The Tech world has been talking about 5G technologies for years. Ever since the conceptualization of 5G, signal transmission using millimeter waves is always under suspicion due to worries about health risks. Despite the fact that researchers do not have sufficient data about the health risks of millimeter waves, it is a scary topic for many peoples which lead to ongoing discussions.
What are the unique features of 5G technology?
Since the first generation, the cellular network uses radio waves to transmit voice calls and data bits from the base stations to individual mobile devices and vice versa. In LTE (4G) and LTE advanced technology, each mobile device can support multiple frequency bands for various service providers across countries and regions.
The third-generation cellular networks were capable of sending and receiving internet mobile devices and the data rate has significantly increased in 4G technology. 5G network will be capable of providing even higher data rates and low latency services with advanced network technologies. In order to achieve a higher data rate, 5G uses a much higher frequency spectrum, small cells, and complex modulation techniques.
1. Frequency Spectrum – 5G NR (New Radio)
Conventional 3G and 4G cellular networks transmit signals below 3.6 GHz of the radio frequency spectrum. Due to bandwidth limitations, the maximum data rate has limitations as well. 5G tests have confirmed that the technology is capable of achieving a downlink data rate of up to a few gigabits per second.
The frequency spectrum used in 5G technology can be divided into three major bands such as Sub-6 GHz range, mid-range, and high-range millimeter waves.
Sub-6-GHz spectrum: Frequency range below 6 GHz range is grouped under the Sub-6 GHz category.
Millimeter waves: Frequency range above 24 GHz and below 100 GHz (for 5G applications)
Properties of millimeter waves
Highly distorted by atmospheric water molecules and Oxygen-induced atmospheric absorption
Due to its extremely short wavelength, it cannot penetrate concrete walls and strong structures
Low interference from surrounding low-frequency noise
Effects of millimeter waves on the human body
One of the major characteristics of millimeter waves on the human body is skin absorption. Exposure to EM radiation at millimeter waves will cause skin penetration (60 to 90 percent in extreme cases) due to the dielectric properties of human skin cells (during close exposure). However, researchers observed that 30 to 40 percent of the incident power will be reflected from the skin.
The power of the transmitted signal and time of exposure is a significant factors in this scenario.
Many researchers found that long-term exposure to microwave and millimeter wave radiation is carcinogenic. Unfortunately, the impact may not be obvious in the very short term but could cause serious damage to human cells over time.
Long-term exposure to microwave and millimeter wave frequency radiation (at high power) also could affect other living organisms and plants.
2. Large number of transmitting stations
The number of smart devices is growing at an exponential rate every year. The small cell concept is one of the best ways to provide a high data rate and low latency services. Hundreds and thousands of small cells will be deployed in 5G technology.
An increase in the number of base stations and cells causes an increase in wireless noise. More transmitting antennas will be deployed across the streets, on buildings, lamp posts, etc… Network operators will decide where to install new stations; individuals may not be able to control the locations of deployment.
Regulations and guidelines
Regulatory authorities like FCC has strict guidelines for electromagnetic exposure level in public places and industrial sites where employees are exposed to regular EM radiation. However, the standards were created based on the first-generation technology reference to military technology; it has not been updated much in 20 years.
According to experts, the FCC standard was based on the thermal effect of electromagnetic radiation (if the device does not heat the body, it does not harm the body). The biological effects of RF radiation over a long period of time on the human body at different frequency ranges have never been studied.
Independent research shows that long-term exposure to microwave radiation could cause cancer in the human body. In fact, it is hard to collect sufficient evidence to support this claim because conducting a test with direct exposure to the human body has a lot of limitations.
Regulatory bodies across the countries are monitoring exposure levels but telecommunication is a huge business, that pays for a costly frequency spectrum and a lot of competitiveness. More innovative ideas emerging and service providers are competing with each other to implement them first.
Military use of millimeter waves
Military uses high-power millimeter waves in active denial systems to control attack enemies. Active denial systems (ADS) are biological weapons designed to crowd control by activating high-power millimeter waves which heat up the body during exposure. Highly directive antennas aim at the target and disintegrate the crowd in seconds.
5G Deployment status across the globe
Final thoughts – is 5G safe?
We are going through a transition stage in wireless technology now, the existing LTE advanced technology will be migrated to 5G technologies by end of this decade. At this moment, no one is certain about the impact of 5G technologies on the human body. Besides from the strict regulation from monitoring authorities, it is important to spread awareness to the public about the downside of high-frequency radio waves to take necessary steps for safety.
Based on the research data from different sources, long-term exposure to high-power microwave and millimeter waves could cause serious damage to skin and brain cells. Technology offers us convenience and assistance to do more complex tasks, at the same time everyone has the responsibility to make sure it will not affect the human being and other living organisms.
Just like any other existing wireless technology (3G/4G/Wi-Fi & radios), 5G is also monitored and covered by international and national exposure guidelines and strict regulations. As long as 5G follows national guidelines for exposure, 5G has no significant impact on the human body and it is safe to use.
Device manufacturers and service providers make sure their products/services meet all regulations and guidelines. According to Vodafone, they have rigorous testing phases for all mobile devices to ensure that they comply with international safety guidelines.
Source: Millimeter-wave interactions with the human body: state of knowledge and recent advances by Maxim Zhadobov, Nacer Chahat, Ronan Sauleau, Catherine Le Quement and Yves Le Dréan.