Questioning the Standard Narrative: Is 5G Safe or is it “Safe”

Wireless Waypoint is part of the telecom and computing industry, so don’t take this post the wrong way as we are all for more bandwidth, advanced applications and services.

RF Safety and 5G

This post is not indicative of an adverse posture towards 5G as there will be many societal benefits associated with the technology.

For example, anticipated reduction in latency for 5G enabled apps and services is expected to supercharge many delay sensitive solutions involving Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, Haptic/Tactile Internet, and more.

This will surely have a benefit to Public Safety in terms of greater bandwidth for emergency services personnel (e.g. looking beyond LTE and FirstNet), providing next generation apps for first responders and PSAPs.

There will be a lot more RF energy beaming around with 5G and at much higher frequencies.  

The standard narrative is that millimeter wave technology used for 5G will be safe for living and non-living things.  Some limited 5G testing with rats in which they were exposed to nine hours of radiation daily is indicative of potential concerns.  However, it could be easy for some to write-off this type of study as being out of context for real-world conditions.

The question remains though: Is it a good idea for society as a whole to have so much more RF radiation?  Will the societal benefits outweigh the potential long-term health effects, not to mention the potential impact on the earth’s ecosystem as a whole (e.g. the plants and animals for which humans share the planet and in some cases rely upon for food)?

Is it a good idea for society as a whole to have so much more RF radiation?

It is well-known that there have been many questions about RF safety, causing much debate for the last two decades.  Many health advocacy agencies have gotten involved, prompting governmental agencies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to get involved.  The FDA provides a couple of steps people can take to minimize radiation exposure when using cell phones such as use of a headset to reduce exposure.

The National Toxicology Program has been conducting experiments in rats and mice on potential health hazards from cell phone radio frequency radiation.  They released study findings on May 27, 2016.

One can conclude that there already is an issue with pre-5G, but it can be dealt with by way of headsets (for voice), and most activity is arguably smartphone in hand and eyes on screen (e.g. texting, browsing, and apps) so the phone is not near the head.

If we assume there will be at least similar issues with 5G, it is important to also consider that much higher frequencies, and density of coverage (especially in an urban environment) could potentially magnify concerns.  In other words, the question could be “can you really avoid RF radiation when it will be all around you?”

Arguably, some of the more near-term applications for 5G involve fixed wireless and back-haul, which are deployed in a point-to-point manner.  Perhaps the industry can take the time to engage in some real-world testing with some of these early solutions, and hopefully, put at ease any concerns or lingering doubts about 5G prior to wide-spread deployment.