Indian telcos battle rumours linking COVID-19 spread with 5G trials

COVID-19 5G trials rumours
5G spreading COVID-19 conspiracy theory. Image by AlexLMX | Bigstockphoto

India’s private telecom operators and infrastructure providers have expressed concerns over rumours circulating in social media platforms about 5G spectrum trials fueling the spread of COVID-19 in the country.

Telcos said that they have come across multiple messages on social media platforms and reports in a few regional media mentioning ‘5G spectrum trials’ as the probable cause of rising cases of COVID-19.

Through their representative bodies, these companies dismissed these rumours and urged people not to fall for such “baseless” misinformation. They have also urged the Indian media to help quell such unsubstantiated and unverified claims.

“We would like to clarify that these rumours are absolutely false. We urge people not to fall for such baseless misinformation. Several countries in the world have already rolled out 5G networks, and people are using these services safely. Even the World Health Organisation has clarified that there is no correlation between 5G technology and COVID-19,” Lt. Gen. Dr S.P. Kochhar, Director General, Cellular Operators Association of India, said in a media statement.

COAI represents Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and telecom vendors like Nokia, Ericsson, Huawei and ZTE in India.

Kochhar said that the telecom operators have shared concerns with the Department of Telecommunications and have apprised them of the situation. “I appeal fellow citizens to beware of these fake messages. Together we can fight this menace of misinformation,” he added.

Tower and Infrastructure Providers of India (TAIPA), representing tower infrastructure companies like Indus Towers, ATC, Summit Digitel, Ascend, and Tower Vision, has separately raised concerns with the telecom department regarding the rumours.

Tilak Raj Dua, Director General of TAIPA, said that such misleading campaigns, if not brought under control immediately, may significantly impact the telecom operations and hence the connectivity at large.

He added that the rumours might result in depriving the “general public and government authorities” of getting uninterrupted telecom services amid the ongoing second wave of a deadly pandemic.

Earlier this week, India formally allowed Reliance Jio, Vodafone Idea, Bharti Airtel and state-run MTNL to conduct 5G field trials with multinational and domestic telecom gear vendors.

Notably, telecom operators are unlikely to start 5G trials due to the ongoing lockdown in various states where only essential services are allowed.

“…there are no 5G trials in the country. No 5G towers have been installed as yet,” COAI said in a statement.

Kochhar said that telecom services are a lifeline for the nation, especially in the current times. “In fact, these networks are keeping people safe by enabling work from home, online classes, e-health and online doctor consultations etc. Hundreds of millions of people depend on these networks to access real-time information when they need it the most,” he added.

This is not the first time when 5G technology is linked with the spread of the COVID-19 virus. In the last 15-18 months, countries like the US, UK, and various European and Middle-eastern countries saw the spread of misinformation linking COVID-19 and 5G technology, leading to protests and attacks on telecom towers. The World Health Organization (WHO) had previously said that viruses could not travel on radio waves or mobile networks. It also stated that “no adverse health effect has been causally linked with exposure to wireless technologies.”

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