The fourth industrial revolution, or ‘Industry 4.0’, is coming. Australians will experience a blurring of the lines between cyber and physical in their workplace, home life, leisure time and travel. The enabling architecture needed to support this revolution in communications technology is fifth-generation mobile network technology, or ‘5G’.
5G builds on current 4G technology, but it is not more of the same. 5G does a number of things differently, from the radio waves to the equipment, handsets, infrastructure and application. 5G will use multiple bands of radio waves (spectrum bands), including bands in a higher frequency to those used for older generations of mobile phone technology. The different way of using spectrum bands means that new equipment and infrastructure are needed in order to transmit information using these radio waves.
Ultralow latency and vastly increased amounts of data that can be carried at any one time are two main features of 5G, and combined, allow a number of use cases to be explored. Automated vehicles, agricultural technology, virtual and augmented reality experiences, remote health and a number of other applications are possible.
The capabilities of 5G are exciting, and offer the opportunity for innovation and connectivity. We are at a point where enough is known about the standards and safety of 5G technology to allow businesses of all sizes, communities, governments and individuals to imagine new use cases and new opportunities and help them come into being.
The Committee heard about Australian-led innovative technology from Cohda Wireless, an Adelaide-based company which is the leader in the emerging vehicle communication market. Cohda Wireless will use 5G to expand its work on allowing vehicles to communicate with the traffic system and all surrounding vehicles, and use 5G’s low latency and high capacity to develop further advances.
WA Farmers told the Committee that agriculture is a digital-reliant industry in need of the next wave of mobile technology in order to continue being productive and competitive in a global market. Combating food fraud, using metadata to lower the impact on the soil when cropping, improving animal welfare and attracting a greater investment in agtech were all noted as opportunities in the near future. The improvements to productivity that could be afforded by 5G were called a ‘generational leap’.
Unfortunately, a vast amount of misinformation about the safety and impact of 5G is out there. The Committee received a large amount of information from inquiry participants who were concerned over the deployment of 5G and asserted that 5G would have a detrimental impact on human health. The Committee heard from a number of Australian Government agencies and officials that 5G is safe for humans.
Perhaps some confusion comes from the new spectrum bands 5G will use. The Committee heard that ‘higher frequency does not mean higher power’, and that, in fact, devices will operate at a lower power due to focussing the 5G signal only to where it is required and the increased number of antennae, which means that users will have less exposure than under previous generations of mobile technology.
The Committee understands that new technology can be complex to understand, and that members of the community may be unsure of its safety. The Committee has been assured that 5G is safe.
Better communication of 5G mobile technology is essential to help dispel some of the myths that exist around 5G. The Australian Government has committed to a public awareness campaign to communicate the safety of 5G. The Committee believes that this needs to continue, and a range of audiences included so that community fear can be addressed.
This 5G inquiry is a Parliament first, and the Committee has heard that the benefits of 5G will be experienced by all Australians if the deployment and adoption can be done successfully. The Committee heard from a number of sectors that 5G is necessary for continuing to be a competitor in the global market. Australia has an opportunity to be a centre of 5G equipment component manufacturing, a place for communication technology startups to develop their ideas and a nation connected.
Hon Dr David Gillespie MP