Some 5G cellular networks online in the North Country, but not available to everyone

Verizon cellular antennae on the roof of SUNY Potsdam’s Raymond Hall, pictured Thursday, are capable of running 5G, but are only operating as 4G until wider coverage is rolled out in the North Country. (Provided photo — Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times)

Although 5G cellular networks have been established throughout the North Country, some of them are not yet active, and not everyone can access what is turned on.

5G means the fifth generation of wireless communication networks, which are upgraded about every 10 years, going back to the basic 1G network 40 years ago that was designed to enable calls to and from cellular phones about the size of a briefcase.

A current 5G network is supposed to have more bandwidth, faster connections and connection latency so minimal that it’s beyond human perception.

“5G is the most recent communication channel that we have (for) our cellphones and other devices that need to be connected to a network,” said Kambiz Ghazinour, SUNY Canton associate professor of cybersecurity. “It’s similar to the previous generation (4G LTE) … but it’s much faster, it has more bandwidth and it has less latency.”

“You get more data. It’s faster. You can watch your YouTube videos on your phone much faster,” he added, “but it doesn’t end there. Every device that needs to be connected to a network, (5G) basically improves the quality of the technology we get.”

As an example of a new technology that needs higher bandwidth and less latency, he cited self-driving cars.

“Imagine your car is connected to the internet. You don’t want any blind spots. You want to make sure 5G covers every highway, every place, every shopping mall,” Ghazinour said.

Having active 5G coverage could potentially lure new businesses to a particular area.

“Most industries can definitely benefit from it,” the professor said.

5G is enabled by cellular antennas, but the wavelengths that transmit the connection are shorter than 4G and earlier generations. Although it means a stronger connection, the short wavelength makes 5G signals easier to be obstructed by things like dense foliage or clusters of tall buildings. Wireless companies like AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile are in competition and spending billions of dollars to place the necessary antennas in their coverage areas.

“These are new towers that you can place anywhere. They place them in places that, of course, they have dense populations, places … where more users need to be connected,” Ghazinour said. “The same way they compete for coverage for 4G, it’s going to be the same for 5G.”

Some 5G networks not connected in NNY AT&T 5G connections, dark blue, are scattered across the north country. Screenshot from att.com In the north country, AT&T’s service map shows an active 5G network. Verizon’s service map only shows 5G connectivity in and around the Sandy Creek and Pulaski areas, but as of Wednesday, it hadn’t actually been switched on in Northern New York. To find out if there is 5G coverage in a given area, Ghazinour suggests calling a wireless provider and asking if it’s been turned on there.

“It was supposed to be turned on. It’s a very interesting process. They installed the infrastructure, they installed the hardware, but there’s a switch that needs to be turned on,” he said. “It’s as simple as inquiring from AT&T and Verizon and asking, ‘Is it turned on?'”

The only way to receive a 5G connection is to get a 5G-enabled device, including smartphones and tablets. If the device isn’t 5G-enabled, it doesn’t matter if there is a local 5G network or not.

“That’s question No. 1 — does our phone support 5G or not?” Ghazinour said.

5G-enabled devices usually have some sort of display indicator that tells the user if it’s getting a 5G connection.

Ghazinour suggests that for at least the near future, many people won’t actually need a 5G connection. If a 4G connection is sufficiently fast with no latency, “wait until you actually need it,” he said.

“If your 4G is actually good for you right now, there is no reason to spend a lot of money to invest in a new phone and get a new plan that supports 5G,” he said. “If 4G is not helping you and it’s slow, move to 5G. If (4G) is really good, I don’t see any reason personally why we should abandon the current 4G generation.”

In some areas, 5G has been delayed near airports, or delayed entirely. That’s because airlines have told the Federal Aviation Administration that 5G signals can possibly interfere with altimeters and other devices that allow planes to land and take off in low or no visibility.

“This is their claim,” Ghazinour said. “At the same time, Verizon and AT&T are saying this has been implemented safely in 40 countries around the world. This is not the first country to get 5G.”

Some 5G networks not connected in NNY Verizon 5G connections in the north country, dark red, are only available along the border of Jefferson and Oswego counties. Screenshot from verizon.com The question is, he added, “Does it really interfere with the navigation systems or altimeters?”

“That needs to be investigated,” he said.

Ghazinour, who teaches an online cybersecurity program at SUNY Canton, said a drawback of a 5G connection is that it could create more cybersecurity vulnerabilities.

“One thing we’re interested in from our security perspective: Because 5G is faster, there could be, potentially, more effective cyberattacks,” he said. “For example, imagine you have only one small door, or one small gate in a fort. You have to protect that small one from the enemy. Imagine this gate, all of a sudden, is 10 times bigger, and more than just a narrow road. Now it’s connecting a big highway. Potentially, there could be more complex, faster attacks.”

“We teach about all these important things, and with coming 5G we have to equip ourselves with new methods, new tools,” he said. “Hackers are going to have much more access to our resources than we’re used to.”

However, this is “always the case when a new technology comes around.”

“We didn’t have to worry about malware and viruses because we had flip phones,” he said. “Now with smartphones, we have to worry about it.”

Some have worried that the radiation emitted from 5G towers is dangerous to humans. There are two types of radiation: ionizing and non-ionizing. Ionizing radiation is powerful enough to knock electrons from atoms and DNA, which can cause cancer. That’s why wearing sunblock is suggested when spending time in direct sunlight, a form of ionizing radiation.

Cellular towers, including 5G, emit non-ionizing radiation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, non-ionizing radiation has less energy than ionizing radiation, and “unlike ionizing radiation, non-ionizing radiation does not remove electrons from atoms or molecules of materials that include air, water and living tissue.”

“When you look at the frequency, 5G is still way below the part that would be kind of dangerous for us,” Ghazinour said. “There is no known health risk from 5G. It’s been studied all over the world for years.”


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