5G is the fifth generation of wireless telecommunication technology that had begun from the 1G. While many are enthusiastic about this technology and how it will change living as we know it today, some fear that the technology will cause serious damage to people’s health.
To know if you are to fear this new technological advancement or anticipate it excitedly, one needs to understand it including how 5G may or may not affect the Coronavirus pandemic also known as Covid-19. Thus, in this article, we will answer some common concerns many people have expressed about 5G, Coronavirus and health.
Also, we will dispel unfounded fears and debunk many myths about 5G that have been circulating widely. We start with the very basics of the technology for a thorough understanding of the topic.
What is 5G?
Understanding if 5G will adversely affect health, one has to follow the advancements from the beginning. As we defined in the opening, it is the fifth generation of wireless communication technology.
5G is preceded by 4G, which is the technology you are most likely using to read this article. Initially, it started with pre-cellular communications via landline or telephone. This is why telephones are called the “0G devices” because they were not wireless.
After them, came 1G which was the first generation of wireless cellular technology (mobile telecommunications). It started operating in the 1980s and before 2G, popularly known as GSM (global system for mobile communication), digital telecommunications arrived. 1G networks were analogue while 2G networks were digital.
3G, third generation, also provided wireless mobile telecommunications technology. It is an upgrade for all versions of the 2G and it came with networks for faster data transfer speed.
Most recently, we have the 4G, which came around 2010. Its applications include amended mobile web access, IP telephony, gaming services, high-definition mobile TV, video conferencing, and 3D television.
What this brief history of networks show us is simply that 5G is not a bizarre phenomenon. Rather, it is just an upgrade of existing tools for telecommunications.
While they are all alike, there are distinguishing characteristics that set 5G apart.
How 5G works
5G technology uses frequencies that are divided into millimeter waves, mid-band, and low-band. The millimeter waves of the 5G is the fastest and can get to between 1 and 2GB per second. This is followed by the mid-band, which can achieve a data transfer speed of about 100 to 400MB per second. The low-band offers almost the same capacity as the 4G.
However, since the frequencies are highest in the millimeter waves, between 24 GHz and 72 GHz, its penetrating power is low. Thus, millimeter waves are not practical for indoor use as it has problems passing through walls. This makes it necessary for more 5G cell towers to be mounted around residential areas.
This is the major difference between 4G and 5G. While 4G can be used indoors and requires few cell towers (or mast), 5G needs smaller towers and is limited when people use it indoors.
Meanwhile, 5G mid-band is the most widely used. Its frequency lies between 2.4 GHz to 4.2 GHz. It can also work with the existing 4G cell towers if those are upgraded.
To access this network, users have to have a 5G enabled device and currently, most of them are smartphones.
Selected list of smartphones that can use the 5G network
1. Samsung Galaxy S10 5G
2. Samsung Galaxy S20 (Plus and Ultra)
3. OnePlus 7 Pro 5G
4. Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 5G
5. Samsung Galaxy A90 5G
6. Huawei Mate 20 X 5G
7. Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ 5G
8. Huawei Mate 20 X 5G
9. Nokia 8.3 5G
10. ZTE Axon 10s Pro
You may also like: Motorola launches the world’s first 5G phone
5G and your health
The general agreement among scientists, known as scientific consensus, is that 5G is safe. Also, we will like to point out that there is no proof that 5G causes any known illness.
However, there are concerns both unfounded and some that are worthy of further consideration. Most of the issues many people have regarding the technology are about radiation.
A brief over of overview of radiation
Before we talk about 5G and health, let us take a brief moment to remind ourselves of what is radiation and the two types of radiation that are known in Physics.
According to the Wikipedia article on radiation, in physics, radiation is the emission or transmission of energy in the form of waves or particles through space or through a material medium. Radiations come from a source and travel through space and depending on the type of radiation, can penetrate certain types of materials.
It is important to note that there are two types of radiation: ionising radiation and non-ionising radiation.
Examples of non-ionising radiations are light, radio and microwaves.
Ionising radiation is harmful to the health as they can damage living cells in the DNA and prolonged exposure to them can cause cancer. That is because they can produce charged particles, otherwise, known as ions in matter. If you remember your secondary school science, matter is anything that has weight and occupies space such as water, air, human beings, etc.
Non-ionising radiation is far safer as it does not directly affect cells to the extent of damaging them.
Now, what do all these have to do with 5G?
5G like all other wireless communication technology uses electromagnetic waves called radio waves to transfer data. Electromagnetic waves fall under the non-ionisation category and are thus, in theory, are pretty harmless.
Yet, there are recent researches that argue much deposits of non-ionising waves can cause thermal-ionisation. This occurs when the temperatures rise to certain levels favourable for ionisation energies.
While these reactions have not been known to cause any health challenge, it is worth mentioning.
There is also something known as electromagnetic hypersensitivity, which some claim gives them headaches as well as fatigues them. They say this happens when they are in areas that have high cellular mobile transmissions.
But, scientists have long disproved this claim. They did this by exposing alleged patients to provocation trials.
Provocation trials involve putting patients in circumstances that they claim causes them to react in some kind of way to investigate if their claims were true or not. The trick is to sometimes put them in fake circumstances (that should not provoke reactions) and see if they can tell the difference.
The results from the above tests have suggested that many of these patients cannot tell when they were exposed to electromagnetic fields or not. Thus, putting to rest the theory of electromagnetic hypersensitivity.
Why 5G is safer than 4G?
The 2G, 3G, and 4G networks use frequencies in the low microwave bands. These are between 600 MHz to 3.5 GHz. Many household wireless devices such as WiFi networks, garage door openers, and baby monitors also use frequencies in this same frequency range.
5G cellular networks, use higher frequencies around the millimetre wave band. These are between 24 to 52 GHz.
Also, millimetre waves have lower penetrating power than microwaves. Thus, while 4G and its predecessors can be used indoors as they can pass through many building materials, 5G cannot.
Even some gases in the atmosphere can stop them. This is why 5G needs more cell towers to work than older generation wireless networks needed. In fact, when exposed directly to 5G radiation, the waves stop within the first centimeter of the skin. Thus, they appear to have no adverse effect on human health.
What are the authorities saying concerning 5G and your health?
In September 2017, over 180 scientists from 35 countries filed an appeal to the European Union over concerns they have regarding 5G technology. Almost the same group of scientists demanded, in January 2019, that its activity should be prohibited temporarily until enough investigation has been done.
Brussels, a city in Belgium blocked 5G trials in April 2019 because of some radiation laws. The same thing happened in Geneva, Switzerland in 2019. This occurred, despite the Swiss Telecommunications Association (ASUT) clearly stating that there is no proof that 5G affects health.
Members of Parliament in the Netherlands and several leaders in the United States Congress have appealed to their respective authorities to look into health concerns regarding 5G.
In Mill Valley, California, the city council blocked the deployment of new 5G wireless cells. Even in the UK, many small localities have also made the same move.
The World Health Organization (WHO) on 5G
The WHO had initiated the International EMF Project in 1996 to confirm if there is scientific evidence to conclude that cellular communications affect health. They studied the health effects of EMF in the frequency range between 0 and 300 GHz.
After their research, they concluded that exposures below the limits recommended in the ICNIRP (1998) EMF guidelines are safe. It covers the full frequency range from 0 to 300 GHz.
The WHO also adds:
“A large number of studies have been performed over the last two decades to assess whether mobile phones pose a potential health risk. To date, no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use.”
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) on 5G
In 2011, the IARC, an agency of the World Health Organization put wireless radiation under Group 2B, which means it is possibly carcinogenic.
A carcinogen is any substance, radionuclide, or radiation that promotes carcinogenesis, the formation of cancer.
Thus, the agency is saying that there “could be some risk” of cancer when people use wireless devices for long. Since this is still debatable, so additional research into the long-term, heavy use of wireless devices needs to be conducted.
Is there a relationship between 5G and Coronavirus?
In 2020 coinciding with more widespread deployment of 5G technology, the novel coronavirus, COVID-19 pandemic appeared. These circumstances gave birth to many conspiracy theories.
While there are several going around, there are two major ones that seem to be the most popular. Full Fact, a charity organisation that is devoted to fact-checking debunked both myths.
5G Coronavirus myth (theory) 1 – 5G weakens the immune system
One of the more prominent Coronavirus-related 5G claims is that the 5G suppresses the immune system and thus gives COVID-19 more power.
As we have explained in most parts of this article, 5G like, all wireless communications, uses radio waves, which are non-ionising. The human immune system includes the organs and processes of the body that provide resistance to infection and toxins. Organs include the thymus, bone marrow, and lymph nodes.
For anything to weaken the immune system, it has to affect living cells. Radio waves cannot do that, thus making it impossible for 5G to be responsible for this.
5G Coronavirus myth (theory) 2 – Coronaviruses communicate using radio waves
The second theory claims that COVID-19 viruses communicate with each other using radio waves. This theory is dangerous because it claims to be based on actual research work.
However, the work it claims to be based on is from a scientist who suggested that ‘bacteria’ may produce electromagnetic signals to communicate with other bacteria.
Also, while this theory is not yet proven, it refers to bacteria and not viruses like the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. Coronavirus infections have been confirmed in many countries, like Nigeria, where 5G is not even yet available.
Therefore, the logical conclusion is that there is no relationship between 5G and COVID-19. Yet, some people still believe these myths and spread them without verifying the veracity of the claims. On 5th April 2020, a 5G mast was allegedly torched over such unfounded concerns.
Countries that already have 5G
While the implementation of 5G began in late 2019, many countries do not have their hands on the technology yet in 2020.
In Europe, 5G available has been tested in Bulgaria, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Monaco, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Russia, San Marino and the United Kingdom as of 2019.
In South America, it was tested in Argentina in 2019 and has been available in Uruguay since early 2019.
Meanwhile, there are already locations in the United States that are using 5G networks and it is being planned to come to Canada in 2020.
Asian countries like China, Hong Kong, India, Japan and Thailand are leading the 5G advancements worldwide. Many locations in the country already have working 5G networks. It is planned to launch fully in Pakistan, Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam by 2020 or later.
In Africa, only South Africa has gotten hold of 5G wireless communication technology. Rain launched 5G in September 2019, to be used as a home internet service. Meanwhile, MTN and Vodacom, the two biggest telecommunications providers in South Africa, don’t have commercial 5G services as of March 2020.
Is Nigeria using 5G already?
No. While the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) approved a 3-month 5G testing in Abuja, Calabar and Lagos in 2019, 5G is not available in Nigeria as of the first week of April 2020. MTN, however, in partnership with Huawei, Ericsson and ZTE have concluded the tests and await “when conditions are right and all doubts are cleared” according to NCC in conversation with Tech Economy.
With regard to concerns about Coronavirus and 5G, the commission explicitly mentioned that there is no correlation between 5G and COVID-19. The director of public affairs at NCC, Dr Henry Nkemadu, also reaffirmed that 5G belongs to the same group of non-ionising radiation as 4G, 3G and 2G.
The commission confirmed in 2020 that Nigeria has the millimeter-wave spectrum for 5G. However, it has not auctioned out spectrum to network operators.
It also assures Nigerians that 5G development had safety and human health in first place during all stages.
Final thoughts …
5G which is the fifth generation of wireless communication technology is already in use in several locations across the world by 2020. While this is a good improvement to networks and general internet use, many people have their reservations. These reservations are based on uncertainty on how it may affect human health.
As we have explained, current research suggests that wireless communication is largely harmless based. The World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed these findings as well, although the WHO has not ruled out that extended use of the technology could be carcinogenic. More research, however, is needed to confirm that.
Yet, it is certain that people will still have their doubts. However, it is important to know that the misgivings cannot be backed up by any solid evidence.