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Understanding 5G Fact from Fiction

Technology is often misunderstood so it should come as no surprise that there are concerns surrounding the 5G wireless technology rolling out.

Technology, especially cutting edge or next gen tech, is often misunderstood so it should come as no surprise that there are concerns, including unsubstantiated health claims, surrounding the 5G wireless technology rolling out across the country and world.

“Twenty years of research should reassure people there are no established health risks from their mobile devices or 5G antennas,” GSMA chief regulatory officer John Giusti told 5G Radar in June.

GSMA is an industry organization that represents the interests of mobile network operators worldwide.

What is 5G Technology and Why Do We Need It?

5G is the latest mobile network technology – the 5G stands for 5th generation as it replaces older global wireless standards 1G, 2G, 3G, and 4G networks.

Qualcomm, which played a major role in inventing foundational technologies that help make up the 5G landscape, says that “5G enables a new kind of network that is designed to connect virtually everyone and everything together including machines, objects, and devices.”

The advantages of embracing 5G technology, according to Qualcomm, include:

  • Delivery of higher multi-Gbps data speeds
  • Ultra-low latency
  • More reliability
  • Massive network capacity
  • Increased availability
  • More uniform user experiences to more users

“Higher performance and improved efficiency empower new user experiences and connect new industries,” says Qualcomm.

How is 5G Different from 4G LTE?

Each generation of mobile technology has ushered in new eras of capabilities:

  • 1G: In the 1980s allowed for analog voice.
  • 2G: Early 1990s introduced digital voice.
  • 3G: Early 2000s gave us mobile data.
  • 4G LTE: 2010s kicked off the mobile broadband era.

“3G technology created the first networks fast enough to make smartphones practical,” says Verizon. “Before that, they were too slow to allow you to do all the things that make smartphones great, like streaming videos, surfing the web, and downloading music.”

4G LTE really made smartphones a part of our daily lives as they allowed us to download files 10x faster than with 3G.

“With 4G LTE using the web from your phone is just like using it from your home computer,” says Verizon.

5G is another leap forward, offering speeds 10x faster than 4G LTE, and according to Lifewire, “5G uses different kinds of antennas, operates on different radio spectrum frequencies, connects many more devices to the Internet, minimizes delays, and delivers ultrafast speeds.”

5G Technology: Higher Frequencies, Smaller Antennas

While 4G technology uses frequencies below 6 GHz, some 5G networks use higher frequencies around 30 GHz or more.

“These high frequencies are great for a number of reasons, one of the most important being that they support a huge capacity for fast data. Not only are they less cluttered with existing cellular data, and so can be used in the future for increasing bandwidth demands, they’re also highly directional and can be used right next to other wireless signals without causing interference,” says Lifewire.

5G also utilizes shorter wavelengths, which means that antennas will be much smaller than 4G antennas, but there will also have to be more of these smaller 5G antennas to broadcast the data to and from users.

Technology Myths Can Have Staying Power

If we have learned one thing over the years, it is that technology myths can have staying power.

Most people, for example, have been told, or believe, that using your cell phone while pumping gas can be dangerous, but the New York Daily News tackled the issue in 2012 and found it is a stubborn urban myth that won’t die.

“Cell phones continue to be cited as causing fires at the pump in emails circulating on the Internet,” said the Petroleum Equipment Institute. “So far, we have been unable to document any incidents that were sparked by a cellular telephone. In fact, many researchers have tried to ignite fuel vapors with a cell phone and failed.”

This technology myth is like others such as:

  • Your smartphone will lose the ability to fully charge if you do not drain it all the way: Not true in the age of modern lithium-ion batteries.
  • Standing next to a microwave oven is harmful: New York Times explored and found proximity to a microwave oven is not dangerous.
  • Cell phones can give you brain cancer: This was a health concern in the 1990s but an 11-year study in the United Kingdom concluded that, “despite exhaustive research, we have found no evidence of risks to health from the radio waves produced by mobile phones or their base stations.”

Some of the stories circulating about 5G, in fact, point towards the potential harmful effects of the technologies radio waves.

What the Experts Say About 5G and Your Health

By now you might have read or heard social media points claiming that the high-frequency part of the spectrum used by 5G can be dangerous to people and the environment.

Dan Oliver, in a well-researched 5G Radar article, looked at the issue in-depth.

Oliver says that concern about 5G can fall into two categories:

  • The millimeter wave (MMW) spectrum used by 5G and transmitted via the 30-300 GHz part of the spectrum, is more likely to cause cellular to humans than lower frequencies.
  • The number of transmitters needed, due to the short waves, worries some groups.

In March 2020, the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) formally deemed 5G to be safe, saying that there is “no evidence” that 5G networks have the potential to cause cancer or other illnesses.

“We know parts of the community are concerned about the safety of 5G, and we hope the updated guidelines will help put people at ease,” said Dr. Eric van Rongen, ICNIRP chairman.

In the UK, telecom regulator Ofcom measured 16 5G sites in 10 towns and cities and found emissions to be a fraction of ICNIRP guidelines – with the maximum measured at any one site just 1.5 percent of levels allowed.

5G and the Electromagnetic Spectrum

Some people are concerned that 5G radiation can lead to long-term health consequences such as cancer as the technology could produce enough energy to damage cell DNA.

Oliver reports, however, that Professor Rodney Croft, advisor to the ICNIRP says that “there is no 5G cancer risk, as the levels of MMW used for 5G (and earlier mobile technologies) are so low that the heating effects are not harmful.

On the electromagnetic spectrum, MMW lies between microwaves, found in our kitchens, and infrared waves, utilized by devices such as television remote controls.

All those waves are less than what humans are exposed to via visible light and ultraviolet waves, which can lead to those nasty sunburns.

Australian Experts Reviewed 138 Studies

As with any new technology, we will have more data and studies to rely on over time but earlier this year, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA), along with Swinburne University of Technology, reviewed 138 studies on 5G safety.

“In conclusion, a review of all the studies provided no substantiated evidence that low-level radio waves, like those used by the 5G network, are hazardous to human health,” said Dr Ken Karipidis, assistant director of assessment and advice at ARPANSA.

Still, some people will likely not be swayed on the topic with Deloitte reporting earlier this year that, “up to one fifth of people in ‘advanced economies’ believe 5G comes with associated health risks.”

According to Deloitte, 5G fears are “grossly overblown.”

The report said: “5G does generate radiation, but at very safe levels, and none of it is radioactive radiation. 5G base stations and phones, and the frequency ranges within which 5G operates, are very likely to be operating well within safe parameters in 2021 and throughout 5G’s lifetime.”

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