A Parliamentary committee meeting late last month got tetchy when hearing about the potential threat 5G could pose to global weather modelling.
It seems an unlikely subject for a clash, but chair Jonathan Young was prompted to call for calm when opposition spokesperson for broadcasting, communications and digital media Melissa Lee repeatedly challenged MetService CEO Peter Lennox over answers to previous questions.
According to an uncorrected transcript of the hearing -- before Parliament's Economic Development, Science and Innovation Committee -- Lennox responded in kind.
The issue at hand was the potential impact of 5G on global efforts to measure atmospheric water vapour, a key data-point used in international weather modelling.
Bruce Hartley, systems engineering manager for MetService, outlined the issue, saying 5G technology will use a large number of radio frequency bands potentially leaking into the 23.6 to 24 gigahertz band used to capture water vapour data by satellite.
Hartley said for the collected data to be useful and usable, it is a requirement that there be no significant radio frequency radiation leaking into this band to contaminate the signal being received by the satellite.
international bodies differ on the actual amount of contamination could that pose a threat but, Hartley said, the US position on this was of "grave concern".
While the desired protection level was not an exact science, he said, the World Meteorological Organization is advocating a conservative scale number of -55 while MetService and the Radio Spectrum Management Group of MBIE are pushing for -37.
The US, however, is an outlier in advocating just -20.
"We can see that they are at -20, so they are allowing high levels of spurious emissions, and therefore the cumulative effects will be greater," Hartley said. "That is of grave concern to us."
Lennox later added that the verdict was out on potential impacts.
"We are conservative; we are concerned that things could happen in that vapour band, but we’re not sure," he said. "The Americans, on the other hand, have made a decision: they’re going ahead with their -20 band and, well, we’ll see what the implications are for that."
Lennox's clashes with Lee arose because of different views on the questions and answers from a previous briefing in February.
Lee asked why the issue was not raised then and Lennox replied that the question had not been asked. A question asked about the use of Huawei's gear had been asked and answered, he said.
Lee responded that there was a written question which said, “What plans, if any, is the organisation putting in place in relation to the upcoming roll-out of 5G mobile connectivity technology?”, and MetService's answer was “Nil”.
"If it is actually saying that there is going to be an impact, why is the MetService not doing anything about it?" she pressed.
Lennox said he had outlined what MetService was planning in terms of service changes and referred Lee to the Hansard record:
Lee: No, no, no. I actually read—
Lennox: No, you didn’t. You didn’t. What you said—
Lee: No, no, no, excuse me—
Lennox: No, you didn’t. I have the Hansard here
After more exchanges, chair Young called for calm.
Lennox went on to say MetService expected that the new technology would allow it to innovate at a faster pace, as had occurred with 2G, 3G, and 4G.
"In summary, 5G could impact potential MetService products through lower latency," he said. "That means a faster response to commands, being faster and more reliable."