There have been many conspiracy theories about the new 5G mobile communication network, mostly propagated through social media. In response the UK government and Ofcom have recently published 5G mobile technology: a guide to set the record straight on 5G safety. So, what does the guide say about safety:

Radio Spectrum

Firstly, there is nothing fundamentally different about the radio signal characteristics of 5G when compared to 3G and 4G. 5G however, has the capability to connect many thousands of devices and at much higher speed. The frequency bands used are close to those already used for previous generations although, higher frequencies, in the so called “mmWave” band, are envisaged in the future. More about that later.

The critical aspects from a public safety point of view are whether electromagnetic radiation is “Ionising” or “Non-ionising” and the power levels involved.

All current and future 5G frequencies fall in the “Non-ionising” band. That means they do not have sufficient energy to directly damage cells as opposed to “Ionising” radiation, such as gamma (nuclear) radiation and X-rays, that are generally considered hazardous to humans. It’s worth noting that natural sunlight actually lies on the boundary between the two and why UV radiation from the sun can be dangerous (see the figure below).

Global power levels for mobile networks follow strict international guidelines as set out by the International Commission for Non-ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). Ofcom has carried out tests on 5G sites in 10 UK Towns and found that signals from all mobile technologies were only 1.5% of guideline maximums and for 5G specifically only 0.039%. Current mobile networks operate between 700MHz and 3.8Ghz, this includes 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G. However, 5G can make use of higher frequencies with trials already at 26GHz, 40GHz and 66GHz.

These frequencies provide much higher speeds (Typ >10Gbps) but these signals do not travel as far, they will not pass through walls for example. This means that over time many smaller transmitters or “small cells” will be needed to get coverage. Although that might seem to increase exposure the signals do not need to travel as far and so operate at much lower power levels. Additionally, small cells mean mobile phones can operate at much lower power levels too and, in many cases, this will cause a decrease. In any case all 5G emissions are strictly controlled to meet ICNIRP guidelines.

What health experts say?

Public Health England (PHE) takes the lead on health issues with radio waves and has a statutory duty to advise the government on such matters. PHE endorses international guidelines for radio frequencies as set out by ICNIRP. In relation to 5G, PHE have said that “the overall exposure is expected to remain low relative to guidelines and, as such, there should be no consequences for public health”.

5G and Coronavirus

The guide concludes that claims by conspiracy theorist that 5G is connected with the spread of the virus are wrong. “There is no scientific basis or credible evidence for these claims” it states.

Conclusion

In the UK the Government, PHE and Ofcom are responsible for ensuring the UK’s mobile network poses no public safety threat and they conclude that 5G does not. 5G is important for the UK economy, as digital technologies are the single biggest enabler of economic growth, so we cannot allow its rollout to be jeopardised by conspiracy theories and misinformation. This guide effectively debunks these claims and enables people to be properly informed about 5G instead of relying on bogus social media posts.