PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - If the man carried through on his threat, there was no place for Michael to go. Thirty feet up in a bucket truck leaves little protection.
For 14 years, Michael, whose last name we are not using for his safety, has worked on cell phone towers. The last four years have focused on installing 5G towers. The most dangerous part of his job now has nothing to do with the equipment or working high off the ground. The danger is from people who believe the conspiracy theory that 5G towers spread the coronavirus.
As the man walked past safety barriers, coming within feet of the crew, Michael and another worker pulled out their cellphones and started recording. The man, who appeared to be slightly pudgy and middle-aged with a dark gray ponytail, yelled threats before getting back in his truck.
"He actually went as far as to say that he has a scope on a gun that can hit me from two blocks away on my bucket," recalled Michael.
From his perch in the bucket, Michael watched as the truck circled through the neighborhood a half dozen times before leaving.
5G is the next generation of wireless technology that promises to speed up wireless networks, changing the way people live, work and even travel with information sent instantly to autonomous cars. For the average consumer, it will eventually mean nearly instant cellphone service and movies downloaded in moments. With significantly bigger bandwidth, thousands of people will be able to connect to one tower, which will provide service to everyone in large crowds like packed stadiums.
While the attack on Michael's crew was verbal others are turning physical. Around the world, 5G towers are being set on fire, the result of online conspiracy theories that 5G spreads the coronavirus or weakens the body's immune system. Social media posts from celebrities including Woody Harrelson, M.I.A., John Cusack and more sent conspiracy theories viral. The Federal Communications Commission tried to calm concerns posting the statement, "5G technology does not cause coronavirus."
The technology behind 5G isn't that different from the current 4G. Both use radio frequencies, but 5G uses higher frequencies. The coronavirus is spread through microscopic droplets when someone talks, sneezes, coughs or even breaths.
"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that there's no relationship whatsoever," says Ken Colburn. He owns the Data Doctors chain specializing in servicing computers and other IT issues.
Colburn says the conspiracies are linking things that happened at the same time but have no relationship, including 5G towers going up in Wuhan, China, where the coronavirus originated.
"China was deploying all these 5G towers just about the time coronavirus started to spread. That's correlation, not causation," said Colburn.
Both the World Health Organization and the American Cancer Society say no health problems have been linked to exposure, but more studies are needed.
Tech expert Ken Colburn says when it comes to 5G, upgrading to a pricey, new 5G device isn't really necessary.
5G is a non-ionizing radiation similar to the radiation used in a microwave, which can heat tissue but, unlike the ionizing radiation in UV light, it doesn't damage DNA at the cellular level.
"If you're really concerned about radiation, then you really should not go out into the sun because the amount of radiation you're going to get from the sun is exponentially higher than anything that's ever been measured from cell towers," says Colburn.