It has been the subject of discussion for a number of years now: is 5G technology harmful to health or not? Opponents argue that this latest development in telecommunications has ominous consequences for our health. For example, it would be carcinogenic. Conspiracy theorists even claim that 5G is responsible for the current coronavirus pandemic. Researchers in a new study are now making short work of these allegations. Within the current exposure limits, there appears to be little to no risk of adverse health effects from 5G.

Fifth-generation Wireless

With the growing demand for faster data transmission, wireless companies and research institutions have been hard at work to come up with new technologies. The latest development, 5G, therefore processes data significantly faster than the 2G to 4G technologies, whose capabilities are approaching their limits and do not meet future requirements. 5G can send larger amounts of data at much higher speeds compared to its predecessors. That’s partly because 5G uses the larger bandwidth available at higher frequencies. In short, the higher the frequency, the more capacity and the faster the connection. And that is desperately needed in this day and age to manage the data traffic on today’s wireless networks, which is increasing by 90 percent annually. “Many high-volume applications have become the norm today,” says researcher David Maxson. “5G will improve some of the weaknesses of previous wireless technologies.”

Millimetre waves

Yet not everyone is happy with the arrival of 5G. That’s because the higher frequencies used in 5G wireless consist of shorter waves. However, these so-called millimeter waves only work over shorter distances and cannot pass through obstacles such as walls. This means for 5G to be efficient more relay antennas will be needed in the streetscape. Moreover, the fear is that this wavelength may be harmful to both humans and the environment.

Health effects

Opponents of 5G are concerned that the introduction of the new wireless network will have several adverse health effects. Some are even so opposed to the arrival of 5G that several 5G cell towers have been set on fire. But a new study now states that 5G is not at all harmful to our health. “In general, radio waves of all frequencies, infrared emissions and visible light have one thing in common: they can only harm people when they are too strong for the human body. However, small infrared lasers (such as those in your TV remote) are not powerful enough to damage the human eye (which is sensitive to infrared). And while millimeter waves can cause burns at too high a power level, they are deliberately kept below the limits,” the researchers explain.

Therefore, no harmful

As long as the exposure remains below the established guidelines, there is nothing to worry about. “There are no known health effects due to exposure to radio waves below current safety thresholds,” Maxson stresses. Moreover, millimeter waves are not new to humanity and are already widely used, for example in airport scanners, car collision avoidance systems and some security systems. The researcher therefore believes that: “5G or any other G is potentially not harmful,” he says. Only if you get too close can this cause injury. But radio communication systems are designed to prevent people from getting too close.”

Afraid of the unknown

Where does the idea that 5G is harmful actually come from? “Radio waves are invisible,” Maxson explains. “Throughout civilization, people have always been afraid of the unseen, unknown and unexplained. For example, the writer Arthur C. Clark said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Sometimes people are just afraid of what they don’t understand.”

According to the researcher, there is a big misconception about the word ‘5G’. “The most confusing thing is that 5G is seen as something tangible rather than a set of rules,” says Maxson. “People talk about 5G like it’s something safe or unsafe. But in fact, there is nothing ‘safe’ or ‘unsafe’ about it.” You can compare this to, say, a stove. You can prepare safe food on a gaspit, but as soon as you touch it directly, you can get a burn. The same goes for power outlets. These provide power, but if you deal with it carelessly, it can shock you. The concept of ‘safe’ therefore refers to the amount of exposure or dose you receive. “5G is really just a set of protocols for using the radio spectrum to communicate efficiently,” Maxson continues. “In other words, demand has more to do with the use of the radio spectrum than with the new generation of technology. In addition, the 5G technology is used like all other applications of the radio spectrum: the installations must comply with the safety limits.”

As long as these guidelines are met, we do not have to be afraid of harmful effects of 5G. The research argues that we can serenely dismiss previously published alarming reports about the potential dangers of 5G. “This misinformation, along with activist websites that proclaim even more ominous consequences of 5G, has led to unnecessary public concern,” says researcher Jerrold Bushberg.

Shakes Gilles

Shakes covers stories ranging from science to health, to technology, to astronomy, etc... On a typical weekend, you'll find him enjoying a picnic at a local park or playing soccer with friends.