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Does 5G have implications for health and safety?

Radio waves have a range of frequencies divided into various bands or spectrum bands. Some spectrum bands are being reused for the purposes of 5G, but some new spectrum bands are also being brought into play.

The capability required will determine which spectrum will be used. The low-frequency spectrum (700Mhz) which can travel over greater distances will support improved coverage and user experience for 5G. The mid-frequency spectrum (2.3GHz to 3.8 GHz range) is expected to meet the increased capacity for existing mobile users, including the 5G phones which are now available commercially.

New 5G applications and innovative services will be operating at a frequency between 30GHz and 300GHz, known as Extremely High Frequency (EHF). This high frequency operates in a millimetre band known as a mmWave that can carry a lot of data but has a short range, and so cannot travel very far.

As a result, more 5G infrastructure will be required at closer intervals to transmit exponentially higher levels of data. This frequency has previously been used in satellite communications, navigation systems and broadcasting and has been repurposed for mobile communications.

EHF will be delivered by a mixture of towers and ‘small cells’ base stations that will allow denser coverage both indoors and outdoors. Small cells are low-power, short-range mobile base stations which can be mounted unobtrusively onto or inside buildings or everyday existing installations, such as bus shelters or lampposts. This universal cellular network will allow 5G-enabled devices to change our day-to-day world in a multitude of ways.

No evidence of negative impact

The frequencies involved with 5G are well defined, understood and highly regulated. There is no existing scientific evidence to suggest that 5G has any negative health impact on animals or humans. As the 5G network grows, researchers and governmental organisations will continue to monitor the possible impact of the millimetre wavelengths on health to ensure that rigid health and safety measures are in place for future operations.

In the UK, Public Health England (PHE) takes the lead on public health matters associated with radiofrequency EMF used in telecommunications. PHE’s position is that exposure to radio waves should comply with the guidelines published by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). ICNIRP is formally recognised by the World Health Organization (WHO).

PHE has stated: ‘The overall exposure is expected to remain low relative to [ICNERP] guidelines and, as such, there should be no consequences for public health.’

Ofcom research on base stations

Ofcom recently carried out measurements of samples of cellular base stations which indicate that, even in the vicinity of cellular masts, measurements are consistently found to be very significantly below levels of exposure that would give cause for concern.

In February 2020, the first UK safety tests of 5G base stations, covering 16 locations in ten cities, including Edinburgh and Glasgow, found radiation levels at ‘tiny fractions’ of safe limits. The tests, which are being carried out on an annual basis, measured the strength of the magnetic field in several locations. Ofcom found no identifiable risks.

 

To find out more about 5G, read our Knowledge Bank article about what it is, and what its benefits are.

Article published June 2020