The promise of 5 G

The infrastructure has started to materialise since 2019 and there are 5G networks already in major cities in dozens of countries with millions of subscribers.

Article by Matti Sjögren

In 2013 European Union declared its 5G Infrastructure PPP – the Public-Private Partnership to secure Europe’s leadership in the areas where there is a potential for creating new markets such as smart cities, e-health, intelligent transport, education or entertainment & media. Indeed, the newest mobile technology standard 5G has plenty of promises in the core of the 4th industrial revolution.

The increased bandwidth will enable - besides smooth videos through smart phones also fully autonomous traffic systems and obtaining and analysing big data. The technology is going to connect more devices in Internet-of-Things with low latency thus releasing the full potential of IoT and increasing efficiency and reducing costs on every level.

The infrastructure has started to materialise since 2019 and there are 5G networks already in major cities in dozens of countries with millions of subscribers. What are the risks considering the key nature of 5G having an impact everywhere in the digitalised world? First comes to mind the possible direct risks of the technology.

5G operates in the same wavelengths like 3,5 GHz as partly also 2G, 3G or 4G, but significantly higher, radio frequencies (RF, 24 GHz) are going to be used later. This means that there have to be very dense network of base stations within just few hundreds of meters from each other.

Several studies on 5G health effects

There have been tens of thousands of studies on the health effects of electromagnetic fields (EMF) during the last 30 years with very few showing any adverse health impacts. However, there are precaution measures instructed by the authorities, e.g. to minimise the use of mobile phones by children.

But the 5G will also operate in new radio frequency lengths not so well researched. The Swedish Radiation Safety Authority’s (SSM) Scientific Council states in their report (* published in April 2020 , that “even though there is no established mechanism for affecting health from weak radio wave exposure there is a need for more research covering the novel frequency domains used for 5G”.

With IoT connecting billions of devices and handling large amount of data the cyber risks and personal data related risks will increase. 5G enables sophisticated interactive systems from financial transactions to industrial processes and vital communications. New security methods need to be created.

High expectations, but also cautiousness

In 2013, the EU was expecting also desirable societal changes would be made possible by the new technology. But with people involved there can always be other changes too. When complicated technology, that is difficult to understand, is being developed, humans tend to be cautious and distrustful. This year there have been plenty of physical attacks by people against 5G support stations e.g.  in UK and the Netherlands. There are even allegations in the web that the networks contribute to the spread of coronavirus.

Another aspect of this is often linked to the sudden wave of making general liability or product liability claims especially in the USA against some new technology or product.

But as said, the 5G radiation is somewhat different from previous technologies. The Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority in Finland says that “there is also no reason to suspect, on the basis of current knowledge, that the millimetre waves to be implemented later would have harmful health effects in exposure under the limit values.”

Last year the meteorological agencies in the USA were warning that the massive increase in the use of radio frequencies would possibly deteriorate the accuracy of weather forecasts.

The 5G technology related fears have spread, from conspiracy theories to concerns over national security, to accusations of espionage against the Chinese network system producer Huawei, for example.

 *) Recent Research on EMF and Health Risk
- Fourteenth report from SSM’s Scientific Council on Electromagnetic Fields, 2019