The 5G mobile network has been switched on in some cities across the UK, paving the way for exciting opportunities, use cases and streamlining communications in ways we may not yet envisage. It has also led to questions about whether this new technology poses a risk to health.
One of the main questions we have been asked recently is whether 5G is safe, and the short answer is yes. There is no scientific evidence that 5G frequencies are harmful to humans.
5G relies on signals carried by radio waves, part of the electromagnetic spectrum (which we are commonly exposed to via television and radio signals, as well as those emitted by the average mobile phone). This frequency is non-ionising, meaning it lacks sufficient energy to cause damage to biological cells. In fact, ultraviolet light from the sun is more dangerous; which is why you shouldn’t spend too long in the sun without the appropriate UV protection.
With this in mind, we’ve also been hearing concerns surrounding transmitter masts. As 5G relies on higher frequency waves, more masts are required, because the signal can only travel over shorter distances, particularly the case in urban spaces. That said, the more transmitters there are, the lower the power levels required. This means that the level of radiation exposure from 5G antennas will be reduced.
Wider environmental concerns regarding the manufacturing process of parts, deployment schemes and the creation of tailored devices are common questions the industry is now facing as we enter into the fifth-generation network. The perceived increase in carbon emissions is enough to keep some people opposed to the new technology.
However, research by Huawei and consulting firm, STL Partners, claims a fast rollout of 5G technology could reduce global carbon emissions by half a billion tonnes. In the UK alone, carbon emissions from mobile networks could be cut in half, to 34 million tonnes in the next ten years. The report suggests that this will be down to reduced energy use in the core and mobile access networks.
As with any new technology, there will naturally be an array of questions, but as for now, the UK Government has set the stance that “although a small increase in overall exposure to radio waves is possible [when 5G is added to the network], the overall exposure is expected to remain low”, whilst the country is closely following the international guidelines set by the International Commission for Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP).
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