How safe is 5G mobile technology for humans?

The security of 5G remains a hot topic, even though all available research indicates that the technology is safe.

5G works on the part of the radio spectrum that emits non-ionizing radiation, which means it is not harmful to humans.

5G has also never been credibly linked to health issues like cancer or the coronavirus.

Additionally, 5G masts have been tested to make sure they are safe. All masts and antennas must comply with international safety guidelines.

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November 28, 2021 (Last update)




Is 5G Safe?

5G is the latest generation of mobile technology. It follows on from 4G and promises to deliver faster mobile speeds to customers around the world.

However, since 5G was first activated in the UK, questions have been asked about its security.

There is a lot of confusion about 5G and what it actually does, so let’s take a closer look at how safe 5G is for mobile users and the general public.

5G and radiation

5G uses radio frequencies to provide services to customers, and all frequencies used by 5G and other mobile services like 4G fall under the non-ionizing radiation portion of the electromagnetic spectrum.

There is a major difference between non-ionizing radiation and ionizing radiation:

  • Non-ionizing radiation is not harmful to humans, while ionizing radiation can be dangerous.

Non-ionizing radiation comes from low-energy radio waves like those found in common household items, while ionizing radiation is the most dangerous type found in x-rays and gamma rays.

Non-ionizing radio frequencies do not carry enough energy to damage cells in the human body, unlike the amount of energy found in sources of ionizing radiation such as processing nuclear waste or an x-ray of a broken leg.

Incidentally, this does not mean that anyone who has ever had a dental x-ray is in danger of ionizing radiation. We are all occasionally exposed to background radiation in modern life, but it is only really harmful when we are regularly exposed at work, for example.

There is no link between non-ionizing radiation and damage to the human body.

5G spectrum

The spectrum used for 5G services in the UK has already been used for other things such as wireless broadband and TV broadcasting. In this sense, these radio frequencies have been around for many years. A part continues to be partly used for other purposes.

Ofcom has auctioned off parts of the spectrum used for:

  • Ministry of Defense communications (2.3 GHz to 3.4 GHz)
  • 4G wireless broadband (3.4 GHz)
  • Fixing of satellite links and services (3.6 GHz to 3.8 GHz)
  • TNT television and wireless microphones (700MHz)

They are also working to free up other usable frequencies and there will likely be more auctions in the future to provide more options for the networks.

The higher frequency 5G bands known as millimeter waves (mmWave) are not yet used by networks in the UK, although some testing has already taken place.

These frequencies can be used to provide very high speeds with minimal latency (delay), but the signals do not travel that far and are easily hampered by obstacles such as walls. When introduced, we’re more likely to see them used in high demand areas to amplify signals at close range.

Frequencies such as 26 GHz, 40 GHz and 66 GHz are always safe and have also been used for other services over the years. There are additional restrictions for the use of spectrum at these higher frequencies.

5G and cancer

5G has no known link with cancer.

One of the main concerns with all types of radiation is the potential for it to be carcinogenic or carcinogenic.

As we have already explained above, non-ionizing radiation is not harmful to humans in this way and therefore the possibility of 5G causing cancer is a myth rather than something rooted in fact.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has been monitoring the effects of exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF) since 1996, when it set up the international EMF project to assess whether there were any adverse effects on the body. health.

Something often cited by 5G critics is that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified radio frequency electromagnetic fields as potentially carcinogenic.

The reason it is placed in this category (also known as Group 2B) is that an association might be credible, but it also cannot be ruled out entirely. For reference, Group 2B also includes things like pickled vegetables and aloe vera.

Radiofrequency electromagnetic fields are not in the upper group 2A, which contains elements that are probably carcinogenic.

Another set of guidelines from the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) have been updated to include 5G and remain virtually unchanged since the guidelines were first published in 1998.

The ICNIRP confirmed in March 2020 that 5G does not have adverse effects on human health.

5G and coronavirus

5G has absolutely no connection with the Covid-19 epidemic that hit the UK in 2020.

Widely shared theories suggested a link between the two and resulted in attacks on 159 base stations between February 1, 2020 and July 31, 2020. Engineers were also threatened on the streets.

There is no scientific evidence or any credible basis for any link between 5G and Covid-19.


Are 5G masts safe?

5G masts are to be installed to ensure customers can use the UK’s 5G network, but there is no danger of these masks being installed near homes, businesses or schools.

Ofcom regularly performs surveillance tests on 5G masts to check what signals are being emitted and whether these could be harmful by following guidelines established by the ICNIRP.

The February 2020 tests looked at radio wave emission levels in 10 UK cities where 5G sites are active. They found:

  • The maximum measurement was 1.5% of reference levels and this included signals from other technologies like 4G
  • The highest level recorded from 5G signals specifically only reached 0.039% of the maximum amount allowed

So signal readings for 5G are well within ICNIRP guidelines and 5G signals should be multiplied by at least 200 to violate guidelines.

There is no scientific basis for the idea that 5G masts are harmful and research based on information from the National Register of RF Workers suggests that around 4,500 people work in the vicinity of radio radiation in the UK and they get about five times the exposure a normal person receives. They did not show higher rates of illness or health problems.

Antenna technology

Targeted antenna technology that directs signals to where they need to go is more efficient and also completely safe.

Multiple input, multiple output (MIMO) and beamforming antennas are already used in 4G technology and will be used more regularly in 5G.

The same rules apply for these antennas, so they must be tested by networks and cannot exceed the acceptable measurements in the ICNIRP.

Small cells

Another concern raised about 5G masts is whether there will be an increased risk of damage if more smaller transmitters or smaller cells are used.

These could be used in high-traffic locations to enhance 5G capacity, so the city’s busy streets and public spaces could see additional small cells dotted around.

Yet even though there may be more, small cells operate at much lower forces than full masts, so they are unlikely to cause an increase in the amount of RF exposure around.


5G deployments

5G has been active in the UK since 2019, with EE becoming the first network to switch to 5G sites in May 2019.

Vodafone, O2 and Three have also rolled out their 5G networks over the past two years, but progress remains slow and coverage is not uncommon to be very patchy.

Even when Three came out on reaching 300 locations with 5G like they did in August 2021, that only matched 29% of the UK population (that’s where the people rather than the entire UK landmass).

EE’s goal is to reach 90% of the UK’s landmass with 5G services by 2028 and they will be removing the old 3G spectrum for reuse for 5G services as part of their strategy.

This means that we will likely hear a lot more unwarranted criticism of 5G security in the years to come as more 5G masts appear and the technology goes mainstream.

We’ve already seen the Mobile UK industry association launch an awareness campaign in 2021 to try to tackle misinformation about 5G and highlight the benefits of 5G for boards, healthcare facilities, the environment and Moreover.

More awareness campaigns are likely to emerge as councils grapple with more pole installations and the resulting protests.

Find out which mobile network is best for 5G.


5G request

Before we finish this 5G security guide, it’s worth taking a break to understand how 5G demand is changing in the UK. Misinformation and questions about 5G security often go hand in hand with a lack of knowledge about the technology.

A study published by YouGov in September 2021 found that 21% of UK respondents had heard nothing about 5G technology.

They highlighted the following issues:

  • A muted campaign from the networks to raise awareness of the technology
  • Decision to ban Huawei from UK 5G network means operators are removing kit rather than promoting 5G services

So it’s clear that a significant minority of UK customers don’t know much about 5G and that could fuel the kind of concerns we’ve covered in this guide.


Conclusion: Is 5G Safe?

5G technology is as secure as 3G and 4G technology was before it, but lingering rumors about the security of 5G continue to crop up.

As we discussed:

  • 5G emits non-ionizing radiation which is not dangerous
  • 5G masts are well within the security measures
  • 5G has no connection with cancer or the coronavirus

Concerns about new technologies are valid, but it’s important to remember that rigorous national and international testing and monitoring takes place to ensure public safety.

As the rollout of 5G in the UK and beyond continues, being able to say with confidence that 5G is safe will reassure customers and the general public while providing the enhanced mobile services that will help us all.

Learn more about 5G mobile broadband here.

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