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Is 5G making us sick?

5G is a buzz word that has caused a lot of confusion and excitement in 2020 and it seems to continue the same in 2021 as well. However, there is a need to debunk the mythic and the truth backed by scientific research across the board. 

Fifth Generation or 5G is a mobile technology that will enable the provision of much affordable broadband wireless connectivity at a very high speed. This will provide a significant increase in data capabilities and unrestricted call volumes and infinite data broadcast together within the latest mobile operating system. In simple terms, all we need to power all our smart devices. Before we try to understand a bit more about 5G, let us look into its evolution from 1G to 5G.

In the early 1970s, mobile wireless communication started and since then mobile wireless technology has evolved rapidly from 1G to 5G

 In 1979, First Generation(1G) emerged that contains the Analog System popularly known as cell phones. It introduces mobile technologies such as Mobile Telephone System (MTS), Improved Mobile Telephone Service (IMTS), and Push to Talk (PTT) etc. It used an analogue radio signal with the frequency 150 MHz for voice call modulation via Frequency-Division Multiple Access (FDMA). However, 1G has low capacity, unreliable handoff, poor voice links, and no security.

In 1991, the Second generation (2G) was developed which used digital signals for voice transmission at a speed of 64 kbps. This facilitated the emergence of SMS(Short Message Service) and used the bandwidth of 30 to 200 kHz. Next came a 2.5G system with an improved speed of 144 kbps using techniques such as GPRS, CDMA and EDGE.

Then raised Third Generation(3G) in the early 2000s adopting a Wide Brand Wireless Network which operates at a range of 2100MHz and has a bandwidth of 15-20MHz used for High-speed internet service enabling video chatting turning the world into a little village as a person could contract with other person located in any part of the world.

Nonetheless, this speed was still not enough for many of the services such as video streaming, Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS), video chat, mobile TV, HDTV content, Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB) etc.

This was enabled by the development of LTE (Long Term Evolution) also known as Fourth Generation(4G) in the 2010s. However, With the growing demand for 4K video streaming services, Internet of Things ecosystems, Self-driving cars and big data etc, 4G technology is needed to evolve to better technique to provide a seamless and immersive wireless experience. Hence, 5G is looking to provide an answer to these challenges.

The research and development in 5G technology began in 2008, however, the technology was first tested successfully in 2018 by Korea telecom in the 2018 winter Olympics. 

 How does 5G work?

5G brings three new aspects to the table: bigger channels (to speed up data), lower latency (to be more responsive), and the ability to connect a lot more devices at once (for sensors and smart devices).

To achieve this most 5G operators will initially integrate the 5G networks with existing 4G networks to provide a continuous connection as highlighted in the illustrating 5G and 4G working together, with central and local servers providing faster content to users and low latency applications. A mobile network has two main components, the ‘Core Network’ and ‘Radio Access Network’.

The Core Network – is the mobile exchange and data network that manages all of the mobile voice, data and internet connections. In the case of 5G, the ‘core network’ has been redesigned to better integrate with the internet and cloud-based services, additionally distributed servers across the network improving response times (reducing latency).

The Radio Access Network – consists of various types of facilities such as small cells, towers, masts and dedicated in-building and home systems that connect mobile users and wireless devices to the main core network.

Like other cellular networks, 5G networks use a system of cell sites that divide their territory into sectors and send encoded data through radio waves. Each cell site must be connected to a network backbone, whether through a wired or wireless backhaul connection. However, 5G networks need to be much smarter than previous systems, as they’re juggling many more and smaller cells that can change size and shape. The goal is to have far higher speeds available, and far higher capacity per sector, at far lower latency than 4G, as lower latency means faster response times as highlighted in the table below.

The standards bodies involved are aiming at 20Gbps speeds and 1ms latency, at which point very interesting things begin to happen. Qualcomm says 5G will be able to boost capacity by four times over current systems by leveraging wider bandwidths and advanced antenna technologies using the new frequency spectrum.

Mobile spectrum showing the radio frequency range from 3-100 GHz with new 5G spectrum above 6GHz. Hence, AT&T and Verizon have been testing in 5G in a few cities in the U.S in early 2018 while Vodafone initiated in the U.K in April 2018.

In 2019, 5G was globally launched with many compatible devices being launched in the first half of the year. The installation of several towers started to happen in 2020 by Covid did cause a delay in the process. Nevertheless, according to Ericsson, a company involved in the manufacture of some of the infrastructure, they estimate that 5G will cover around 1.5 billion of us connected to 5G by 2024 and 1.8 billion by 2025.

Here’s how the breakdown of the total number across the world, as of mid-September 2020: 397 operators are investing in 5G mobile or 5G fixed wireless access/home broadband networks, 118 operators have announced the deployment of 5G within their live network and 96 operators have announced 3GPP (protocols for mobile telecoms) .

Challenges facing 5G

Deployment and coverage

Higher frequencies enable highly directional radio waves, meaning they can be targeted or aimed — a practice called beam forming. The challenge is that 5G antennas, while able to handle more users and data, beam out over shorter distances.

Cost to build, cost to buy

Building a network is expensive, and carriers will raise the money to do it by increasing customer revenue.

Security and privacy

This would be a challenge with any data-driven technology, but the 5G rollout will have to contend with both standard and sophisticated cyber security threats. 

Why 5G?

With very high speed, high capacity, and low cost per bit there are many things which become possible which could only be done in a controlled environment and already there has been significant global economic impact.

  • $13.1 trillion dollars of global economic growth output
  • $22.8 billion worth of new jobs created
  • $265 billion global 5G CAPEX and R&D annually over the next 15 years

 This is backed by a 5G Economy study done by Qualcomm, that found that 5G’s full economic effect will likely be realized across the globe by 2035.

5G would support a diverse range of industries and potentially enable up to $13.1 trillion worth of goods and services. Which is far more greater than previous network generations. Autonomous (Self – Driving) Delivery and Cars are heavy back the 5G as they service heavy reliably on the very high speed for accurate operations.

Is 5G dangerous?

With all that benefit there are hidden dangers, the simple answer is No. There is no evidence of any health impact based on my studies on 5G as highlighted by, Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, Robert Demott, Ramboll and many more

“The normal consensus is that you don’t need to worry about a temperature increase of less than one degree Celsius because our bodies change by one degree Celsius in and of their own activities all the time, even at a cellular level,” Ramboll says.

However, there are calls for more research into study and deal rollout of 5G. Yet there is no conceive evidence of impact. The claims saying that 5G technology is dangerous generally centre around two main concerns. 

The first is that 5G, compared to other existing technologies, uses ultra-high frequency and ultra-high intensity, along with differences in pulsing and polarisation from existing technology.

The second is that the shorter mm-scale waves of 5G do not travel very far, and so, a larger number of emitters are needed in a given area to provide a strong signal.

Nonetheless, there are strong myths spread about 5G, trying to conceive the mass without any clear evidence. One such case is of Dr Carpenter, who worked hard to revise established science. In 2012, he became editor in chief of Reviews on Environmental Health, a quarterly journal. He published several authors who filed alarmist reports, as well as his own. Dr Bill P. Curry that showed a steep increase in microwave absorption by the brain at higher frequencies, which led to fears of 5G health risks.

“The rapid increase in the use of cellphones increases risk of cancer, male infertility, and neurobehavioral abnormalities,” Dr Carpenter wrote in 2013.

In subsequent years, as the frequencies of wireless devices continued to rise, associated risk of brain cancer was repeated uncritically, often without attribution to Dr Curry or Dr. Carpenter. However, his claims have been debunked many times by many studies and scientific reports, yet his cult lives on spreading myth as science. 

David Robert Grimes, a cancer researcher at the University of Oxford confirmed that 

“If phones are linked to cancer, we’d expect to see a marked uptick, yet we do not.”

Multiple scientists have debunked this myth. Dr Curry’s data looked at exposed tissues in a lab, not cells deep inside our body and it failed to take the “shielding effect” into account. (The shielding effect refers to our skin’s ability to block out higher radio frequencies and protect our insides.)

Besides, in a recent interview with RT, Dr Carpenter defended his high-frequency view. “You have all this evidence that cellphone radiation penetrates the brain,” he said. But he conceded after some discussion that the increasingly high frequencies could in fact have a difficult time entering the human body. Nevertheless, the damage is done 5G myths are widespread and causing mass hysteria.

Popular myths debunked 

Myth 1: 5G is an untested, new technology

Truth: The technology 5G relies on is not new. It is integral to our lives and is tested in line with strict international safety standards.

Myth 2: 5G is harmful to human health

Truth: There is no evidence to suggest 5G is harmful to human health.

Myth 3: 5G uses higher frequencies which means higher radiation levels

Truth: 5G will operate using higher frequencies and generate lower levels of electromagnetic energy.

Myth 4: Electromagnetic energy is only emitted from telecommunications facilities

Truth: Electromagnetic energy is emitted from a number of natural and artificial sources including but not limited to telecommunications.

Myth 5: All electromagnetic energy is dangerous

Truth: Some electromagnetic energy may be dangerous in some circumstances but not that used for telecommunications.

Myth 6: 5G frequencies are going to microwave our brains

Truth: There is no evidence to suggest 5G is harmful to human health or our brains

Myth 7: 5G networks spread the coronavirus

Truth: be assured, germs or viruses are not yet capable of teleportation.

What do I need to use 5G?

To take advantage of all that 5G has to offer, you’ll need a 5G-compatible phone along with 5G networks.

5G networks are slow getting rolled out worldwide and would be available across the globe by 2023. On the bright side, since 5G networks are building on top of rather than replacing the existing 4G and 4G LTE networks, you won’t need a new phone right away. All existing phones will still be able to connect to 4G networks and operate just fine.

5G is a technology that would be needed to enable any smart device which is coming to the market in the coming year.

With no clear evidence of 5G causing any health risk, 5G technology will be rolled out by the government worldwide be it slowed down due to Covid and myths around 5G.