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IET gives 5G a clean bill of health

The results lead to an emphatic conclusion that 5G is just as safe as 4G, 3G and 2G (GSM), says Prof Stephen Temple | Credit: IET

Prof Stephen Temple, IET Digital Communications Policy Panel | The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET)

4 min read Partner content

5G has been subject to an ‘infodemic’ of misinformation and conspiracy theories about public safety. But is there any evidence behind these claims?

A new report from Institution of Engineering and Technology separates fact from fiction

The recent 5G health concerns is history repeating itself.

When a new spectrum band at 1800 MHz was proposed for mobile use in 1989 it triggered a health scare.

Radio engineers at the time had a habit of calling frequencies in this range “microwaves”.

It was not a big mental leap to associate “microwave frequencies” with microwave ovens. Some scientists questioned whether enough was known about using “microwaves” for mobile phones. The media did the rest, cumulating in an alarmist headline “mobile phones fry your brains”.

Gradually things calmed down and the mobile phone took off. However, there was consequential damage from the way the health scare was handled.

The government set up an Independent Committee to review concerns.

The Committee could find no evidence of harm. But they recommended mobile phone mast should not be built near schools “as a precaution”.

This triggered a wave of protests against building new phone masts on “health” grounds – and a number did not get built.

That was the consequential damage.

Many of those very same communities vociferously objecting to building a phone mast near them all those years ago are the same communities expressing concerns about poor mobile broadband coverage.

Today millions of children in the playground of our schools have smartphones.

Had a phone mast been built near a school, the power of the smartphone would have been automatically wound down to its minimum, leading to less net exposure.

The Independent Committee did exactly the wrong thing to meet their concerns. They lacked a good cellular mobile engineer to have set them straight that more masts equal less exposure, as powers get turned down at both ends.

The 5G health concern is history repeating itself.

The issue is again a new “higher” frequency band being proposed for mobile use.

Again, there were some scientists saying not enough is known about using these “higher frequencies” for mass deployment on mobiles. Social media has done the rest.  

It needs emphasising that this is a consumer choice issue and not a safety issue.

The result is that 5G has been subject to an ‘infodemic’ of misinformation and conspiracy theories that has reached such a crescendo – and when this happens, it becomes a real challenge to get to the root of what started it all and separate fact from fiction. 

But a new report, launched today by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), has separated the hoaxes from sincere concerns expressed that 5G might somehow be uniquely harmful and investigated those concerns in depth.

The results lead to an emphatic conclusion that 5G is just as safe as 4G, 3G and 2G (GSM).

The investigation involved separating the 5G technology from the frequency bands that could be used and examining each and going on to further explore every nook and cranny of the 5G RF safety framework.

The report’s main findings are:

  1. The 5G technology itself, in so far as it affects radio wave exposure, is very similar to 4G and in terms of its pulsed signals, the same as Global System for Mobile communication (GSM), Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications (DECT) phones and a version of 4G
  2. There are no “higher frequency” commercial 5G mobile antennas being deployed anywhere in the UK and none are currently planned. The report looks into potential future uses of higher frequencies and suggests that they are likely to be far more geographically limited (for economic reasons), lower power and, of course, fully compliant with safety standards
  3. As there has been no dispensation for 5G safety standards, it will have to meet the same safety standards as 4G, 3G and GSM, meaning 5G will be just as safe as 4G, 3G and GSM
  4. Reducing exposure to radio waves in the future requires more base stations in order to drive down both smartphone and base station power levels

The investigation turned up one small point of concern. Whilst all new smartphones (4G or 5G) are well within the safety limits, many smartphone suppliers are not making it easy for consumers to find the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) values of new smartphones.

It needs emphasising that this is a consumer choice issue and not a safety issue.

But if, as a result of all the fake stories about 5G health effects, some consumers remain anxious and want to give themselves an additional safety margin (lower SAR) to have peace of mind, we believe that should be made easy for them to do so. In this way everyone can come to enjoy the benefits of 5G. 

The full report: Allaying health concerns regarding 5G and exposure to radio waves is available here


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