We’ve all undoubtedly heard of the release of 5G technology and the spoils this ultra-low latency technology will provide our technological world. 5G claims to slash latency from current 4G networks by 50x, however this reduction is from a 50-millisecond delay, down to a one millisecond delay between machines interacting with each other. This will likely be almost imperceptible to the human eye when browsing webpages, but it will have far reaching impacts for the Internet of Things. So, what does this mean? In short, machines will be able to communicate with each other almost seamlessly – in turn drastically improving the effectiveness and reliability of interconnected things. There will be both commercial and consumer impacts across a diverse array of industries. Some of the major improvements will include: factory and supply chain efficiency, benefits for autonomous vehicles, more immersive videos and games, more accurate surveillance, to name a few. But I’m not here to tell you about the amazing things 5G will do for us, as there is no shortage of articles in the news, and I don’t want to repeat stories you’ve likely heard before, so I will spare you the details here. Instead, I’d like to highlight some of the less publicized risks that may be associated with this new technology.
To understand the potential hazards that 5G poses we should first have a basic understanding of the technology. 5G is ultra-high frequency and intensity, and due to current spectrum becoming saturated with existing 1-4G transmissions, it will require higher bandwidth within 24-90 gigahertz frequencies. In general, 5G transmissions will operate in a portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that is potentially dangerous to living organisms. To boil down all of this technical talk, the higher the frequency, the more dangerous the radio waves are to us. In addition, to achieve a consistent connection many more, smaller cell towers or nodes will be sprinkled throughout cities and buildings to keep up with the extreme speeds this is capable of. Essentially every densely populated area will be blanketed with these intense radio waves, just to improve the speed of our mobile connections.
So, what does this increased exposure mean for our health you ask? Well, sorry to disappoint, but since the technology is relatively new, studies have not been run for long enough to simulate this type of exposure and duration and give us conclusive results. However, the limited results researchers have seen, have convinced them that negative health effects are likely. Many studies have been conducted regarding exposure of radio frequency radiation (RFR) and results have shown increased likelihood of developing some forms of cancer, DNA deterioration (leading to cancer and other diseases), melatonin reduction which leads to insomnia, and oxidative damage which leads to premature aging. While this last point might be welcomed by teens across the country looking to buy their first beer, I think the rest of us can safely say that we would like to avoid these side effects at all costs. The World Health Organization has classified RFR’s as a carcinogen which can lead to certain types of brain tumour and have warned against excessive mobile phone usage and exposure. Many other studies have supported these findings, but they have not studied the subjects for as long as we will be exposed to RFR once the new 5G infrastructure is launched on full scale.
Not only have we begun to see the negative impacts on our own health, but the radiation this technology emits is likely also damaging to other living organisms and the earth in general. The RFR has been proven to be damaging to plant health, resulting in loss of leaves which in turn reduces the amount of CO2 plants can filter from the atmosphere. Although the vast majority of carbon sinking forests should be out of direct danger since the radio waves will concentrate around densely populated urban areas, this still has the potential to lead to expediated climate change as more carbon sits idle in our atmosphere. This is the most serious risk 5G technologies pose to the environment, but other animals are likely perceptible to the same negative health risks that humans will be when subjected to RFR.
The media exposure of the innovation that 5G will bring to IoT and our lives far outweighs the media exposure of the potential risks. News outlets and their consumers jump at these futuristic stories and seem to shrug off the other realities that may exist. In respect to every technology, I think it is important to understand all aspects associated with it before we accept it as a society. It is my guess that many people aren’t even aware that there are downsides associated with 5G – major telecom companies are set to make fortunes and have done an excellent job of promoting the benefits we will receive.
I’m not here to tell you 5G is definitely going to harm us, simply to offer more information on the potential risks. I believe 5G technologies are needed to progress innovation in our society, and they have great merits that we will see in the years to come. However, I wanted to share a more holistic view of the technology, so more people can develop an opinion of their own. I hope I have done a small part in leveling the amount of exposure to each side of this very, very large coin.