5G wireless technology continues to pop up in “news stories”. It is being touted as the thing that is going to make the next big leap in technology possible.
The feature that is being hailed as nothing short of revolutionary is the speed that 5G connections can achieve. 5G basically provides a much (much) bigger pipe which in turn allows for a lot more content to flow through (e.g. ‘faster’ internet connection). It also has very low latency (the delay in transfer of bits from one node in the network to another), at below 1millisecond—4G has 30-70milliseconds of latency. For the general public the speed and latency improvements are irrelevant, but they continue to be pushed as revolutionary. After all, current 4G networks offer plenty of speed for streaming, and having additional speed will not help consumers watch a movie on Netflix any faster or make web browsing any more snappy. But the consumer doesn’t always know what he needs.
Verizon is calling the arrival of 5G wireless technology as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, making “giant advances” in virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and artificial intelligence (AI) possible—not to mention new technologies which haven’t even been developed yet.
Speed & Latency of the 5G Network
So what are the extreme speed, and practically non-existent latency good for? Supporters of 5G state that these two factors will help make connected cars and the internet of things (IoT) possible—as well as a host of other technology magic. This is odd because the IoT has been here (or so we have been told) for years. We have had connected light fixtures, door locks, refrigerators, lawn sprinklers (and so forth) for a while now, and they have all been working fine—for those few who needed to get the weather from their fridge door.
The benefits being sold to the public seem to not be there for the capabilities of current technology, but that is not to say that added speed and reduced latency could not usher the age of connected shoelaces where anyone can opt to get a notification on their phone if their shoe lace knot integrity drops below a certain level.
Speed is great, but the concern among many, when it comes to 5G, is the lack of data about its safety and impact on human health. This concern stems from the use of millimeter wave (a.k.a. extremely high frequency or EHF) technology, and the need to use 5G antennas every-few-hundred-feet in order to make the technology work.
Millimeter Waves & 5G Wireless
Millimeter waves were originally studied in the late 19th century by Indian scientist Jagadish Chandra Bose (no relation to the speakers company). Millimeter waves are basically electromagnetic radiation which have a wavelength of one to 10 millimeters and frequencies ranging from 30 to 300 GHz. Millimeter waves make it possible to produce the high speeds and low latency that 5G promises, but they do have a significant drawback: they require line-of-sight (an unobstructed path) connections in order to operate properly. This weakness is why 5G requires a massive expansion of cell antennas (about one per 10-20 houses). Telecommunication companies are planning to deploy these antennas on public utility poles.
Health Effects of 5G & Millimeter Waves
Current public discussion of 5G is mainly around the great benefits it will provide to the consumer, but technology and telecommunication companies (nor have government agencies) have done very little research into the health effects of millimeter wave wireless technology.
…few studies have examined prolonged exposure to low-intensity MMWs, and no research that I am aware of has focused on exposure to MMWs combined with other radiofrequency radiation.Joel M. Moskowitz, Ph.D.
You can read the complete post by Dr. Moskowitz on his blog.
There is no definitive answer as to whether 5G wireless technology is safe for human health, but the lack of research and health data on the subject makes it a risky technology since it requires the deployment of hundred of thousands of new cell antennas very close to everywhere humans frequent.