Health and 5G technology

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Independent research is needed on possible health risks caused by 5G technology, writes Paul Budde.

Having been involved in the telecommunications industry for a long time, I followed many of the discussions involving health concerns when the 3G and 4G mobile technologies were introduced.

This time, with 5G, the situation is no different. Again, there are many communities worried about the potential negative health effects of the radiation that emanates from mobile communications.

During the 3G and 4G introductions, there has been extensive research done on this issue. All manufacturers have done their own tests. Many countries have done independent tests. On an international level, the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Geneva has also done its own studies on the topic. In the case of Australia, this was done by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA).

They have concluded that if the technology gets deployed according to stringent standards, the health risks are minimal. In relation to mobile handsets, there are now warnings for users, which provide ways to reduce risks, such as using headphones, rather than having long conversations with the phone glued to the ear.

There have always been risks involved with any technology ever since humans started to invent tools. In the case of telecoms tools, I believe far more lives will have been saved by using mobile phones. We do accept risks, for example, with motor vehicles, which are not banned although 1.3 million people per year are killed in motor vehicle accidents.

That is not to say that we don’t try to minimise risks and car safety is constantly being improved. Manufacturers have improved the vehicles; governments have improved road conditions and regulations, and drivers have improved their driving skills.

With regard to 5G, many communities are arguing about the fact that most research is now a decade old and that we are now also able to test the effects of radiation, for example, on our DNA. Renewed research is always welcome, preferably by a respected and independent organisation, such as the WHO. 

One of the major 5G concerns for communities is the densification of the mobile network. For the next stage of 5G – which is still a few years away – the technology will start supporting so-called IoT services (autonomous cars, smart cities, smart infrastructure and so on). For this to happen, new mobile antennas are needed at distances of a few hundred meters of each other. While in principle the higher frequencies do have less risk, the combined intensity of the signal is different to that in the case of 3G and 4G.

Some communities in California are now banning 5G in their areas. In Europe, Brussels is banning 5G — so far, the largest city to do so. In Switzerland, the Canton of Geneva has put a hold on the rollout of 5G. They can’t ban it – only the government can do so – but the Canton can control the speed of the rollout. In Australia, communities in the Blue Mountains, Byron Bay, Tweed Valley and the Northern Rivers are among the most vocal on this issue.

One of the problems is a lack of information. In some cases, arguments are used that are totally false. However, without any updated response from the manufactures, operators and governments – other than referring to their old research – people are clearly concerned about the health risks of 5G technology.

While I am fairly confident that 5G will not cause significant harm, I strongly believe that new healthcare research is needed in relation to 5G.

It doesn’t do the industry any good when so many communities are boycotting 5G. This sentiment will only spread further if the industry doesn’t act quickly and start asking the WHO and, in Australia, ARPANSA to do specific research on the various new elements of the 5G technology. It would be in the industry’s own interests to ensure that the risks of 5G technology are fully researched and communicated. It will also take pro-active engagement with communities to ensure that their concerns are addressed. This won’t be easy as there is currently not a lot of trust in governments and businesses in our societies.

If independent research does confirm that 5G is predominantly safe, while it is true that there will always be people who will never be convinced, by working together and taking community concerns seriously, it is possible to achieve the best outcome for this new technology.

Paul Budde is managing director of Paul Budde Consulting, an independent telecommunications research and consultancy organisation. You can follow Paul on Twitter @PaulBudde.

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