The visual impact and lack of consultation about their installation has caught many citizens by surprise.
Promoted under the slogan ‘5G The Future. is Coming for You’ in a nationwide campaign featuring Thai superstar Lisa Blackpink, these countless randomly designed antennae have appeared atop shopping malls, houses, offices, factories and warehouses, on empty plots of land and hillsides, along motorways and in the middle of rice paddies.
Some buildings have transmitters placed on all four corners, though it is not always clear which may be for 5G transmission.
You can also come across these giant structures, bristling with a startling array of electronic components that wouldn’t look out of place on the latest aircraft carrier, in the grounds of a hotel or in a temple compound.
At the same time, some old masts currently used for 3G or 4G are being converted to this fifth generation wireless broadband. Other non 5G towers belong to CAT Telecom PCL and the Police.
Those now being installed at regular points along the motorways are significantly smaller than the 5G towers and most likely will be also used to monitor traffic flow and congestion.
The launch of 5G is not without its critics and controversy, despite newspapers like the Bangkok Post lauding it as “the dawn of a whole new world for communications in Thailand.”
Health issues top the list of criticisms, with activists saying the technology has not been properly tested. Some have suggested a link with the spread of Coronavirus, though this has been vigorously dismissed by the pro-5G camp.
Fans meanwhile claim that 5G is up to 100 times the speed of current wireless networks, and will help drive economic growth and job creation “for decades to come.” They also insist the nonionizing radiation it emits is too weak to break chemical bonds and therefore does not pose a risk to health.
“Whether any of this is harmful is an ongoing issue which I doubt will ever be concluded, and we won’t be around long enough to witness the conclusion or be affected by it. Remember the warnings some years ago about keeping our mobiles away from our heads?
“But I do worry about the kids who are growing up today with a phone stuck to their heads.” Newly erected masts now dot the Thai countryside. A resident of Pattaya was shocked by their number at nearby Silverlake, an area of outstanding beauty. “I don’t recall seeing any of these masts a couple of months ago, and I don’t remember any notice of them being built. Now they blight the place,” he said.
Overseas, the debate over the 5G rollout reached boiling point recently with activists venting their anger with protests and a series of arson attacks on cell phone towers in Holland, Canada and the UK.
In the US, environmental lawyer and author Robert F. Kennedy Jnr, nephew of former president John F. Kennedy, has added heavyweight criticism of 5G by claiming the billions of dollars invested in the technology has zero to do with providing faster downloads, but all about harvesting human data for sale by major corporations.
He predicts it will be also used for 24/7 surveillance of people’s lives. “They will know from your GPS, from your cellphone, from facial recognition, from cameras, where you are and what you are doing 24 hours day.”
Kennedy believes another agenda of 5G is “a push to a cashless society.” He adds: “Once that happens, they will have complete control over us.”
In Thailand, the biggest operators of 5G are Advanced Info Service (AIS) through its subsidiary Advanced Wireless Network (AWN), followed by True Move H Universal Communication (TUC) and Total Access Communication (DTAC), through its subsidiary DTAC TriNet (DTN).