Is 5G Dangerous for Health?

Recently in Penang, Malaysia, there was a protest against allegedly 5G Telco towers that were being set up inside residential areas. The concern was that with the new telco towers in so close proximity to the water supply and houses, it would pose a greater cancer risk to the residents in that area. The state government and Malaysia Communications and Multimedia Comission (MCMC) had come forward to clarify the matter. So, does these towers that are in close proximity to residential areas increase the risks of people getting cancers?

Are those really 5G towers?

Before that, one must ask are those towers really 5G towers? Currently, the 5G operating frequency spectrum is split into two bandwidths. The first one is below 6 GHz, which is frequently called the sub-6 bandwidth. The second one is above 24 Ghz, which is often labelled as the millimeter wave (mmWave) bandwidth. For Malaysia, the current plan is to focus on the deployment of 5G using the sub-6 bandwidth. the mmWave deployment will not start until at least 5 years later. So you may ask why sub-6 and not mmWave?

The difference between the sub-6 and mmWave bandwidth lies with its technological barrier, coverage and throughput.

Sub-6 bandwidth offers wide coverage and lower throughput while mmWave offers low coverage and much higher throughput. This is because the data carrying ability increases when wavelength decreases (frequency increases) but the ability to pass through solid objects such as walls decreases as the frequency climb higher.

Technology-wise, sub-6 are relatively easy to deploy due to the bandwidth being very much similar to that in existing 4G technology. In that sense, it is only logical to build the sub-6 infrastructure on top of the existing 4G infrastructure to save cost. There is no need for new telco towers to be constructed specifically just to cater for 5G coverage.

5G “small cell” attached to lamp post

mmWave bandwidth on the other hand is a whole new area that was never explored before and thus requires cutting edge technology to implement. Due to the short propagation distance of mmWave, the deployment will rely on massive deployments of small-cell units instead of telco towers. In lay man terms, when mmWave deployment starts, get ready to see a lot of router-looking devices everywhere, from your homes to public avenues to public transports to even lamp posts on the street!

Lets do a review

Sub-6 5GmmWave 5G
ThroughputGoodVery Good
InfrastructureAdd-on to 4GSmall cells Deployment

Coming back to the question, this means that in either cases, there is no need for significantly more telco towers to be built just to implement 5G coverage. So for the towers that were built among the residential areas, it can be safely concluded that the towers are most probably constructed to cater for 4G coverage. Besides, in Malaysia, MCMC has just started in November 2018 to get ready the task force that will be spearheading Malaysia’s 5G infrastructure. Even right now, 5G is still at the very early phase of deployment and as of today, 5G deployment has yet to start.

Will 5G Cause Cancer?

But this still does not answer the fundamental concern, that is will 5G cause an increase in the risk of getting cancers?

To understand if there is any risk, one must understand the factor that will induce cancer in the human body.

radiation hazard symbol

In the field of electromagnetic, the risk of cancer is increased when there is disruption in the natural formation of cells in our body. Since electromagnetic wave carries energy, when it past through the human body, it affects the cells through the process of radiation. The human body is exposed to radiation constantly, which are mostly harmless due to the low intensity plus shielding from our skin. But when the human cell is subjected to an unusually high level of radiation, it causes our cells to mutate, which in turn increases the risk of cancer.

In simple words, to get cancer, a human body would need to be bombarded with an over-excessive amount of electromagnetic field radiation. Now,

The intensity of radiation increases as the frequency increases

This is where we need to understand the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum. The spectrum can be generally divided into 3 groups:

  1. Radio and Micowave
  2. Visible Light
  3. Ionizing Radiations
The electromagnetic spectrum

Radio (RF) and microwave have long wavelength and low frequency and thus are considered low energy. Visible light on the other hand has shorter wavelength, higher frequency and thus higher energy.

The one that has past the danger threshold is the Ionizing radiations.

Ionizing radiations sits above the visible light spectrum and operates in a very high frequency range. It contains enough energy to cause an ionizing effect to the human body. Basically, when a human body is exposed to radiation from this spectrum, the natural formation of the human cells are disrupted as electrons are ionized out of the cells, causing cell death or mutation. Massive amount of cell deaths will result in radiation burns and mutation.

With this understanding, both sub-6 and mmWave 5G operates at below visible light range. And thus, the radiation concern is low. In fact, if RF and Microwave increase the risk of cancer, the risk of getting cancer is even higher just by being exposed to sunlight!

5G is Safe

The technology of 5G is safe. However, it is granted that excessive exposure to anything is never good. Same goes with RF and Microwave. Therefore, as a precautionary and safety measure, governments around the world, including MCMC of Malaysia also adhere to the International Committee on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) guidelines . The INCIRP is a non profit scientific organization which evaluates scientific knowledge and determine the exposure limits of the human body. The guideline is a reliable standard to ensure that we are not exposed to excessive and harmful dose of EMF in our daily life.

It is understandable that there are always concern with excessive radiation in urban areas. The constant fine line is always to balance between progress and eco-friendliness. So far, for the advent of 5G, we can rest assure that it is still on the safe side.

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