What is 5G?

5G stands for the fifth generation of wireless technology. It is the wave of wireless technology surpassing the 4G network that is used now. Previous generations brought the first cell phones (1G), text messaging (2G), online capabilities (3G), and faster speed (4G).

Why do we need 5G?

  • The fifth generation aims to increase the speed of data movement, be more responsive, and allow for greater connectivity of devices simultaneously. This means that 5G will allow for nearly instantaneous downloading of data that, with the current network, would take hours.
  • For example, downloading a movie using 5G would take mere seconds which means 5G allows self-driving cars, massive expansion of Internet of Things (IoT) device use, and acceleration of new technological advancements used in everyday activities by a much wider range of people.
  • The aim is to cover all urban areas, railways and major roads with uninterrupted 5G wireless communication can only be achieved by creating a very dense network of antennas and transmitters. In other words, the number of higher frequency base stations and other devices will increase significantly.

How does 5G work?

  • Millimetre waves are a higher frequency wavelength than the radio wavelength generally used in wireless transmission today.
  • The use of this portion of the spectrum corresponds to higher frequency and shorter wavelengths, in this case in the millimetre range.
  • Higher frequency waves allow more devices to be connected to the same network at the same time, because there is more space available compared to the radio waves that are used today.
  • The use of this portion of the spectrum has much longer wavelengths than of that anticipated for a portion of the 5G implementation.
  • The waves in use now can measure up to tens of centimetres, while the new 5G waves would be no greater than ten millimetres.

Applications of 5G

How does 5G operate?

  • 5G will operate on a higher frequency portion of the spectrum to open new space for more devices. The smaller size of the millimetre waves compared to radio frequency waves allows for more data to be shared more quickly and creates a wide bandwidth that can support much larger tasks.
  • While the idea of more space for devices to be used is great for consumers, this will lead to a spike in energy usage for two reasons – the technology itself is energy demanding and will increase demand for more electronic devices.
  • The ability for more devices to be used on the same network creates more incentive for consumers to buy electronics and use them more often. This will have a harmful impact on the environment through increased energy use.

What are millimetre waves?

  • Millimetre waves are very weak in their ability to connect two devices, which is why 5G needs something called “small cells” to give full, uninterrupted coverage.
  • Small cells are essentially miniature cell towers that would be placed 250 meters apart throughout cities and other areas needing coverage.
  • The small cells are necessary as emissions at this higher frequency/shorter wavelength have more difficulty passing through solid objects and are even easily intercepted by rain.
  • The small cells could be placed on anything from trees to street lights to the sides of businesses and homes to maximize connection and limit “dead zones”.
  • The millimetre waves will create more transmission space for the ever-expanding number of people and devices crowding the current networks.

The millimetre waves will create more space for devices to be used by consumers, which will increase energy usage, subsequently leading to increased global warming.

How is 4G different from 5G?

  • Currently, 4G base stations have around eight transmitters and four receivers which direct the flow of data between devices.
  • 5G will exceed this capacity with the use of massive MIMO that can handle 22 times more ports.
  • The image below shows how a massive MIMO tower would be able to direct a higher number of connections at once. However, massive MIMO causes signals to be crossed more easily.
  • Crossed signals cause an interruption in the transmission of data from one device to the next due to a clashing of the wavelengths as they travel to their respective destinations.
  • To overcome the cross signals problem, beamforming is needed.

What is the future of 5G?

  • While 5G is not fully developed, it is expected to consist of at least five new technologies that allow it to perform much more complicated tasks at faster speeds.
  • The new technologies 5G will use are hardware that works with much higher frequencies (millimetre wavelengths), small cells, massive MIMO (multiple input multiple output), beamforming, and full duplex.
  • To maximize the efficiency of sending data by decreasing the chances of a signal drop due to the interference of a physical object, another new technology called beamforming will be used in 5G.
  • For data to be sent to the correct user, a way of directing the wavelengths without interference is necessary. This is done through a technique called beamforming.
  • Beamforming directs where exactly data are being sent by using a variety of antennas to organize signals based on certain characteristics, such as the magnitude of the signal.
  • Working together, these new technologies will expand the potential of many of the devices used today and devices being developed for the future.
  • The next new piece of technology necessary for 5G is massive MIMO, which stands for multiple input multiple outputs. The MIMO describes the capacity of 5G’s base stations, because those base stations would be able to handle a much higher amount of data at any one moment of time.

How does 5G affect us?

 According to the ICNIRP

  • The temperature rise is one of the major issues, which may occur with 5G exposure, apart from the established non-thermal biological/health effects.
  • It is well known among experts in the EMF-bioeffects field that the recorded cellular effects, such as DNA damage, protein damage, chromosome damage and reproductive declines, and the vast majority of health effects are accompanied by significant temperature rise in tissues.
  • The ion forced-oscillation mechanism should be referred to as a plausible non-thermal mechanism of irregular gating of electrosensitive ion channels on cell membranes, resulting in disruption of the cell electrochemical balance and initiating free radical release and oxidative stress in the cells, which in turn causes genetic damage.
  • The irregular gating of ion channels on cell membranes is associated with changes in permeability of the cell membranes, which ICNIRP admits in its summary.
  • According to the World Health Organization (WHO) Trusted Source, there is limited research on the frequencies used in 5G.
  • There is more research on the health effects of electromagnetic fields across the spectrum. However, the results are inconsistent.
  • Till date, EMFs have been potentially associated with the following symptoms and which only will gradually become more and more adverse:

Tissue heating

  • small 2017 study Trusted Source showed that mobile phones use frequencies of 1.8 to 2.2 GHz. These frequencies cause tissue heating, according to WHO. Tissue heating occurs when your skin absorbs electromagnetic energy. This causes a slight rise in temperature in your brain and body.
  • 2021 study Trusted Source also found that people experience more EMF-related tissue heating as they get older. Plus, the higher the EMFs, the more they absorb. That’s because older individuals tend to have reduced skin thickness and blood flow. However, tissue heating is considered to be short-term and minimal.
  • The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) also states that the public is exposed to very low frequencies of EMFs. These levels are too low to cause considerable tissue heating. More research is necessary to determine how 5G specifically affects human tissue.

Cognitive function

  • The effects of 5G exposure on cognitive function have not been studied yet. There is some research involving EMFs from other sources.
  • In a small 2017 study Trusted Source, researchers examined how using a mobile phone affects cognitive function. The researchers found that using a mobile phone for at least 90 minutes a day is associated with attention difficulties.
  • A small 2018 research review found conflicting evidence. The researchers examined 43 studies regarding EMFs and cognitive function.

Cancer

  • In 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)stated EMFs are “possibly carcinogenic” to humans. The classification was determined by 30 scientists from 14 countries.
  • Till date, most studies have examined the potential link between EMFs and brain cancer.
  • For example, a 2017 research reviewfound that EMF radiation from mobile phones is associated with glioma, a type of brain cancer.

References:

  1. http://www.emfexplained.info/?ID=25916
  2. https://www.healthline.com/health/is-5g-harmful#does-it-affect-health
  3. International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)

About the Author:

Jaishree B
Technical Engineer
Livesafe