Australia could be a “world leader” in 5G mobile technology but must boost ICT apprenticeships and consider manufacturing 5G equipment domestically to speed its rollout.
That’s according to recommendations from a Parliamentary committee after an eight-month investigation that was flooded with concerns that the controversial high-speed technology represents a public health risk.
The Next Gen Future report – which caps off a government inquiry that was launched last September to canvass businesses and individuals for their thoughts on the emerging mobile communications technology – urged the federal government to fast-track allocation of mobile spectrum to support 5G applications.
Recognising that shorter-range 5G networks will require a higher density of base stations , it advised operators to share mobile phone infrastructure to hasten rollout of the new networks, and take the opportunity to review existing mobile infrastructure to deprecate ageing legacy equipment.
This was particularly important to ensure robust coverage in rural and regional areas that should, the report advised, be the focus for large-scale technology trials.
Australia “has the opportunity to be a 5G world leader,” Dr David Gillespie, chair of the House of Representatives Communications and the Arts Committee, said in launching the report.
“A number of organisations told us that 5G is essential if we are to be a global competitor in food and wine production, entertainment, automated vehicles and IT, among other sectors.”
The current government has already stated its support for advanced manufacturing and establishment of a 5G R&D Innovation Fund would help “fast-track the development and scale-up of alternative manufacturing approaches,” the inquiry found.
Industry engagement with the Department of Industry, Science and Technology, it argues, could reignite its promise by helping Australia “actively participate” in a fast-growing global market that, BCC Research estimates, could be worth $165b ($US105.4b) by 2023.
The review also pushes for a doubling-down on Australian 5G-related skills development, with a boost in ICT sector apprenticeships and a call for reviews of 5G curricula at universities and TAFEs to ensure a supply of “industry-ready” graduates.
Addressing 5G controversies
Increasing the domestic manufacturing of 5G products and services would “reduce the duopoly dependency on 5G related equipment”, the report found – an allusion to the ongoing challenges around Australia’s ban on Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei.
The ongoing stoush, which has seen Huawei begging to be involved and even offering to license its technology to a third-party competitor, saw the company slash its Australian workforce and disband its local board as the government holds firm.
Yet building a domestic 5G manufacturing sector is only part of the challenge the government faces: as vandal attacks in the UK and nonsensical protests in Melbourne this month demonstrated, many people are still unconvinced that 5G technology is safe.
The inquiry received 538 submissions, with a litany of complaints from individuals concerned about 5G’s impact on everything from public health to the value of real estate.
“Contamination of my home with 5G may cause damage to my home if it becomes a health risk to me and thus render my home uninhabitable,” one respondent wrote in pushing the government to regulate “any deployment of 5G, Artificial Intelligence, and/or the Internet of Things”.
The government must “protect the public from other harmful wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi in schools, ‘smart’ meters on dwellings, and the like,” she pleaded “with an abundance of hope that 5G will not be rolled out until it can be proved 100% safe, without a doubt.”
This, despite scientific consensus that suggests 5G’s high-frequency, low-penetrating signals are safe – with the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) this month updating its guidelines on safe electromagnetic radiation levels for the first time since 1998.
“Reported adverse effects of radiofrequency EMFs on health need to be independently verified, be of sufficient scientific quality and consistent with current scientific understanding, in order to be taken as ‘evidence’,” the ICNIRP noted.
“There is no evidence of adverse health effects at exposure levels below the restriction levels in the ICNIRP guidelines and no evidence of an interaction mechanism that would predict that adverse health effects could occur due to radiofrequency EMF exposure below those restriction levels.”
Recognising that 5G nonetheless concerns many citizens, the committee noted “assurances from… researchers that 5G is a safe technology” but recommended more public education campaigns and “better consultation” with “members of the community concerned about the deployment of 5G”.