In 2019, mobile network providers introduced 5G to several UK cities. In 2020, many more UK towns and cities will be given access to 5G. But before you start jumping for joy at the prospect of remotely downloading a huge sales pitch (or Netflix boxset) in seconds, have you considered the potential cost? Not the financial one. The cost to your health.
In this article, we look at the positives of 5G, while considering the potential impact the network might be having on humans and animals.
What are the benefits of 5G?
The most obvious one is speed. It’s much faster than the previous 3G and 4G networks. There’s greater capacity, which allows more 5G devices to be connected at the same time in a small area. And lower latency, resulting in less delay or drag.
Where 3G was adding high-speed data to support mobile, mainly voice, 4G was a big move to the data-centric mobile apps we use today, still focused on smartphones and devices. 5G however, signals a greater change, it is where anything and everything can be ‘connected’ or interconnected. Everything from traffic lights, CCTV and ambulances, to drones, IoT devices, smart cities and smart buildings. New usages of technology that need ultra-low latency can become more widely adopted, like medical robotics and autonomous remote vehicles.
Putting 5G into practice
The improved connectivity and capacity have opened up the potential for new, innovative services and solutions. Many large businesses and organisations have already successfully implemented 5G technology. With positive results.
For example, in farming to save resources and cut costs, machines use a video sensor to patrol fields and apply fertilisers and pesticides only where needed. Pharmacists are remotely checking if patients are taking their medication using video systems. And manufacturers with smart machinery are using real-time data out in the field, to instantly improve efficiency, reducing waste
As network operators build out 5G networks, new opportunities and innovations will appear, as they did with 3G and 4G. This will not change anytime soon though. In reality, we probably aren’t going to see any real benefits of 5G until at least 2022. Like the take up of electric cars; you need the infrastructure to be in place before you start seeing any major uptake.
Have the health concerns of 5G been fully addressed?
Wireless devices, such as mobile phones, use ‘radio spectrum’ to communicate. You can’t see it and you can’t feel it. Other devices include televisions, baby monitors and satellites.
For many years the electromagnetic radiation used by mobile phone technologies has led to some people worrying about increased health risks, including cancer.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said in 2014 that: ‘no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use’. Yet, they’ve also classified all radiofrequency radiation (which includes mobile signals) as ‘possibly carcinogenic’. To give some context, eating pickled vegetables and using talcum powder are also in the same category.
What’s the UK’s ‘official’ line on the 5G health risks?
One of the reasons 5G is throwing up more health concerns than 3G and 4G is that it uses higher frequency waves. These waves travel shorter distances through urban spaces, so 5G networks will require more transmitter masts positioned closer to ground level.
When it comes to managing health concerns about radiofrequency electromagnetic fields or radio waves in the UK, Public Health England (PHE) advises the Government, and their view on 5G is: ‘The overall exposure is expected to remain low relative to guidelines and, as such, there should be no consequences for public health’.
PHE’s stance appears to be backed by Ofcom, the independent UK regulator for the airwaves over which wireless devices operate (as well as other things like fixed-line telecoms). For years Ofcom has been measuring electromagnetic field emissions from equipment used to transmit mobile signals and other wireless services. In early 2020, they carried out measurements that covered the 5G frequencies.
The test covered 16 5G sites in 10 UK towns and cities. At every site, emissions were a small fraction of the levels included in international guidelines, as set by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). The maximum measured at any site was 1.5% of those levels.
Although, it’s worth noting Ofcom auctioned off the use of the 5G spectrum to UK mobile network providers in April 2018 for some rather large sums. For example, Vodafone won 50MHz of 3.4GHz spectrum, paying £378m. And EE paid £302m for 40MHz of 3.4GHz spectrum. This is not the full 5G spectrum though, with additional auctions set for 3.6 – 3.8GHz in spring of 2020. This will likely be much higher values given that 3G contributed £22bn and 4G £2.3bn.
So, according to PHE and Ofcom, you don’t need to worry about 5G impacting your health. It’s perfectly safe.
Switzerland halts 5G rollout.
Despite all the tests and claims 5G is safe, there still remains an element of doubt. So much so, Switzerland has stopped rolling out its 5G network due to health concerns.
This is a huge step for one of the world’s 5G leaders. They have already built over 2,000 new antennas in the last year. But Bafu, the Swiss environment agency, said: ‘…it will examine exposure through adaptive (5G) antennas in-depth, if possible, in real-world operational conditions. This work will take some time.’.
But it’s not just Switzerland halting 5G. Other countries like Australia, France, the Netherlands, Italy, Cyprus and many cities in Europe and US have all cited major concerns over 5G and want more testing to be done.
Questioning the science that says 5G is safe.
According to many scientists, Switzerland are right to take a neutral stance on 5G at the moment, until further tests can be carried out. They argue that the current recommended limits of radiofrequency radiation (RFR) are based on research from the 1980s. Understandably, technology and mobile phones have come a very long way since then.
In a Scientific American article, it states there have been over 500 studies that have concluded exposure to RFR has harmful biological or health effects. And more than 250 scientists have signed the International EMF Scientist Appeal that makes the following assertion: ‘Numerous recent scientific publications have shown that EMF affects living organisms at levels well below most international and national guidelines. Effects include increased cancer risk, cellular stress, increase in harmful free radicals, genetic damages, structural and functional changes of the reproductive system, learning and memory deficits, neurological disorders, and negative impacts on general well-being in humans. Damage goes well beyond the human race, as there is growing evidence of harmful effects to both plant and animal life.’
Is 5G having a big impact on the world’s smallest creatures?
Concerns have also been raised that 5G could be contributing to the demise of our insect population. Certainly, there are other contributing factors, such as pesticides, but if the radiation from 5G could affect humans, then surely it would have an even larger effect on tiny creatures.
Even if you’re not a fan of creepy-crawlies, if they are wiped out, the knock-on effect for the rest of the eco-system, the food chain and ultimately the human race, would be catastrophic.
Claire Edwards, a former UN staff editor, spoke at an anti-5G rally in Stockholm, Sweden in which she claimed: ‘It’s interesting to note that in the last 20 years we have lost 80% of our insects. And if we get 5G, we’re going to lose 100% of our insects. When the insects go, we go too.’.
The 5G testing challenge.
It’s worth considering how electrical devices and mobiles are tested. Each unit is tested individually in a contained lab environment (i.e. with no other radio-frequencies). So when looking at specific aspects like the specific absorption rate (SAR), which is the measure of radiation being absorbed by the body, these tests lack the real-world application. For example, when you’re next in a coffee shop, see how many WiFi networks come up on your phone and how many other devices are in the same vicinity as you. Now consider the compounded radiation level, with 5G and connected devices. There is expected to be around a 6x increase in the number of devices, this massively alters the levels of radiation and therefore the amount being absorbed. Currently, this is not tested.
When all said and done, technology exists to improve our lives. The technology industry is in a cycle of continual development and innovates extremely quickly, meaning Governments and institutions struggle to keep up. An example of this is GDPR, which came into effect in May 2019 as a much-needed improvement to the Data Protection Act of 1999. The DPA came into effect the same year Google launched and was therefore never intended to protect users’ online data. It’s taken over 20 years for the law to catch-up with technology and user adoption.
Many cities around the world are now halting 5G roll-out plans due to the outdated testing that says it’s safe for humans, animals and the full eco-system, citing the need for greater real-world testing.
No story is complete without a Russian propaganda stance.
Tom Wheeler served as the 31st chairman of the Federal Communications Commission from 2013 to 2017, his view on the health effects of 5G is simple: “For a couple of decades there have been lawsuits alleging adverse health effects from mobile phone exposure. They have been rejected by the courts under the so-called “junk science” standard. Now, the Russian disinformation campaign has embraced this as a means of further sowing dissent in our nation.”
So the view of some is that the current view of many scientists is junk and heavily influences by Russian misinformation as a deploying tactic to the deployment of such technologies.
5G could help boost the UK economy, but will we see a decline in our nation’s health?
5G will be faster, and more reliable. There are many potential new applications for the technology that could increase productivity and efficiency in all aspects of life. From utilities, health and transportation, to media, entertainment, and education. Now who wouldn’t want these innovations?
We need to balance embracing technology, with ensuring we understand and mitigate the health and detrimental impact it can have. There are many 5G questions that haven’t definitively been answered in our mind. But do you think the health concerns about 5G have been addressed or should we heed on the side of caution and do more testing?