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With so much coverage in the news about 5G, it can be hard to navigate the conflicting stories. On the one hand, it is being hailed as an exciting new technology that could make life better for millions. On the other hand, there are many respected voices raising concerns about the potential negative health implications. All the valid debate has been undermined by conspiracy theories that hijack the genuine scientific concerns and reduce them to clickbait. So, what is 5G? What are the risks? What is being done, and most importantly, is 5G worth it?

What is 5G?

The name 5G stands for the fifth-generation mobile network. 5G is the latest development in wireless connectivity; it is faster and offers greater capacity than previous wireless technology, so more devices can be connected without experiencing connection issues. To understand why the developers of 5G tech and 5G compatible devices are hailing it as a game-changing technological leap that will revolutionize how we work and play, we need to understand latency. Latency is essentially the time it takes for a device to do what you ask it to do. So if you have an old computer that is ‘slow’ to react when you click on something you want to open, then this is high latency. A network that takes a long time to connect is called a high latency connection. Sometimes latency is referred to as the ping rate. 5G claims to reduce latency in connections, making new innovations possible.

This might seem like 5G is simply a faster, better connection, but the real benefits are aimed at industry. Is 5G worth it for industry? We hear stories of autonomous farming, remote monitoring in health and social care, smart machines used in manufacturing, virtual reality applications such as remote surgery, and smart appliances better known as the Internet of Things. All of this sounds wonderful, so why are many people, both citizens and scientists, asking is 5G worth it? Let’s take a look at some of the concerns raised about 5G.

Is 5G Worth it?

5G with a stethoscope - still not proven safe

That is the big question occupying many of the world’s experts on non-ionizing radiation; is 5G worth it? The controversy hinges on the fact that 5G has not been proven to be safe. In September 2017, a group of almost 400 highly respected medical professionals and scientists requested a moratorium on the deployment of 5G technology. The group demanded that the rollout of 5G be stopped until a full evaluation of any potential health effects could be carried out. Some places have put moratoriums in place due to the lack of evidence that 5G is safe and not harmful. Many people have highlighted serious conflicts of interest in the form of ties between those who will benefit financially from the implementation of 5G and those who are tasked with ensuring the rollout is safe. So for a lot of people, the potential risks posed by 5G to human health is not worth it.

Potential Dangers of 5G

So what are people worried about? What is so different about 5G that people are even asking their governments to investigate whether it is safe? It is all about millimeter waves. 5G is the first technology to use millimeter waves. These millimeter waves are much higher in frequency (as much as 10 to 100 times higher!) than the waves used by previous technologies such as 4G. This has led to serious concerns about the thermal effects and the effects on the skin and eyes. There are also big concerns about the effect on other parts of the body where blood flow is lower, for example, the testes. This has raised concerns over damage to fertility by the technology. 

The nature of 5G means that it requires many more broadcasting locations than previous generations of mobile technology. Antennas will be spaced 100-200 meters from one another, creating a vast network of overlapping electromagnetic fields of radiation that we do not currently know to be safe. Millimeter waves have not been shown to be safe for human exposure, and the need for many transmitting antennas to be located in close proximity to one another in order for 5G to function provides even more concerns. The 5G antennas create radiation that is not easy to measure as they employ new methods of transmitting such as massive multiple inputs and outputs, phased arrays, etc.

5G Does Not Replace 4G

Symbol of the change from 4G to 5G - is 5g worth it?

Another major concern about 5G is that it does not do away with old technologies by replacing them. Instead, 5G is used in addition to existing networks. 4G connectivity has not yet been proven as safe for human beings, and yet 5G technology is being added to the mix, with no research conducted on whether the combination of both these types of radiation will affect the very people who are the intended users.

The Precautionary Approach

When a medical procedure or medication is new, it must undergo many thousands of trials and tests to make sure it is definitely safe for human use. Many medical technologies never make it past these tests and are abandoned because they are found to be dangerous. Even when a medical treatment is approved as safe for use in humans, a clinician must still make an informed and educated decision on whether the benefits of taking the treatment outweigh any potential risks associated with it. Many people – both laypeople and medical experts, and research scientists – are outraged that technology such as 5G do not have to go through the same level of scrutiny before they are unleashed on the population.

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