Sunday 23 February, 2020

MSBM leads discussion on Jamaica’s readiness for 5G

From left: Rohan Pottinger, Chief Technology Officer, Digicel Jamaica; Dr Maria Myers-Hamilton, Managing Director, Spectrum Management Authority; Stephen Price, Country Manager, FLOW Jamaica; Dr. Maurice McNaughton Director, Centre of Excellence for MSBM; Dr David McBean, Executive Director of MSBM and Dr Paul Aiken Senior Lecturer and General Manager at Mona-Tech Engineering Services Limited.

From left: Rohan Pottinger, Chief Technology Officer, Digicel Jamaica; Dr Maria Myers-Hamilton, Managing Director, Spectrum Management Authority; Stephen Price, Country Manager, FLOW Jamaica; Dr. Maurice McNaughton Director, Centre of Excellence for MSBM; Dr David McBean, Executive Director of MSBM and Dr Paul Aiken Senior Lecturer and General Manager at Mona-Tech Engineering Services Limited.

With 5G being the next generation of wireless networks expected to create some disruption within the technology industry, the Mona School of Business & Management (MSBM) continued its business advocacy role by hosting a public forum, “For Better or Worse? The Pros and Cons of 5G” last Wednesday.

The panel discussion focused on the local implications of 5G, where moderator Dr David McBean, MSBM Executive Director posed the question, “Is Jamaica approaching 5G from the leading or bleeding end?” 

“We were driven to organise this forum given the advances taking place in wireless communications and the 5G networks expected to provide faster, more secure and more reliable wireless connectivity,” said McBean.

The goal of 5G is to provide higher speed, higher capacity per sector, but at a lower latency than 4G. However, the rollout of 5G has not been without controversy.

Some proponents want to forge ahead with the rollout, while others have expressed concerns about the potential risk to public health and security.  

The panellists comprised Stephen Price, Country Manager, FLOW Jamaica; Rohan Pottinger, Chief Technology Officer, Digicel Jamaica; Dr Maria Myers-Hamilton, Managing Director, Spectrum Management Authority; Lyndel McDonald, Manager for Telecommunications Systems, Spectrum Management Authority; and Dr Paul Aiken, Senior Lecturer and General Manager at Mona-Tech Engineering Services Limited.    

Each presenter expounded on the potential use of this new technology and how it could propel Jamaica into a new era.

"We are now living in the age of constant disruption and one of the most disruptive technologies is 5G,” said Stephen Price, Country Manager for FLOW. He said revenue generated by the 5G network infrastructure globally would reach US $4.2 billion by the end of 2020, with an 89% increase in the following years.

Price stated that both local network providers had an obligation to meet the expectations of their customers. “Our consumers want us to be on the cutting edge of technology. They do not want to be left in the dark ages. For them, capacity and speed are key when they are on the go, and, 5G will be 10 times faster than 4G,” stated Price.    

Rohan Pottinger, Chief Technology Officer at Digicel Jamaica explained what is needed to create the local infrastructure to support 5G.

“For us to get the speeds possible with 5G, we need to be able to create connections back to the main system which connects the world. Currently, Digicel and FLOW are the only providers with the largest bandwidth, but much more is needed,” said Pottinger.   

He noted that currently there were challenges in the building of new transmitter towers due to legislation. According to him, the launch of 5G networks in Jamaica would require more than triple the number of towers now installed.

“Government involvement, is, therefore, crucial to the rollout of 5G in Jamaica.  So legislation allowing for the erection of towers and funding would aid the process,” he said.

Representing Spectrum Management Authority, the local regulatory body responsible for licensing, band planning, monitoring and approval of networks, was Dr Maria Myers-Hamilton, Managing Director.  

She shared jaw-dropping information from peer-reviewed scientific studies which indicate potential adverse impact of 5G on the environment and human health.

According to such studies, Radio Frequency Radiation may cause harm to human health such as alteration in heart rhythm, altered metabolism, and neurological damage.

It may also adversely affect birds, frogs, honeybees, ants, other insects and mammals, due to the multiple antennas that would have to be installed to facilitate the 5G technology. 

While these potentially adverse impacts may sound daunting, Dr Myers-Hamilton also shared the counter-arguments that have been put forward.

The official position from regulatory bodies such as the FDA and the World Health Organisation (WHO) is that the exposure from mobile and radio transmitters is far below the limits for what is harmful to health and that there is no reason to believe that 5G will change this.  

“This is still very new, but the evidence is based on credited data pulled from peer reviews. Although these are the conclusions so far, more research needs to take place. We hope to establish a lab at the University of the West Indies which will assist with this research,” Dr Hamilton announced.  

As the research on 5G progresses, MSBM has aligned itself to be a part of the process.

“Our input will focus on the impact on consumer and business, health, the cost of the technology, as well as effect on remote medicine and productivity.” 

Senior Lecturer and General Manager at Mona-Tech Engineering Services Limited Dr Paul Aiken unearthed the history of cellular technology from 1G to 5G in his presentation. This is a very young technology and applications to use it have yet to be conceived” he said.

Though it is very young, its potential is immeasurable and could possibly propel us into a new era.  

“As King Canute said, you cannot tell the tide to stay back. When technology advances you either stay behind or join it. The question then is: “How do we use it to our benefit?” said McBean.   

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