What is 5G and Can the Government Regulate it?

If recent history teaches us anything, it’s that technological innovation is almost immediately followed by leading brands making a mad dash to outclass the competition. Perhaps, someone makes a new kind of camera? Every smartphone developer in the world will be trying to incorporate it into their new design before the week is over. A new, more efficient battery is created? Car companies around the world won’t stop until they’ve perfected it. Wireless networks are no exception, so it should not come as a surprise that service providers are rushing to set up new 5G’s networks at an alarming rate all around the world. What is 5G and Can the Government Regulate it?

5G refers to fifth-generation cellular networks. Simply put, each stage in the development of cell phone technologies and their related networks are thought of in terms of ‘generations’. These generations are –

  • 1st Generation (1G) – These were the first cell phones, they used analogue network systems and are usually what we think of when we talk about the old ‘brick’ phones.
  • 2nd Generation (2G) –  These were the first digital networks, most of us probably remember owning old Nokias and flip phones which used 2G networks.
  • 3rd Generation (3G) – At this point, cell phones began to incorporate more intricate functions such as video downloads and picture sharing and started to resemble what we now think of as smartphones.
  • 4th Generation (4G) – Now that many of the basic cell phone functions were developed, cell networks focused more on speed and quality. At this point, smartphones, as we know them today, were developed.
  • 5th Generation (5G) – We currently find ourselves within the 5th generation of development. This stage priorities speed to an even higher degree and intends to drastically decrease download speeds and latency issues.
What is 5G and Can the Government Regulate it?
What is 5G and Can the Government Regulate it?

In short, 5G is a faster wireless network and, seeing as how speed is one of the key demands from customers, it makes sense that 5G towers will begin popping up all over the country sooner or later.

Are 5G Towers Legal in South Africa?

Yes, the building of 5G towers is legal in South Africa and many have already been set up. While many service providers are attempting to upgrade the infrastructure of existing 4G networks, they have also constructed brand new towers to help meet demand.

Currently, 5G networks are being prioritized in major cities such as Johannesburg and Cape Town but plans are already underway to extend the range of coverage and begin development in other areas. 

What is 5G and Can the Government Regulate it?
What is 5G and Can the Government Regulate it?

How is 5G Regulated in South Africa?

5G works by broadcasting signals at high frequency, as such, providers must obtain a license that allows them to broadcast on a set frequency within a specific range. These licenses are usually granted via a spectrum auction, during which the right to transmit such signals is sold to an interested party. This process was being controlled by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), but the High Court of Pretoria has recently issued an order to stop the auction.

Can 5G Towers be placed in Residential Areas and Why do They Need to be?

Although 5G technology in South Africa is still in its infancy, you may have seen 5G towers being placed in other countries, sometimes even in residential areas. Why does this happen and how legal is it in South Africa?

Why? – While other services like radio and television can be broadcast simultaneously to millions of individuals without affecting the quality, the internet is a little bit different. The more people who engage with online services, the slower it tends to become, this is known as Network Congestion.

You can imagine radio and TV as a person giving a lecture. They give a speech and almost any number of people can listen to them without affecting the speaker’s ability to talk. Online services are more like someone having a conversation, they can only talk to so many people at once before their responses become slower and less complex. Likewise, when too many people use the same limited network at once, the speed and quality decrease. This is effectively solved by increasing bandwidth

What is 5G and Can the Government Regulate it?
What is 5G and Can the Government Regulate it?

5G technology increases bandwidth enough that slow speeds and low quality should be a thing of the past, the only problem is that the 5G frequencies can’t travel very far effectively and struggle to pass through things like walls and windows. The result? 5G towers need to be built in closer proximity to one another to be truly effective and owners of private land may be contracted to install said towers on their property.

Is it legal? – As mentioned, 5G networks are still in early development in South Africa and as such, there is not much legislation with regard to them. While early policy proposals have pushed for the ability of network providers to place 5G towers on private property in residential areas, these drafts have been highly contentious and have yet to be officially recognised.

That said, if the international implementation is anything to go on, it is likely that one day soon, property owners and service providers will be allowed to install 5G towers in residential areas.

Are 5G Towers Safe?

A prevalent concern for many citizens arises when considering the possible effects 5G networks may have on their health, especially considering the potential proximity they may soon find. Unfortunately, science is still contested when debating potential side effects. Some researchers point to the presence of RF radiation related to 5G towers, which has been shown to increase the rates of cancer in rats that were exposed to it. That said, others have pointed out that the levels of radiation humans are exposed to are nowhere near enough to negatively impact a person’s health.

Regardless of the research, some people have taken direct action and burnt down 5G towers which they believe are harmful.

In Conclusion – What is 5G and Can the Government Regulate it?

The term 5G refers to the fact that wireless network technology is currently in the fifth generation of development. The biggest difference between the new 5G networks when compared to the 4G networks that we currently use is their speed and efficiency. 5G networks are designed to have a larger bandwidth which should decrease download times and latency issues.

What is 5G and Can the Government Regulate it?
What is 5G and Can the Government Regulate it?

5G is still a recent development in South Africa and thus there is little in the way of direct legislation related to it. Service providers have been allowed to develop 5G towers and related infrastructure through legislation is still being considered which would allow their construction on private property.

Presently there are many 5G towers active in South Africa though most are in larger, more densely populated areas such as in Johannesburg and Cape Town. That said, service providers have begun development in other areas with the goal of providing the service throughout the country.

Due to the low range and penetration of the 5G radio wave frequency, towers will need to be placed closer to each other than normal which will require their placement throughout residential areas. Although this has been hotly contested by many citizens, it is likely that homeowners will be contacted by service providers to place miniature towers on the roofs of their homes.

Service providers require licences to allow them to broadcast their 5G frequencies on the radio wave spectrum. Until recently, ICASA has initiated spectrum auctions that sell this right to various bidders, although a recent High Court decision has forced them to halt their actions. 

Due to the presence of RF radiation, many sceptics have voiced their concerns that 5G towers will have a harmful effect on the health of those nearby while others have gone so far as to vandalise and destroy towers in their area. The science is still unresolved on the matter with some researchers calling for 5G restrictions while others insist that there is no real risk posed to the public.

Disclaimer LAW101: All of our posts are for research purposes only. Law 101 aims to assist its readers with useful information on the laws of our country that can guide you to make decisions in line with the South African Governmental Laws currently in place. Although our posts cite the constitution in many instances, they are intended to assist readers who are looking to expand their knowledge of the law. Should you require specific legal advice we advise you to get in touch with a qualified legal expert.

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