With all the buzz about 5G, should we be concerned? What do the experts have to say about it? Today we look closely at several science-backed studies about 5G and its dangers.
Since 2019, it seems like everyone has an opinion on 5G. Some want the faster internet speed 5G will provide. Others are sure we’ll all get brain cancer and the birds will die. But is 5G really dangerous? Should we allow 5G towers near our homes? We browsed the latest research to help you take a stance.
5G stands for “fifth generation”. Simply put, this is the newest technology for cellular networks and will be 4G’s successor.
Like previous generations, 5G provides internet connectivity to cellphones and it works through a network of towers.
In fact, the basics of wireless connection haven’t changed that much since the technology was created with “2G” back in 1991.
So why has 5G stirred such controversy? To really understand the drama with 5G, it’s important to get some basics right.
All wireless devices connect to the internet through digital radio waves. It goes like this: your phone connects to a local antenna, and then the antenna connects to a “core network” that receives and sends information.
Every new generation uses waves with a slightly higher frequency. A higher frequency means the radio waves move faster: this speeds up your internet connection but also shortens the area a given antenna can cover.
That means that with every new generation, companies have to build new towers to ensure all users from previous generations can connect to the internet. With 5G, we will need many more towers because every antenna will only cover about 1 block.
Basically, 5G has the potential to be faster than 4G, and it also has a different wave length.
When your phone uses 4G, it’s using waves with a 2-8 GHz frequency. In contrast, 5G networks have the potential of supporting frequencies up to 300 GHz!
That means 5G devices could work impressively fast, in comparison with our current technology.
With the rise of mobile apps, and more and more non-phone devices hooked to wireless networks (like Alexa), companies want faster internet speeds.
At a glance:
Since 2018, there’s been a lot of talk about 5G. The new technology, paired with the fact that most 5G equipment will be mostly made in China, has a lot of people worried.
But the truth is, many of the concerns with 5G are the same than those about older cellphone technology. Since the beginning, cellphones emit both radio waves and radiation. Both the FDA and the FCC have declared radio waves and radio frequency radiation dangerous when we’re exposed to them too often. So what does research say about this?
In spite of what different researchers and official organizations say, the real effect of 5G on our health is still unclear.
The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) of the US, has a radiation standard for cellphones at 1.6 watts per kilogram. This is the greatest amount allowed for cellphones that customers can buy.
But this standard has many issues.
For starters, the FCC guidelines were created in 1996, and haven’t changed since. Back then, people only used phones like phones. And now we spend more than 3 hours a day on average using one. It’s only logical that the “acceptable” amounts of radiation back then shouldn’t be the same now.
Then we have the question of whether this is a healthy amount of radiation to be exposed to, or not. According to the director of the NGO California Brain Tumor Association, “there is proven research proving cell phone radiation could cause DNA damage and cancer”.
In spite of the regulations, some cellphones don’t even limit radiation to the 1.6 watts amount prescribed by the FCC.
In fact, a study published on the Chicago Tribune in 2019 showed that many common cellphones exceeded that when in close quarters. Measured at 2mm (or how close a phone would be on your pocket), the phones tested by the Tribune exceeded the official standard on radiofrequency radiation set by the FCC. This included several iPhone 7, as well as other common brands.
This is concerning. According to the FCC, “exposure to very high levels of RF radiation can be harmful due to the ability of RF energy to heat biological tissue rapidly.”
Radio waves are everywhere nowadays. From the microwave to our cellphones and even lithium batteries, many of our devices use or emit waves.
These waves also emit radio frequency (RF) radiation that our body can absorb. There’s concern –and inconclusive evidence- that this type of radiation can do to human health.
Then we have 5G. This new tech emits faster, shorter radio waves than other technologies. According to Andrew Wood, a researcher on electromagnetic bioeffects in Swinburne University of Australia, the possibility of these waves interfering with our brain waves is minimal: your skin would absorb a cellphone’s waves and we shouldn’t need to worry. But is that so?
Researchers have been trying to understand the link (if there’s any) between cellphone radiation and cancer for decades. In spite of their efforts, the jury is still out.
In 2011, the WHO classified mobile phones as “possibly carcinogenic”. They were lumped alongside talcum powder, and red meat ranked higher in this “danger list”.
On the other hand, within a large study carried by a WHO working group in 2013 , a Swedish oncology team found there was a slight correlation between brain tumors and extended cellphone use. Among their patients, the ones that had consistently used mobile phones on a single side of the head usually presented tumors in the temporal lobe on the same side of the head. The temporal lobe, on the side we use our phones, is the are most exposed to RF radiation. Nevertheless, the CDC states that the research was inconclusive, because the selected patients were already diagnosed.
Then, in November 2018, the US National Toxicology Program published a 10-year long study on the effects of radiation on rats. They concluded that there was clear evidence that male rats exposed to radiation like that emitted by 2G and 3G developed cancerous heart tumors. In the case of female rats, as well as male and female mice, evidence wasn’t so conclusive.
At a glance
As we’ve shown, the research on the link between cancer and cellphone radiations is inconclusive. Nevertheless, phones have other health risks that researchers have studied for decades.
Research has shown that regularly putting a cellphone on your front pocket is linked to poor sperm quality among men. For example, a 2014 study  found that among a group of previously high-quality sperm donors, cellphone radiation decreased motility and sperm count. And this was only in 3 months!
All the studies we’ve shown have used either animals or adults to measure the effect of radiation in humans. Even the FCC’s max amounts are measured against adults.
Although there is no concrete evidence, the World Health Organization recommends precaution when giving children access to cellphones.
Besides the possible consequences in concentration and sleep, children have a higher radiation absorption rate that adults. According to a 2006 study, 5 and 10 year olds received about 153% higher absorption levels.
As of 2020, the WHO and other radiation agencies recommend precaution, as well as more studies with children and teens to gauge the effects of 5G and RF radiation on them.
At a glance
As you can see, 5G is still a new technology, but the radio waves it uses have been around for decades.
These radio waves do emit a certain amount of radiation, and it isn’t sure whether it can be dangerous for human health. The FDA still says 5G technology doesn’t have any more risks than previous generations.
In general, it’s best to follow some simple precautions to keep your exposure to a minimum. Here’s what national authorities from Europe recommend:
What do you think about 5G? Let us know in the comments below!