Australia is set to experience a ‘fourth industrial revolution’, sometimes called Industry 4.0, in which the lines between cyber and physical are blurred. Fifth-generation mobile network technology, or ‘5G’, will create the architecture which will underpin new uses and services. It will allow innovation by opening up possibilities for businesses, industries, services and leisure through ‘intelligent connectivity’.
5G technologies build upon the current 4G technology. Like previous generations of mobile technology, 5G uses radio waves to transmit information, although it ‘will offer significantly greater capacity and faster data speeds, significantly lower signal latency or delay, and will support much larger numbers of devices in a given area.’
The capabilities of 5G are derived not only from the higher frequencies used to transmit more data, but from technologies such as ‘multiple input, multiple output (MIMO) antennas, beamforming, edge computing and network slicing’. MIMO and beamforming allow radio signals to be sent directly to users; edge computing processes data nearer to where it is generated and network slicing permits services to be segmented, allowing dedicated networks within the same infrastructure.
Australians are using their mobile phones to download data more than ever before. In the four years up to June 2018, the amount of data downloaded on mobile handsets increased six-fold, from 38,000 terabytes (TB) to nearly 250,000 TB. The acceleration in demand is expected to continue, creating unprecedented demand in mobile traffic.
Use of mobile phones surrounds us. With around 34 million mobile voice and data services in operation in Australia, there are 1.4 services for every person. Rising mobile data traffic and an increasing number of mobile connections means there is a need for a generational upgrade of mobile wireless technology.
Fifth-generation mobile network technology, or ‘5G’, is the next step in mobile communications, and is expected to provide ‘the underlying architecture that will enable the next wave of productivity and innovation across different sectors of the Australian economy’. The Committee notes, however, that caution has been urged in embracing overly enthusiastic claims about the potential of 5G. In particular, the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) stated that there will remain bandwidth and technology limitations with 5G:
We are already seeing overzealous pronouncements on the capabilities of 5G before it has been fully deployed in Australia, including insufficient consumer information about the actual capability of 5G networks.
5G will use extremely high frequency (EHF) radio signals to transmit information, which will allow more reliable and faster connections than the current 4G networks. 5G will be able to transmit a high volume of data to mobile and Internet of Things (IoT) devices, and allow a number of new capabilities of mobile communications.
Carriers stated that 5G will require significant investment in telecommunications infrastructure, including physical equipment, devices and spectrum bands used to carry the signals between base stations and devices.
Australia is a strong adopter of mobile technology, and earned the highest mobile connectivity index score conducted by the GSM Association (GSMA). This index considered infrastructure, affordability, consumer readiness and content and services. Australia’s early participation in the development of 5G standards means that Australians are well poised to see the early opportunities 5G mobile technology affords.
The communication of the reality of 5G has been neglected, however, allowing fears over health and safety, the technology involved and the application of 5G to take hold. Misinformation has filled the vacuum and public confidence in 5G has been shaken.
Community perception of health risks, privacy loss and negative effects of relying on technology are relatively widespread, with a number of inquiry participants putting their views forward. Inquiry participants advocated for the deployment of 5G to be stopped, and asserted that 5G was not in the interest of the public.
In contrast, representatives of the telecommunications industry stated that 5G was ‘not optional’, and considered that 5G would allow solutions to ‘some of our most compelling challenges at a global and national level’.
Figure 1.1: Applications enhanced or supported by 5G
Department of Communications and the Arts, Submission 330, p. 6.
About the Inquiry
Objectives and Scope
On 13 September 2019, the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, the Hon Paul Fletcher MP, referred the Inquiry into the deployment, adoption and application of 5G in Australia (the inquiry) to the Standing Committee on Communications and the Arts (the Committee).
As part of the inquiry, the Committee looked into:
what 5G mobile technology is capable of;
how it might be deployed; and
use cases for enterprise and government.
The terms of reference also stipulated that matters relating to national security were out of scope for the Committee.
The Committee heard that there are strong concerns over the potential health effects of 5G. The Committee appreciates the information provided by inquiry participants raising their concerns, and understands that avenues for raising these concerns have been limited in the past.
The Committee accepted a large number of submissions which solely addressed concerns over how the deployment of 5G may affect human health. As the Committee is not a health committee, it was limited in its ability to investigate this issue fully. The Committee sought to inform itself about this issue, and refers to it later in the report.
A media release announcing the inquiry was issued on 19 September 2019, calling for submissions to be received by 1 November 2019.
The Committee also invited submissions from communications industry bodies, mobile network and virtual network operators, standards setting bodies, component and infrastructure manufacturers, software developers, online service providers, academic researchers and government bodies.
The Committee accepted a large number of submissions after the submissions closing date.
The inquiry received 537 submissions and 50 exhibits, which are listed at Appendix A and B respectively.
The Committee held six public hearings, outlined in the table below. A list of witnesses and organisations is at Appendix C.
Table 1.1: Public Hearings Held
19 November 2019
6 December 2019
17 February 2020
18 February 2020
19 February 2020
20 February 2020
Chapter 2 discusses the rollout of 5G mobile technology in Australia, and examines the challenges raised, the role of governments at all levels and the importance of partnerships. Community concerns over the rollout of 5G are discussed, and include concerns over potential health effects, the impact of the deployment on the environment, and fears of privacy of personal data.
Chapter 3 looks at what 5G can do at a broad level, and highlights the capacity and capability of 5G. The immediate and medium-term use cases of 5G for enterprise and government are also highlighted. The consumer experience of 5G is also discussed.
Department of Communications and the Arts
As a result of the Administrative Arrangement Order introduced on 5 December 2019, the functions that were previously the responsibility of the Department of Communications and the Arts were transferred to the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications as of 1 February 2020. This report uses the name Department of Communications and the Arts.