We have all seen the marketing campaigns by the major Australian telcos, 5G is being touted as a revolutionary development in mobile communications – a dramatic leap forward, making autonomous cars come to life and connecting the world like never before.

However, every new generation of wireless technologies prompts discussions on social media (and beyond) around wireless signals and if they can adversely impact our health. There is a lot of conflicting information out there, so in this article we will break down 5G technology and what it means for your health

As stated in our previous article, 5G has already started rolling out across the nation. Although 5G is a brand new standard which will result in greatly increased speeds, the 5G rollout will use an extended range of frequencies in addition to those used by today’s 3G and 4G technology.

We will also see 5G at higher frequencies (26GHz, or “millimetre-wave” 5G) begin to be rolled out. These higher frequencies will allow for very high data rates however they will also cover a much smaller area due to the signal attenuation being greater, and poor penetration through materials such as concrete walls.

As a result, you may see more ‘small cells’ being used to fill in gaps in the coverage or to increase the network capacity, these are typically lower power units and installed on existing infrastructure such as light poles.

In Australia, all mobile phone installations are regulated by ACMA (Australian Communications and Media Authority) and must comply with the guidelines on the Radio Frequency exposure to the public. ARPANSA is the government authority responsible for setting the limits for exposure to radio frequencies including 5G. These limits are based on international research and offers guidance about exposure to electromagnetic radiation in the spectrum from 3KHz to 300GHZ. Mobile phones operate range as depicted in the graphic below.

Graphic extracted from the ARPANSA submission.

ARPANSA has done a huge amount of work, in conjunction with their peers in other countries and the World Health Organisation, to set limits on the safe level of exposure for the public and for those working on or near RF transmitters. These are published in the following standard: Radiation Protection Standards for Maximum Exposure Levels to Radiofrequency Fields – 3Hz to 300GHZ (ARPANSA RF Standard). The standard is designed to protect people from adverse effects to long term RF exposure.

In 2016 ARPANSA carried out measurements in schools in NSW and Victoria of the RF exposure from all sources including Wi-Fi, TV, AM radio and mobile phone towers. The measurements found the RF exposure was much less than the exposure limits set for the public.

The graphic below outlines the level of RF exposure you can expect to receive from WiFi, TV broadcasts, mobile base stations and radio broadcasts. Importantly, even when combining all of these sources together, the RF exposure level still falls 30,000 times below the safe limit outlined in the Australian standards.

Graphic extracted from the ARPANSA submission.

Research into mobile phone devices and use has continued since this time, and in December 2018 a scientific study led by ARPANSA and published in the British Medical Journal Open, found no evidence to suggest that the wide use of mobile phones in Australia has increased the rate of brain cancer.

The World Health Organisation is also involved with assessing the scientific evidence of possible adverse health effects from electromagnetic fields. “To date, and after much research performed, no adverse health effect has been causally linked with exposure to wireless technologies”. While advocating for further research at 5G frequencies, in their assessment on 5G they state, “provided that the overall exposure remains below international guidelines, no consequences for public health are anticipated”.

Looking for more detail?

You can access a submission from ARPANSA[i] to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Communications and the Arts Inquiry into 5G in Australia[ii] here, or simply type it into your search engine.

The Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) provides resources about the health and safety of mobile phones and 5G here.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has published extensive research about the impact of electromagnetic fields on the human body here.

In summary: As the 5G rollout continues you can expect to see discussions in broadcast media and social media around the safety of 5G. As a member of the telecommunications industry you may even be asked questions by concerned friends and family. When answering these questions you can be safe in the knowledge that as with 2G, 3G and 4G, the technology behind 5G has been extensively studied, and this research will continue into the future.

[i] ARPANSA – Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency

[ii] The link to the submission is https://www.aph.gov.au/DocumentStore.ashx?id=e50c04b3-6f21-46b5-bbcc-0acefe2ca877&subId=672716.