Almost every decade, there needs to be a generation upgrade in the world of telecommunications to keep up with the increasing requirement of people and the increasing sophistication of the computing devices. This decade which is about to be over has seen probably the fastest development in technology and telecommunications. And nearing the end of this decade, we are seeing the inevitable arrival of 5G. And one question that is being raised about the new leap in technology is, is 5G dangerous? It is frequent that questions like is 5G dangerous to humans, to birds pop up in multiple sites like YouTube, Reddit and Quora.
But what is the true nature of 5G and is it really that dangerous to us? We did a little bit of digging to find some relevant answers that might interest you. We try to explain why there is a pandemonium regarding the upgrade of telecom network. And we will try and describe the challenges, possible adverse effects as well as the inevitable deployment of 5G. Let’s find the answers to the question, is 5G dangerous?
How does 5G work?
Before we try and explain why people are afraid of 5G and its technologies, it is important that you get a basic idea about the working principles of this new generation of communication. Jumping from 4G to get to the next generation was not an easy task, and it still isn’t. There are a lot of challenges that lie ahead. And it is due to overcoming these challenges why people are afraid of this new generation. Let us explain.
The current implementation of 5G works on 4 key components. These components are MMWaves (millimeter waves), Small Cells, MIMO and Beam Forming. Out of these four, MMWaves and Small Cells are the major reason for the confusion and fear towards 5G. Let’s see in details about these two allegedly dangerous technologies.
MMWaves – MMWaves or Millimeter Waves is the bandwidth where 5G is destined to operate. Radiation or Energy is divided into different sections in terms of their frequency (which corresponds directly to their energy and inversely to their length). So a wave of energy with high frequency will have a shorter wavelength and high energy.
4G and almost all the commercial wireless technologies operate under 6 GHz of bandwidth. These are low energy and low frequency waves. But with the increase in the number of devices that are using internet, this “area” has become crowded. Imagine a 6 lane highway with LA traffic in peak hours. A lot of cars in a narrow road. So to get better speed and accommodate more data (cars), 5G opened a new road.
Accessing the MMWaves
Instead of using the narrow 6 lane road, 5G offers a 60 lane road that is completely empty! Imagine the space and speed your car will have once you get on that road. So instead of staying under 6 GHz of bandwidth, 5G will be using bandwidths as high as 300 GHz! This is what MMWaves are, their wavelength size are in the order of millimeter, while traditional 4G waves have a wavelength in the order of centimeters.
The problem with MMWaves is that they cannot travel too far. They cannot penetrate buildings and foliage and pretty much anything solid. And this is a serious issue for 5G. TO understand it in terms of the highway example, remember that 60 lane, congestion free highway? Imagine that’s just 50 meters long and ends abruptly. That makes this highway useless. To counter this issue, mobile network companies came up with new tech called Small Cells.
In very simple terms, these small cells are like mini cellphone towers that consume less power. The idea is that covering the city with these Small Cells so that your phone is always exposed to at least of these cells. (Since they consume less power and are small, they can be installed in light poles and buildings). That is how you’ll always stay connected with 5G network, by having a plethora of 5G towers around you.
So the highway that was just 50 meters long now has hundreds of 50 meters pieces that are laid in a sequence so that you get a hundreds of kilometers of congestion free, wide road. But there are still few challenges and to tackle that, 5G has MIMO and Beam Forming.
MIMO stands for Multiple Input Multiple Output. What this tech does is it allows one network tower to connect with many more devices. This allows 5G’s ability to serve almost 10x more devices that what 4G could serve. This is the technology that will reinforce the structure of Internet of Things (more on that later in the article). Beam Forming is a technology that allows these small cells to direct the data directly towards a particular device. Since there are multiple devices with multiple small cells, data has to be directed accurately. So instead of releasing data like a floodlight (which happens in 4G and below), 5G will send data like a spotlight.
Is 5G Dangerous?
Now let’s come to the crux of this article, is 5G dangerous? Most of the people who are asking these questions have two particular things to blame for their concerns. One is the use of shorter, high-energy MMWaves and the second one is the use of Small Cells all over the place. And frankly, these concerns are real and it is very healthy to have them. Specially when the usage of 5G will increase the exposure to these waves by huge margins, it is important to be certain that these waves won’t cause any harm with their long term exposure. And unfortunately, we don’t have any data or complete research to say anything about it. 5G is a very new technology and for long term exposure research, we have to test it for at least 5-10 years. And some government and companies are not willing to wait that long. But are MMWaves really harmful? Let’s see which type of wave is harmful and what harm are they capable of doing to us.
Ionizing and Non-Ionizing Radiation.
Starting from very low frequency electromagnetic waves, we have the radio waves that are not harmful (concluded from the research with normal exposure). At the very end of the spectrum, we have the Gamma waves and Cosmic radiations that are extremely powerful and can kill you easily. These radiations can cause radiation sickness, DNA damage, harmful mutations (causing cancer) and should not be exposed to humans. The term ionizing comes from the capacity of these radiation to ionize chemical bonds (remove an electron, hence changing the molecular makeup). X-Rays, Gamma Rays, UV rays and Cosmic rays are all ionizing rays.
Coming to non-ionizing rays, this is where the 5G spectrum lies, along with 4G, 3G, microwave, radio waves, infrared and visible radiation (the light we see). These radiations do not have the amount of energy to knock off the electrons and cause ionization. They may heat something (microwave) and even humans emit infrared radiation. So this is why the researchers aren’t that worried about the adverse effects of MMWaves.
Can Radio Frequency Cause Damage?
A very ambiguous question is can radio frequency cause damage. Radio frequency at high exposure levels can cause burns and some thermal damage, but it does not have the energy to cause any serious molecular damage. Kenneth Foster, a professor of bioengineering at Pennsylvania State University said; “There’s often confusion between ionizing and non-ionizing radiation because the term radiation is used for both. All light is radiation because it is simply energy moving through space. It is ionizing radiation that is dangerous because it can break chemical bonds.”
But what if Radio frequency, like that of 5G is exposed to us via phones and small cells for longer periods of time? To test that, there was a test done by the National Toxicology Program. This research was a 10-yrs old study that wanted to test whether non-ionizing radiation can cause ailments such as chronic headaches and even brain tumors!
This study involved exposing rats and mice to radio frequency used in 2G and 3G communications. The amount of radiation was 4 times more than the amount permitted for humans. Double that with the lower mass of rats and mice, the radiation could have been deadly. But the results were fascinating.
The study showed that some evidence of increased cases of adrenal gland tumor but this wasn’t seen in female rats or even mice. However, this does not show in any way that even RF used in 3G and 4G is dangerous to humans, let alone 5G. What we need is specific and targeted 5G RF studies to learn more about this emergent technology.
Some other studies have shown that radiation (radio frequency) can cause oxidative stress which is also related to cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, etc. But a plethora of tests have stated otherwise. It is a mess when it comes to research in this topic.
In 2011, World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer classified RF radiation as “Possibly carcinogenic to humans.” It also stated that the evidences are limited so you don’t have to worry about it. Coffee and pickles are also in the “possibly carcinogenic” category.
While Foster says that we need not panic, others don’t share the same view. Martin Pall, a professor emeritus of Biochemistry and Basic Medical Sciences in Washington State University said; “Putting tens of millions of 5G antennae without a single biological test of safety has got to be the stupidest idea anyone has had in the history of the world.” He further aded that cellphone radiation is harmful and we’d be playing with our own survival if 5G is deployed. Looks like 5G is dangerous. And what Pall is saying isn’t hearsay. In a study by Pall, it was found that microwave frequency electromagnetic fields (EMFs) produce widespread neuropsychiatric effects that also includes depression. You can read the complete study in NCBI’s website. Here is the link for that. You can also read the complete piece written by Pall wherein he describes how 5G is dangerous with evidence of eight distinct harm caused by EMF exposure. Click here to read that.
What the Governments are doing.
Amidst the rising chaos regarding implementation of 5G and its potential dangers, some governments have started paying attention. Belgium stopped the testing of 5G in Brussels in concerns that the radiation can be harmful. Switzerland, Netherland and some other countries have started setting up steps to prevent 5G from going unchecked and to study it’s effects on human health.
While all these steps are being taken, people have started criticizing that the FDA and FCC haven’t updated their cellphone standard since 1996, specially the amount of SAR (specific absorption rate). SAR is the amount of power absorbed in the body per given mass. in their defense, the IEEE did a study recently and said that the recommended safety levels are the same as they were in 1996. The FCC and FDA say that there’s no link between health issues and radio frequency.
But we cannot jump to conclusions without proper testing. There was a time when coke was being added to everything, even babies were given a little bit of cocaine. The idea of cigarettes being a cancer causing substance was laughed at and radium was being used in beauty products. We have done some stupid things in the history and we need to make sure that does not happen again.
But humans have also a great record of fearing new technology thinking that it will be the doom of all. So to counter both the scenario, it is better that there should be more tests and research with 5G before rushing towards it. I think we all can make do with fibre internet and 4G for a couple of years.
From all that we have found and understood, we are certain that even the scientists have not properly understood the proper mechanism and effects of 5G RF exposure and we need to have more detailed studies before we proceed. Let’s hope for the best. We hope this article was helpful and solved your query.