Wireless communication has evolved significantly since it became generally accessible in the 1980s. Today, 5G is advancing the frontiers of wireless communications, supporting use cases that rely on Gbps data rates and ultra-high reliability. In addition to 5G’s improved speed (also known as bandwidth) and connectivity, it also facilitates shorter latency. In a previous article, we detailed the evolution of the five different generations (hence, the ‘G’) of mobile networks. Here’s a quick outline of the major shift occasioned by each generation:

In this article, we explain what this new network – 5G – entails, why it’s not something to fear, and how to keep informed about this fifth-generation technology. It’s worth remembering that the 5G technology is more than just a vehicle to make mobile phones work faster. The combined technologies to enable 5G will fundamentally change how we interact with devices and how devices interact with each other.

The new network – 5G

Wireless networks have, since the first generation of mobile phones, always operated on the same radiofrequency (RF) bands of the electromagnetic spectrum. However, as users increased, the network became crowded, the demand for data increased exponentially and these RF highways became congested with cellular traffic. To address these challenges, 5G wireless technology offers improved reliability and availability, higher multi-Gbps peak data speeds, ultra-low latency, massive network capacity, and yields a more uniform user experience to more users. This higher performance and efficiency are capable of introducing new user experiences and connecting new industries.

Are there health risks associated with 5G?

5G is set to improve our day-to-day lives but, understandably, consumers may have concerns about the perceived health risks associated with 5G. These concerns mostly relate to 5G’s use of higher energy millimetre-wave radiation and are often exacerbated by the confusion between the terms ionizing and non-ionizing radiation. In short, ionizing radiation is a type of energy that atoms release in the form of electromagnetic waves or particles and can be found in, for example, x-rays and medical devices. Non-ionizing radiation is the generic term for electromagnetic radiation that does not carry enough photon energy to ionize atoms or molecules. Ultimately, there is no evidence to suggest that 5G signals are any different from the other “Gs” when considering RF safety or its potential harm to our bodies or our immune system. 5G and its predecessor, 4G, both have non-ionizing radiation that is too weak to have any effect on our health. Moreover, decades of studies have not found any link between cell phones and any sort of illness.

Does 5G comply with international exposure guidelines?

The International Commission for Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) guidelines on limiting exposure to radiofrequency EMF (RF-EMF), published in 1998 and updated in 2020, establish safe exposure limits to protect workers and the public. In addition to this the FCC also has regulations that need to be adhered to. All wireless technologies operate in compliance with these guidelines or national regulations. These ICNRIP and FCC guidelines form the basis of all mobile network antennas and devices across most of the globe. In addition, the World Health Organisation (WHO) formally recognises them.

There are myriad benefits

5G bring with it the opportunity to innovate and enhance existing processes such as real-time automation, real-time collaboration, and smart safety. In terms of the latter, it means being able to send real-time alerts about unsafe conditions to the worker, to the field supervisor, to the safety manager or any other stakeholder with an interest in the safety programme. These alerts could range from detection of carbon monoxide or RF radiation to being able to recognise when someone is above six feet and not harnessed. Ultimately, 5G will allow us to work faster, smarter, safer, and more efficiently. And it will breathe new life into key industrial sectors such as manufacturing, engineering, and healthcare.