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What is 5G and why are some people worried?

Fifth generation internet, or 5G, promises faster than ever internet across the islands. Credit: ITV Channel TV
  • What is 5G?

Fifth generation internet, or 5G, promises the fastest ever internet across the islands.

Both Jersey and Guernsey's governments have committed to adopting the technology, and there is currently a timetable which aims to have the first licence for 5G rolled out in under a year, by July 2020.

Things have come along way since 1G which just allowed voice calls.

5G will bring much faster data download and upload speeds - some are saying as much as 100 times faster than the current 4G, with wider coverage and more stable connections.

We are told that will be important in the future for things like autonomous cars - which will need to be constantly connected to the internet.

"We're already on an evolutionary path," Justin Bellinger, Chief Digital Officer, Sure says.

Chief Digital Officer, Sure says Credit: ITV Channel TV

We're seeing download speeds of several hundred megabits per second.

The initial phase of 5G will see that increase even further - it will look a bit like fibre in the sky from a download perspective.

– Justin Bellinger, Chief Digital Officer
  • How does it work?

Just like its predecessors, the 5G signal will be carried by radio waves - which travel between your phone and a mast.

The difference with 5G is that the waves are higher frequency than before, travelling shorter distances - likely to mean more masts or antennae, closer to the ground.

Radio waves are part of the electromagnetic spectrum used by all generations of mobile phone technology, but some people locally are worried about their impact on our health.

5G frequency waves are higher than those used before. Credit: ITV Channel TV
  • Health concerns

There are petitions in both islands citing such concerns, and this week has seen the launch of a website by a campaign group in Guernsey calling on politicians to "indefinitely stop the 5G rollout".

They point to places like Brussels, the Netherlands, and Geneva where plans for 5G have stalled.

The World Health Organisation says "no adverse effects" have been proven from mobile phone use.

But it has also said all radio frequency radiation, which includes mobile phone signals, are "possibly carcinogenic".

The evidence however falls short of being conclusive that exposure may cause cancer.

  • Security concerns

Chinese companies lead the way when it comes to 5G technologies, and were also relied on locally when it came to the rollout of 4G.

JT's decision to again partner with Chinese firm ZTE has caused concern for one politician.

"They have discovered that there are backdoors in the equipment which sends information back to China," Senator Sarah Ferguson claims.

There are security concerns with the rollout of 5G. Credit: ITV Channel TV

So we'd be quite stupid when we're trying to run a secure island with cyber security, security of information - and to go and stick our necks out to that extent.

– Senator Sarah Ferguson

It is not a concern unique to the Channel Islands.

The UK's 5G telecoms policy is being reviewed and there have been warnings about using Chinese companies, citing national security concerns.

JT says it won't comment on the concerns locally, but shareholder the States of Jersey told me the company was engaged in "detailed discussions" with the relevant UK authorities and "robust measures" were in place.

The UK's 5G telecoms policy is being reviewed. Credit: ITV Channel TV
  • What happens next?

The Channel Islands competition regulator, CICRA, will issue licences which will set the rules the telecoms companies have to follow.

That will include things like agreed emissions levels from mobile masts.

The governments have already set out their stalls in terms of supporting 5G in their telecoms strategies, but the topic is due to return to Jersey's States in September, and in Guernsey, I'm told, later this year.

So expect further challenges to the introduction of the technology ahead of it's anticipated rollout in just under a year's time.

There are likely to be further challenges in the introduction of 5G technology. Credit: ITV Channel TV