter found in living cells.

By this mechanism, they can cause skin and other kinds of external and internal injuries to the human body. These bodily injuries usually manifest within days to months.

The effects of these radiations can also lead to cancer when normal body cells run mad as a result of damage to or change in the DNA sequence (or gene) carrying information with which the body is supposed to produce proteins that should regulate the multiplication of the body cells.

" On the other hand, we also have four other electromagnetic radiations whose energies are not high and strong enough to cause the degree and kind of biological harm attributable to the three other radiations above.

"These weaker radiations are the visible light (with which we see in the day), infrared, microwave and radio wave. Microwave and radio wave are both called radio frequency (RF) radiation. Radio wave is the weakest of the electromagnetic radiations because it has a lower frequency range and, as a result, a lower amount of energy.

One unit of it is longer than all of the other radiations and, as such, it cannot easily pass through a lot of materials like metals.

Microwave is a radiofrequency with a higher frequency and higher energy. Similar to radio wave, it is also non-ionizing. This means that both radio wave and microwave cannot cause cancer.

Radio wave has been the electromagnetic radiation used for the conveyance of data in radio and TV broadcasting, wire and wireless telecommunications, wifi and bluetooth communication, among others" he added.

Other experts, including engineers, scientists and international bodies, have also said there is no link whatsoever between 5G, and the coronavirus, COVID-19.

In fact, top five international organisation with requisite expertise to decide on this debate have all described the link of 5G with the COVID-19 pandemic as laughable. Neither the International Telecommunications Union, ITU, the World Health Organisation, WHO, the International Commission on Non Ionising Radiation Protection, ICNIRP, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, IEEE nor the GSM Association, GSMA will have anything to do with the insinuation.

For instance, the German-based ICNIRP, which carried out a seven-year study on the health implications of 5G, recently, has debunked claims that 5G radiates emission capable of causing pandemics such as Coronavirus.

In a media release, Chairman of ICNIRP, Dr. Eric van Rongen said: "We know parts of the community are concerned about the safety of 5G and we hope the updated guidelines will help put people at ease. "Over the course of our research, we found no evidence that the use of 5G mobile phone networks harmed the body beyond heating some tissue. "We also considered all other types of effects; for instance, whether radio waves could lead to the development of cancer in the human body. We found that the scientific evidence for that is not enough to conclude that indeed there is such an effect."

The scientific organisation said the new guidelines cover mobile phones that connect to frequencies higher than six gigahertz (GHz) and limit their radiation levels when they do so. These higher frequencies can deliver faster speeds over short distances. The new guidelines were based on seven years of research and update guidelines last set in 1998.The study seems to align with that of the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) radiation from Base Transceiver Stations (BTS) and public health, which concluded that: "Considering the very low exposure levels and research results collected to date, there is no convincing scientific evidence that the weak RF signals from base stations and wireless networks cause adverse health effects."

GSMA reacts

Reacting to the study, GSM Association, GSMA, which regulates mobile usage and standards, said it was reassuring that researches that have been carried out for over 20 years still attest to the safety of these networks. Chief Regulatory Officer of GSMA, John Giusti, said. "Twenty years of research should reassure people there are no established health risks from their mobile devices or 5G antennas." Also, a Professor of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Department of Electrical and Information Engineering, Covenant University, Francis Idachaba, has added his voice to the debate, saying the claims connecting 5G to coronavirus are unfounded. Dismissing the allegation, Idachaba said: "The issue of radiation is also unfounded. If the transmit power of the BTS is increased tremendously to overcome the Pathloss and increase the size of the cells, the transmit power also of the mobile users would have to be Increased tremendously to ensure a two-way communication is achieved. "This will mean returning us back to bulky and heavy phones as the transmit power relies heavily on battery power. "That also is not the case as we are all still using the same phones. Besides, Nigeria has not deployed 5G yet, so the assumption that 5G is responsible for coronavirus is not correct. All these, coupled with the fact that mobile devices have very strict emission controls and the uneconomic and unrealistic utilisation of very high power BTS makes it difficult for 5G to be a culprit."

He added that if the use case of 5G is for backhaul links, then the antennas would be point-to-point and the towers would be very high to provide for the required Fresnel clearance, in which case the radiations would not reach the level where human beings are. For him, "having said this, 5G as it is, is not designed to generate emissions at a level that would be harmful to humans and if 5G were the culprit, locations without 5G such as Nigeria would not be reporting this cases of coronavirus" .

Dangers of misinformation

Another telecom engineer and Chairman of the Association of Licensed Telecom Operators in Nigeria, ALTON, Gbenga Adebayo, corroborated Idachaba. Adebayo said: "There is no scientific basis for the claim that 5G is responsible for coronavirus: the world is still seeking to know the source of the infection virus and it had not been traced to anything not to talk of Telecommunications. "We should be careful about spreading such information. Science is different from fiction and the peddlers of such information should be careful not to misinform the public. "The government is already doing a lot to curb the spread and this type of information is capable of causing diversion from the reality of what we face and the scientific steps needed to curtail the spread. Let us all continue to join hands with government in their efforts to keep us all safe.

"Looking at 5G penetration so far, and, the number of countries with incidences of mortality due to coronavirus, there is no basis to relate this to 5G. Many of those countries do not have 5G in commercial use. This virus was said to have started in Wahum in China; there are many other provinces of China with 5G that were not affected by the virus. There is no scientific proof and, so, the rumour should be discountenanced."

5G in Nigeria

Meanwhile, The Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC said that in view of the recent development in which misleading materials are being circulated to link coronavirus or COVID-19 with 5G Technology, it has become imperative for it to provide clarifications.

Head Public Affairs of the Commission, Dr Henry Nkemadu said: " Firstly, there is no correlation between 5G Technology and COVID-19. 5G is an advancement in today's 4G technology designed to transform the world positively. Secondly, there is no deployment of 5G in Nigeria at the moment. The NCC back in November 2019 approved trial test for the technology for a period of three months and that the trial has been concluded and installation decommissioned. The trial among others was to study and observe any health or security challenges the network might present. Relevant stakeholders including members of the security agencies were invited to participate during the trial" .

NCC list measures

Consequently, Nkemadu said that the NCC, under the current Chief Executive, Prof Umar Danbatta has embarked on key initiatives aimed at ensuring that standards are maintained in the country and that attention is paid to the health of Nigerians in the following ways:

Type-Approval and Monitoring Compliance. According to him, the NCC, as the national regulatory agency for the country's telecommunications industry has been at the forefront of enthroning compliance to standards by Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and other licensees in the industry.

Through its Technical Standards and Network Integrity Department and the continuous enforcement activities of the Compliance Monitoring and Enforcement Department, the Commission has continued to raise the bar of ensuring standardization in the nation's telecoms industry to safeguard the health of citizens.

Increased Collaboration on Equipment Standardisation: He said in February 2019, the Danbatta-led NCC, in collaboration with the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) and other government agencies set up two committees to combat the cases of fake and substandard mobile devices that manufacturers bring into the country without recourse to the Commission standardisation process, as this has great negative impacts on the health of Nigeria.

Development of Regulations of E-waste, IT Counterfeiting

Early in 2019, the Commission, under Danbatta, unveiled regulation on e-waste and guidelines. The Commission sees e-waste as electrical or electronic equipment that is waste, including all components, sub-assembles and consumables that are part of the equipment at the time the equipment becomes waste.

5G trial

The NCC started the trial of 5G under Danbatta and the essence of the trial are two pronged; to ensure it meets its expectation in terms of speed, capacity and latency, which help to ensure efficiency and improve the lives of the citizens. The Commission, says eventhough it has earmarked spectrums for 5G, it has however not approved any for any operator and has not licensed any operator to deploy the network at the moment.

The answers to some frequently asked questions on 5G :

What is 5G?

5G is the fifth generation of mobile technology which is an improvement of today's 4G technology with enhanced capabilities. 5G technology provides the platform for new and emerging technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Big Data to improve the way we live and work.

Do we have 5G network in Nigeria now?

No there is no 5G network in Nigeria at the moment. What we had was a trial test for 3 months which has since been concluded.

When are we expecting 5G in Nigeria?

No exact time frame but when conditions are right and all doubts are cleared.

Do we have spectrum for 5G in Nigeria?

Yes, particularly the millimetre wave spectrum from 24GHz and above are available.

Have we given out 5G spectrum to operators?

No. It will be auctioned at the appropriate time.

Are there 5G deployment around the world?

Yes, in countries like South Korea, China, USA, Germany and others since middle 2019.

Is the Radiation from 5G different from those of 2G, 3G and 4G?

No, they all belong to the same class of Non-ionizing Radiation.

Is 5G causing CORONAVIRUS?

No, there is no link what so ever between 5G and CORONAVIRUS or COVID-19.

Has NCC issued licenses for 5G in Nigeria?

No, NCC has not issued any licence for 5G in Nigeria. NCC is technology-neutral as such we don't license technology but assigns spectrum to operators for deployment of any service when allocated by NFMC.

Why are some operators rolling out fibre during the lockdown period?

As a result of the lockdown, the amount of voice and data usage has increased by huge amounts and there is a need to expand the network to provide optimum quality of service to users sitting at home.

Evolution of generational networks

1G delivered analog voice.

2G introduced digital voice (e.g., CDMA).

3G brought mobile data (e.g., CDMA2000).

4G LTE ushered in mobile Internet.

5G is expected to deliver peak data rates up to 20 Gbps

5G will deliver data rates that are 10 to 100 times faster than current 4G networks.

5G will require more base stations, though smaller specifications with less power than traditional Base Stations but will deliver much better service that can spark economic growth.

5G uses higher energy millimeter-wave radiation that are non-ionizing because they have longer wavelengths and not enough energy to damage cells directly.


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