On top of a picturesque hill in Madliena lies a vast data centre and it is over here that a particularly controversial piece of technology is currently being tested.
Melita has launched a trial run of 5G, the fifth generation of internet which has been plagued by fears that its electromagnetic radiation can cause damage to humans.
Of late, these concerns have evolved into full-blown conspiracy theories that 5G either causes COVID-19 or that 5G will be used to inject people with nanobots through an eventual vaccine.
However, the reality is decidedly more mundane.
Here is a 5G emitting device, that small white box located to the right of the cell tower at the centre of Melita’s data centre.
And here is the underground network it connects to.
According to Melita’s CEO Harald Roesch, the telecommunications firm was surprised by how safe 5G actually is and indeed found no significant difference in electromagnetic radiation from the current 4G.
Melita first went about testing the current energy levels given out by radio waves across Malta and found that they were “extremely low”, less than 1% of what the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) considers safe.
When they switched on 5G, the levels rose by a tiny amount, still less than 1% of the safe levels.
“I was surprised it was so low but then again Ofcom [the UK’s communications regulator] conducted measurements too, which yielded very similar results,” he said. “Our results haven’t yet been verified by the Malta Communications Authority but we expect them to confirm these levels.”
Melita’s tests will now move to the next phase, which will see them switch on 5G at four additional sites in Sliema, St Julian’s and Valletta, a process that will be monitored by the MCA, who will be measuring emissions using their own equipment.
Results from these and other future trials will be published on Melita’s website on a street-by-street basis.
“5G opens up endless opportunities to improve our lives,” Melita’s Chief Technology Officer Simon Montanaro said. “As with any new technology, however, it’s important to properly test the effectiveness of the network and equipment.”
Beyond the conspiracy theories, 5G promises much faster internet, with latency (the speed at which data travels between nodes) of less than 5 milliseconds. Besides promising a smoother and faster WiFi experience, 5G is seen as crucial for the age of the Internet of Things whereby devices such as self-driving cars and remote surgical equipment need to react immediately without any delays.
And while there is no set date for its rollout in Malta, things certainly seem to moving at full speed, which is quite fitting…