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5G cell towers in the front line

This morning’s CommsDay reports on the dangerous and destructive turn Covid–19 conspiracy theories have taken in the UK as people attack 5G cell towers:

“BT has revealed that 39 engineers have been verbally or physically assaulted – including threats to kill – over conspiracy theories that links the spread of Covid-19 to 5G. In total, 11 BT EE mobile masts have also been destroyed or damaged by arson – 33 from all UK operators.”

Also from the UK:

“This week, we’ve seen telephone poles wrapped in barbed wire to stop our engineers doing their job. Those poles carry fixed phone lines, they’re nothing to do with mobile…”

New Zealand towers have been attacked. As with the UK, the attackers are indiscriminate. In most cases, the attacked towers don’t even have 5G cellular.

I spoke to the Rural Connectivity Group which owns the tower that was attacked in Northland.

Gaps in cellular coverage

The RCG’s job is to fill in the gaps in cellular coverage, mainly in rural areas and along state highways. Its towers are all 4G and 3G.

Many are considered vital services and might be the only connection some communities have with the rest of the world.

The Northland tower was on the ground, about to be hoisted. RCG says it was racing to get a number of towers operational as the country went into lockdown, this would have been one of them.

If I hadn’t been attacked people in a relatively remote part of the country would have had broadband and voice calling to help see them through the lockdown. The kids could take part in online school lessons.

Damage value of 5G cell towers

The damage amounts to, perhaps as much as $200K. It’s covered by insurance, but, no doubt future premiums will be higher. That takes money from a limited pool set aside to beef up rural telecommunications. One or more communities could now go without thanks to these attackers.

Where does this all come from?

I was at a hospital appointment a week or so ago and was approached by a conspiracy theorist, he didn’t know I report on these things, who gave me the full story. It’s nonsensical, but every counter argument or fact was met with things along the lines of “well they would say that…” or “you don’t believe that do you?”.

The attacks have put mobile carriers on a high state of alert.

Spark statement

Spark and Vodafone are on to the problem. The following is from a statement Spark issued last week:

“Spark has been working with Police about threats made to some of our cell sites. Since the end of March, there has been vandalism, including arson attempts at a few of our cell towers.

“While the damage was fairly negligible, one event caused an outage of mobile and wireless broadband services in the surrounding area. The incidents have all been reported to the Police who are investigating, and we are working to monitor the sites and protect our people.

“We share the broader industry’s outrage over acts of vandalism against critical infrastructure during a pandemic – a time when connectivity is more important than ever.”

And boy is that infrastructure critical right now.

Vodafone says it has also had threats and is constantly monitoring its site. It says the police has the GPS locations of all 5G cell towers and has stepped up patrols watching for suspicious activity.