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Mobiles, lightning risks and other myths

We are all aware of the risks of lightning strikes during thunderstorms but sometimes these risks are misunderstood.

While it is sensible to avoid using a fixed- line (copper wire) phone during a thunderstorm; the same precaution does not apply to mobile phones or fibre optic cable (Note - while many NBN connections are fibre optic you should check with your service provider to confirm).

Mobile phones are low power devices and do not have any characteristics which would make them attractive to lightning strikes.

Although some people speculate mobile phones pose a risk when used outdoors because lightning is attracted to metal, the amount of metal contained in a mobile phone is not enough to increase your risk of being struck by lightning.

According to safety experts, somebody who is outside increases their risk of being struck if they are on high ground, in an open space, near water or near large metallic structures or trees. These factors are more important to safety in an electrical storm than the use of a mobile phone.

Advice provided to the ABC from Grant Kirkby, an Australian specialist on lightning mitigation risks is that staying indoors during a storm is the best way to protect yourself from a lightning strike. And if you are outside, try to move away from areas of high exposure, such as under a tree.

"At the first signs of visual lightning or audible thunder, you really need to get yourself and your kids indoors. The last place you want to stand is under a tree. Lightning wants to get to the ground and a tree can often be the quickest way for it to get there; if you are standing near it, the electricity will get you too,” states Mr Kirkby.

Following worldwide media interest in 2006 (BBC News and British Medical Journal ), the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a statement, saying lightning is not attracted to people carrying mobile phones.

“Cell phones, small metal items, jewellery, etc., do not attract lightning. Nothing attracts lightning. Lightning tends to strike taller objects,” said John Jensenius, a NOAA National Weather Service lightning expert. “People are struck because they are in the wrong place at the wrong time. The wrong place is anywhere outside. The wrong time is anytime a thunderstorm is nearby.”

The concern that mobile phones attract lightning was first raised a number of years ago in an internet hoax and is now a recognised urban myth. The medical profession is well aware of the misinformation on this topic as pointed out by Dr Mary Ann Cooper- Associate Professor, Departments of Emergency Medicine and Bioengineering, University of Illinois in Chicago, in her paper on lightning injury facts:

“The medical literature and medical practice are resplendent with examples of (lightning) myth that grow out of misread, misquoted, or misinterpreted information and that then continue to be propagated without further investigation.”

The types of injury observed are also well known and Dr Cooper also points out that:

“No lightning danger is inherent to cellular phones. Although many reports of lightning injuries involve people who are using cell phones, these reports represent the ubiquity of cell phone usage and of their users' inattentiveness to weather conditions and have nothing to do with the phones themselves.”

Dr Cooper clarifies that electrical lighting damage only occurs with the use of landline phones and not mobile phones.

The myth that mobiles posed a lightning risk was perpetuated by a claim that the Australian Lightning Protection Standard recommended mobile phones should not be used during storms when a 2006 report in the British Medical Journal incorrectly claimed the standard advises people not to use mobile phones during storms. The standard (AS/NZS 1768-2003) does not make any such recommendation.

In fact, the standard advises people use mobile phones instead of conventional copper wire telephones during storms because conventional phones pose a well- documented risk.

The very real risk is people may not have their mobile phone with them in order to call emergency services if someone is struck by lightning.

The myth surrounding mobiles and lightning is just one example of myths around mobile phone safety that have since been de-bunked. Here are some more:

Can you safely use your mobile at the petrol station?

Is it safe to use your mobile in a hospital?

Does mobile use increase your risk of cancer?

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AMTA welcomes deployment regulation amendments

The Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) welcomes the announcement today from the Minister for Communications and the Arts, Mitch Fifield, regarding the progression of 10 reforms to the regulations governing the deployment of wireless and mobile networks in Australia; as well as further consultation on 11 other proposed reforms. In welcoming the announcement, AMTA Chief Executive, Chris Althaus noted the Government’s reform package will go some way towards enabling the deployment of the next generation 5G mobile networks which are expected to bring significant improvements in speed, quality and capacity for Australia’s data hungry consumers.  But he also noted there was still more to do. “This is a welcome and very important first step - in what we hope will be an ongoing engagement with government and stakeholders to develop a dynamic regulatory framework to meet the deployment challenges of next generation networks.

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5G gains momentum in 2018

AMTA is confident that the Government's 5G priorities will add momentum to our ongoing efforts to engage with industry verticals and the respective government departments outside of the communications portfolio with regard to the broader economic and social benefits of 5G.

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AMTA Annual Report 2017

In 2017, the strong demand for mobile services continues to have an impact on our economy and society as the industry shifts its focus in preparation for 5G, the next generation of mobile technology. AMTA’s latest Annual Report includes the following highlights: As industry prepares for 5G the need for regulatory reform in spectrum management and network infrastructure deployment is increasingly urgent. 5G Mobile – Enabling Businesses and Economic Growth Report by Deloitte Access Economics found that 5G is expected to further drive Australia’s digital economy. It will add to the already significant (and growing) $34 billion in long-term productivity benefits from mobile; and annual network spend from mobile providers is expected to reach $5.7 billion in FY2017-18. The MCF has focused on an agenda of legislative reform to support the efficient and flexible deployment of network infrastructure.

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How will 5G improve network performance

While the technical standards for 5G are still being developed, experts agree that 5G will offer: Latency of less than 1ms; Ability to deliver speeds of up to 10 Gbps and beyond; Energy efficiency in running 1000s of devices; and Improved network capacity by enabling millions of low bandwidth devices to connect simultaneously. Where 4G focussed on providing improved speed and capacity for individual mobile phone users, 5G will enable more industrial applications, and could be a major technological driver in industrial digitalisation. For more information about 5G read our latest report from Deloitte Access Economics. Download the complete report.