Here we are in 2020, and we are getting raised concern about 5G. Although 5G promises to deliver faster speeds to our phones and there are even home-based internet solutions that use 5G.
The fact that 5G travels over higher frequency radio waves has led to speculation that it might be riskier to use than older generation wireless standards. So how much truth is there to this and why are people concerned in the first place?
Well to start with 5G uses what's often called millimeter wave frequencies which are shorter than the typical frequencies used by 4G and Wi-Fi signals and therefore higher in energy. In fact while LTE can use frequencies of around 2.5 GHz and Wi-Fi often works on the 5 GHz band millimeter wave frequencies used by 5G can be up to 300 GHz, so we're not talking about like a small incremental leap here. So then could all this extra energy end up being harmful in ways we haven't seen before?
Some folks and advocacy groups that believe it is point to actions taken by the International Agency for research on cancer or IARC, specifically the fact that they've classified RF electromagnetic fields in short radio waves as possibly carcinogenic to humans as evidence that it is. That sounds pretty alarming, doesn't it? It might, until you consider that many things that most of us find innocuous like a cup of coffee actually fall under exactly the same category. You see, if you dig into what the IARC definition of possibly carcinogenic is, they mean that there's only a limited amount of evidence that an agent might cause cancer. So, there might be some kind of weak correlation that's been observed in studies but that is a very far cry from there being any kind of real causal link that's been found.
IARC approach is to air on the safe side with anything that it classifies, a bit like how everything that you buy has a label on it saying the state of California thinks this thing might cause cancer. But this hasn't stopped people from hearing the words possibly carcinogenic and running with it. In fact a couple places in Europe were hesitant to test new 5G infrastructure citing health concerns and there were even rumors that there were widespread bird deaths in the Netherlands due to 5G trials. Turned out those birds were just eating poisonous plants, I guess there's a reason that bird brain is an expression.
Anyway, the reason that we have nothing to fear from 5G is that radiation has to be much higher frequency to be what's called ionizing. Ionizing radiation can mess with the molecular structure of your DNA and cause cancer the thing is the threshold for this is around a million gigahertz much higher than the 300 or so that can be used by 5G and at that point you're not even dealing with radio waves anymore, you're dealing with ultraviolet light
Which is why sunscreen bottles talk about UV protection on the label.
With all of that said, we're not claiming that 5G or any other piece of technology that we use can't cause cancer or other health problems by some mechanism that we haven't yet discovered or don't fully understand yet. The thing is though my advice would be to go forward live your life without too much fear and pick up that hot new 5G phone if you're into it.