Cell site attacks

There have been 14 attempted attacks on cell phone towers over the last six weeks, most of them in Auckland and some of them successfully disabling communications at a time that remote communication was all that people had under lockdown.

This is thought to be related to anti-5G conspiracies.

Newsroom:  Auckland may lose reception as cell tower sabotage continues

There have been 14 attempted arson attacks carried out against cell towers and other mobile network infrastructure in the past six weeks.

Of these, 10 have occurred in Auckland, the Telecommunications Forum (TCF) has said in a statement.

Vandalism began in early April, coinciding with a massive uptick in the popularity of false 5G-related conspiracy theories, including one that wrongly attributes blame for the coronavirus pandemic to the wireless technology. Newsroom understands that none of the towers targeted in recent attacks are 5G-related.

“These attacks are infuriating and can have real connectivity impacts for New Zealanders – meaning people could have reduced mobile phone and internet coverage in an area with a damaged cell site, which is a real issue particularly in South Auckland. While we’ve been able to keep customers connected so far, each attack has a cumulative negative impact,” said Tony Baird, Vodafone NZ’s wholesale and infrastructure director.

“This is senseless activity and sadly, the greatest damage it causes is to the local homes and businesses who are having their technology cut off at a time when they need it most,” said Martin Sharrock, chief technology officer for 2degrees.

“Attacks on critical infrastructure are inexcusable at the best of times, let alone during a pandemic. A disruption to mobile connectivity can put New Zealanders at risk by cutting off access to critical services like 111, we encourage anyone who sees suspicious activity near a cell tower to contact police or crime stoppers,” Mark Beder, Spark NZ’s technology director, said.

The nutters seem to have had some success spreading conspiracy stories.

NZ Compare, a consumer advice and transparency firm, released a survey in December that found 46 percent of Kiwis are concerned that 5G might affect human health and a third were worried about its impact on animals and plants. Such worries are unfounded, according to scientific experts, but the movement opposing 5G is surprisingly widespread, as Newsroom reported in October.

Anti-5G protesters are concerned the technology could kill bees or give humans cancer, but the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor has launched a new website to dispel these myths.

“The radio waves used for 5G have frequencies that are ten thousand times too low to damage molecules,” the website states.

“Radio waves can heat our body if we are over-exposed to them. However, these effects can only occur when exposed directly to a very powerful source so that the heat builds up enough to damage tissue before it dissipates. 5G sources are simply not powerful enough to cause damage in this way.

That may assure some people but the nutters are unlikely to be swayed by facts or by science.

As people increasingly use mobile phones as their own means of making phone calls it raises risks of not being able to call emergency services due to disabled phone towers – there’s much more risk to life because of that than of too much radio waves.

GCSB stops Spark from using Huawei for 5G

The GCSB is stopping Spark from using Huawei equipment for their new 5G cellphone network. They won’t give reasons, saying they are classified.

There are concerns that a Chinese owned company be involved in communications infrastructure – but some also have concerns about US technology companies with allegations of CIA back doors.

RNZ: Reasons to block Spark’s 5G rollout ‘classified’

The Minister responsible for the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) said the reasons why a Chinese tech company won’t be involved in the rollout of 5G technology here are classified.

The GCSB has turned down Spark’s proposed use of Huawei equipment in its new network because it would raise significant national security risks.

Andrew Little said he was briefed on the decision on Monday but cannot divulge what the risks might be.

“Spark notified the GCSB two or three months ago, GCSB has carried out an assessment on the technology that Spark proposes to introduce and has assessed that technology as posing a national security risk. That assessment was notified to Spark today.”

“Spark have indicated they will have a close look at the reasons for GCSB’s assessment then if Spark wishes to continue with their proposal they then have the option of working with the GCSB on looking at mitigation of [those risks].”

Mr Little said the 5G technology was more sophisticated than older network technology and was not currently in use in New Zealand.

“The principal difference between 5G technology and the conventional 4G and 3G technology is that the conventional technology has an infrastructure core and then peripheral technology such as cellphone towers and the like and they can, in effect, be kept separate but you cannot do that with 5G technology.”

“Every component of 5G technology, every component of the network is integrated and therefore access to one component can lead to access to the entire network.”

He said the GCSB decision was not a complete deal-breaker for Spark’s rollout of 5G.

“Spark has said they are committed to rolling out 5G by the end of 2020, there’s no reason why they can’t stick to that timetable. They have known that they’d have to go through this process… it’s underway and there’s still work to do.”