Conspiracy theories regarding the alleged health risks of 5G networks are spreading across the world. This has extended to the current COVID-19 crisis, with misinformed believers going as far as to destroy 5G masts in the UK.
These conspiracy theories have also prompted digital platforms like YouTube to reduce the reach of videos that link 5G to the coronavirus.
Despite this, unsubstantiated claims regarding the perceived health risks of 5G continue to spread online. Satellite solutions provider Q-KON said the debate on 5G has become so large that even it has received communications about the perceived health risks of 5G networks.
Despite false narratives continuing to connect 5G to health issues, including cancer and COVID-19, the evidence says this is not the case. To discuss the health ramifications of 5G, it is important to first define what is being referred to when we talk about 5G.
While the term is often used in reference to mobile networks, this is just one aspect of the greater 5G landscape. There are three main uses for 5G technology – the other two being Massive IoT and Ultra-Reliable, Low Latency Communication (URLLC).
When conspiracy theories link 5G to health concerns, however, this is usually in reference to the implementation of 5G mobile networks around the world.
How 5G affects the body
Next, it is important to understand how 5G could be perceived to be a threat. The way radiofrequency energy affects the human body is by heating our tissue. The concern, therefore, is that this energy could damage critical human tissue, causing significant health issues.
However, when transmitted at the frequencies used by 5G mobile networks, most of the radiofrequency energy is absorbed by the skin and other non-critical tissues. This means it is unlikely to cause any serious health issues to humans in the short-term.
“Radiofrequency exposure levels from current technologies result in negligible temperature rise in the human body,” the World Health Organisation (WHO) has confirmed.
It is more difficult to judge the long-term effects of the radiofrequency fields created by mobile networks on the health of humans – particularly in the case of cancer.
This is because many cancers are not detectable for years, and as mobile network technologies have only been common since the 90s, it is difficult to determine the effect these radio frequencies are having.
When it comes to cancers that become evident in a shorter time frame, however, there is little evidence to suggest that cellphone towers increase the risk of developing them.
Despite this, the WHO continues to conduct research into the possibility of there being health risks caused by being exposed to radio frequencies, including 5G.
5G base stations
A point often raised is that 5G networks are usually implemented on significantly higher frequency ranges than previous-generation technologies.
In South Africa, for example, the golden band which networks seek for 5G is between 3,300MHz and 3,800MHz. However, 5G networks can operate on frequency levels exceeding 24GHz if necessary.
In contrast, MTN, Vodacom, and Cell C have all been using spectrum between 900MHz and 2,100MHz for their networks until the government recently provided them with additional temporary spectrum.
While the higher frequencies used by 5G networks are often used as an argument to say that 5G networks have a more significant effect on the human body than previous-generation networks, the WHO states that the inverse is true.
“As the frequency increases, there is less penetration into the body tissues and absorption of the energy becomes more confined to the surface of the body,” said the WHO.
“Provided that the overall exposure remains below international guidelines, no consequences for public health are anticipated [with 5G].”
The penetration depth of radio frequencies is shown in the graph below.
The bigger threat
Q-KON highlighted that it should be of greater concern that users may introduce more harmful devices into their lives as a result of 5G networks.
It argues that smart wearable devices, home security, home automation, and internal Wi-Fi networks all emit radiation that is much more harmful than that which is emitted by 5G mobile base stations.
This is because they operate at lower frequencies than 5G stations, and are also at a much closer proximity to the user’s body.
Bluetooth, for example, operates at 2.45GHz, while Wi-Fi commonly uses the 2.4GHz band.
These technologies have not been proven to cause health issues in humans, however.
“Technology is then no different than any other aspect of our lives in that our own personal choices will have a much bigger influence on our own health than public mobile deployments,” said Q-KON.
“Our use of smart devices in our home is probably a much more important consideration than the debate on 5G base stations in the street.”
5G does not cause COVID-19
Finally, allegations that 5G causes COVID-19 are completely incorrect.
“[COVID-19] is an organic infection that is based on a living viral agent,” South African Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize recently stated.
“It’s not something you can link with any kind of technology. The form of spread is well described scientifically.”
Another myth claims that China launching large 5G networks was the reason it got hit by COVID-19.
However, China is not the only country to have had 5G networks for a substantial period of time – South Korea rolled out 5G before China, while countries including Ireland and Finland have had commercial 5G deployments since mid-2019.