5G is the next big thing. But are there any risks to our health?


  • Tech News
  • Saturday, 23 Mar 2019

There's a lot of talk about 5G at the moment, with the ultra-fast cellular mobile communications standard promising huge benefits for commercial and domestic users. — dpa

There's a lot of talk about 5G at the moment, with the ultra-fast cellular mobile communications standard promising huge benefits for commercial and domestic users. — dpa

5G is the latest and greatest thing to happen to smartphones. But some are worried about what health risks the ultra-fast cellular mobile communications standard could bring to cellphone users.

There's a lot of talk about 5G at the moment, with the ultra-fast cellular mobile communications standard promising huge benefits for commercial and domestic users.

But is the new technology completely safe? We look at the facts.

What kind of radiation does 5G use, and how could it affect the body?

Cellular radiation, as used in 5G, is electromagnetic radiation. Numerous studies have looked at its effects.

"It has clearly been proven that the high-frequency fields have a thermal or warming effect. This is also known from the microwave oven," says Sarah Driessen from the Research Centre for Electromagnetic Environmental Compatibility at Germany's University of Aachen.

However, this effect is much lower in the case of mobile communications. To avoid harm, the maximum value of 2 watts per kilogram on the head or ear should not be exceeded. This is known as the SAR value.

Where can I find the SAR value of my device?

For each smartphone, the value of two measurements is given – when telephoning with the device next to the ear and when carrying it next to the body, for example in a pocket. These values can be found in the phone's operating instructions. A low radiation device is classified as one with a value of less than 0.6.

Is cellphone radiation considered carcinogenic?

The answer to this question is disputed. "No," says Gunde Ziegelberger from Germany's Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS). "We have no evidence that using a smartphone in compliance with international limits could cause cancer."

To date, studies haven't been able to provide complete certainty, because tumours develop over a long period of time. "But every year that we see no increase in disease, we get more certainty," Ziegelberger says.

Driessen refers to an expert group from the WHO that in 2011 summarised all the studies then published. "The IARC came to the conclusion that cellphone radiation is possibly carcinogenic," she says. But that doesn't mean that it definitely is, she emphasises.

"Nevertheless, we should always take the studies seriously."

As a mobile phone user, how can I protect myself from radiation?

Experts recommend keeping the phone away from the head as much as possible. Use a headset or speaker mode – or a landline – when you can. Activate flight mode at night and don't carry the phone around when you don't need to.

Phones radiate most in areas of poor reception, so avoid using them in those places, or in moving cars or trains. Children especially should be protected from high frequency electromagnetic radiation.

What effect will the 5G expansion have?

"It is expected that 5G will lead to a massive increase in forced exposure to radio radiation," Germany's Federation for Environment and Nature Conservation (BUND) has warned.

5G will see more transmitters installed, but with lower transmission power than previous generations of the technology. On the other hand, they'll be operating closer to where people live and work.

"How that will affect how much radiation each individual is exposed to is difficult to predict at the moment," Ziegelberger says.

One factor is that the frequency range that 5G operates in has been little researched to date compared with the lower frequencies. – dpa