Let’s start with some basic background on 5G technology. Faster processing speeds require more bandwidth, yet our current frequency bandwidths are quickly becoming saturated. The idea behind 5G is to use untapped bandwidth of the extremely high-frequency millimeter wave (MMW), between 30GHz and 300GHz, in addition to some lower and mid-range frequencies.
High-frequency MMWs travel a short distance. Furthermore, they don’t travel well through buildings and tend to be absorbed by rain and plants, leading to signal interference. Thus, the necessary infrastructure would require many smaller, barely noticeable cell towers situated closer together, with more input and output ports than there are on the much larger, easier to see 4G towers. This would likely result in wireless antennas every few feet, on every lamp post and utility pole in your neighbourhood.
5G promises lightning-fast speeds and the ability to power new technologies like self-driving cars and advanced augmented and virtual reality experiences. But an undercurrent to all of the things we can do with 5G is concern about what 5G can do to us.
Mobile carriers throughout the world are racing to deploy this fifth generation of cellular technology. And the biggest cellphone makers are also readying their 5G handsets.
There are concerns that the very high-frequency spectrum known as millimeter wavelengths used in early deployments to make 5G a reality could pose adverse health effects for the public.There are also additional concerns specific to 5G, due to the super high-frequency millimeter wavelengths used. Because signals transmitted over millimeter waves are limited in range and can’t penetrate obstacles like walls or even leaves on trees, networks using these frequencies will require radios on every city block, versus 4G gear that transmits signals over miles.
This means that 5G will require up to five times the amount of infrastructure as 3G or 4G deployments. Not only will there be more 5G radios transmitting signals, but the radios will have to be closer to you.
The sheer volume of devices transmitting signals so close to people is what concerns activists and lawmakers like Rep. Thomas Suozzi, a Democrat from New York.
“Small cell towers are being installed in residential neighborhoods in close proximity to houses throughout my district,” he said in a letter to the FCC earlier this year. “I have heard instances of these antennas being installed on light poles directly outside the window of a young child’s bedroom. Rightly so, my constituents are worried that should this technology be proven hazardous in the future, the health of their families and value of their properties would be at serious risk.”
The dangers of 5G extends to the planet, too
Equally disturbing, 5G technology puts environmental health at risk in a number of ways. First, MMWs may pose a serious threat to plant health. This 2010 study showed that the leaves of aspen seedlings exposed to RFR exhibited symptoms of necrosis, while another Armenian study suggested low-intensity MMW’s cause “peroxidase isoenzyme spectrum changes”–basically a stress response that damages cells–in wheat shoots. Plant irradiation is bad news for the planet’s flora, but it’s bad news for us, too: it could contaminate our food supply.
Second, the 5G infrastructure would pose a threat to our planet’s atmosphere. Network implementation will require the deployment of many, short-lifespan satellites via suborbital rockets propelled by hydrocarbon rocket engines. According to this 2010 California study, launching too many of these babies will vomit enough black carbon into the atmosphere to pollute global atmospheric conditions, affecting distribution of ozone and temperature. Worse, solid-state rocket exhaust contains chlorine, an ozone-destroying chemical. How can any government seriously concerned about climate change allow for this?
Third, 5G will potentially threaten natural ecosystems. According to several reports over the last two decades–some of which are summarized here–low-level, non-ionizing microwave radiation affects bird and bee health. It drives birds from their nests and causes plume deterioration, locomotion problems, reduced survivorship and death. And bee populations suffer from reduced egg-laying abilities of queen bees and smaller colony sizes. More evidence of ecosystem disruption comes from this 2012 meta-study, which indicates that 593 of 919 research studies suggest that RFR adversely affects plants, animals and humans.
It bears repeating: 5G is bad news for all living creatures and the planet we share.