5G: social acceptance or participation?

This article is the second in a series on the social acceptance and 5G topic. Stay tuned for more! 

As far as development, implementation, and understanding of 5G network technology is concerned, its social acceptance plays a fundamental role. Due to its disruptive scope, 5G continues to raise controversies, especially with regard to health impacts. 

Based on our research and Close-The-Loop model set out in the article published in ERCIM NEWS, at CyberEthics Lab. we aim to investigate the problem of social acceptance of technologies as a crucial point of research and analysis. The research is in progress, and will proceed through the definition of frameworks and interpretation keys on this critical issue, in the context of the 5G SOLUTIONS project.

One of the most attractive features of 5G is the network’s lower latency, i.e. the time that elapses in data transmission. Increased download and upload speeds and more robust data connections allow the so-called “Internet of Things” (IoT) to become pervasive and present in everyday life. Thanks to 5G, the reality of myriad devices connected to a single network disappears and the concept of a world of interconnected devices emerges. In summary, here are some of the areas of everyday life in which low latency can have the greatest impacts:

  • Entertainment (8K Fluid Streaming and more graphically sophisticated and responsive video games)
  • Public safety
  • Medicine (telesurgery and connected ambulances)
  • Transportation (self-driving cars)

However, research shows that the population is fearful of 5G technology. The general public wonders (1) whether the higher frequency waves and (2) whether the greater number of antennas necessary pose significant risks to health. To provide initial answers, the following can be said:

  1. According to Italian State regulator AGCOM, 5G frequencies are available in the 694-790 MHz, 3600-3800 MHz e 26.5-27.5 GHz bands. High transmission rates are allowed for these high frequencies since they propagate through electromagnetic waves with a wavelength of a few millimetres that does not have sufficient capacity to penetrate human tissues such as skin.
  2. To allow greater signal stability, it will be necessary to erect more antennas and stack them closer together. But these antennas are much smaller than those currently used in telecommunications (they can be placed in fact not only on buildings but also on street lamps) and are more energy-efficient; they don’t affect the electromagnetic spectrum negatively.

So, given that the science behind the antennas and frequencies seems to debunk certain concerns, why is there such grand opposition to the technology? To answer that question, it might be useful to go over some of the most well-known models of social acceptance of technologies.

Among the best-known instruments for measuring the social acceptance of technologies is the TAM (Technology Acceptance Model) developed by Fred Davis at the end of the 1980s. At the time, the problem of the use of computers by company employees emerged. The analyses proposed by Davis show that the success of the use and adoption of certain tools was proportional to the ability to design applications that users were motivated to use. Davis therefore intended to exploit and hypothesize a model able to predict the possibility of the adoption of a technology by analysing two variables: perceived utility, that is how much a person believes that using that technology will improve their work; and perceived ease of use, that is how easy the user believes it is to use that particular technology. According to Davis, these two factors influence the “behavioural intention”; if this is positive, the adoption of the new technology will be effective.

This model is based on Fishbein and Ajzen’s (1975) theory of reasoned action, according to which behaviour is determined by the subject’s intention to undertake it; the intention, then, is determined by the attitude towards the behaviour and by subjective norms. These are influenced by the representation of how much a certain behaviour is considered acceptable by other people significant to the subject and by the motivation of the subject to support this acceptability, to make themselves accepted; the attitude is determined by beliefs and evaluations about the outcomes of the behaviour.

Another element to consider is the perception of self-efficacy, understood to be an individual’s trust in his or her own abilities to successfully complete a certain task. Of course, it can vary depending on the task or previous experiences. More and more frequently a distinction is made between general self-efficacy (global perception of effectiveness in the resolution of tasks) and specific self-efficacy, i.e. linked to specific tasks[1].

Acceptance or participation?

When confronted with objections from consumers and stakeholders in relation to an innovation, inventors face a problem of social acceptance, which by definition involves spheres that span from the emotional, psychological, and anthropological. Social acceptance moves at the level of the object itself and, above all, at the level of the proposed vision and motivation in favour of the adoption of the innovation in question. Motivation is a key element: above all the ability to generate a common one through participatory means.

To understand this, we need to investigate how the decision-making process takes place. Are the decisions we make as human beings rational or emotional? Contrary to what is thought, decision-making is rarely rational. This does not mean that our decisions are necessarily instinctive. Here the perspective of an emotionality linked to symbolic goods, symbols, and interests arises. 

That’s why the aspect of participation is so fundamental. The more a product, a service, or a novelty appears to be interesting for its creative scope, the more it will be discussed; the more it will be discussed, the more it will be perceived, felt, and perhaps shared. At the same time, it is necessary to prepare for a changing future, working on communication, perception, awareness, and transparency, foreseeing and mitigating risks and fears. A 2012 study by Chen and Chang[2] shows that the potential risk for users should be considered one of the most important negative assumptions in predicting the perceived value of technologies and energy services. 

The data and insights suggest that the social acceptance of technologies is a problem closely linked to a participatory experience of choices, use and common knowledge of tools, and transparency about their purpose and value, which can make a big difference for the success of new technologies such as 5G. We will continue to explore these aspects in further research on the topic. 

[1] Bandura A. (1997), Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control, W.H. Freeman, New York, NY, USA

[2] Chen, Y. and Chang, C. (2012), Enhance Green Purchase Intentions: The Roles of Green Perceived Value, Green Perceived Risk, and Green Trust, Management Decision, Vol. 50 No. 3, pp. 502-520.

Read more on the topic.

More details on the 5G SOLUTIONS project are available here.

5G SOLUTIONS project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 85669