5G: Boon or Bane

5G: Boon or Bane

Author: Abhinav Gorantla

When the 5th Generation of mobile communication and networking was introduced in early 2020, it grabbed a lot of attention. With 5G, augmented reality can be made possible in real-time. Remotely operated robotic surgeons can be used for healthcare in areas where good healthcare can’t be provided. Search and rescue missions can be carried out by swarms of drones combing the disaster-prone area. 5G can bring speed of around 10 Gigabits per second to your phone. This is more than 600 times the typical 4G speed. This means that you can download games from Steam in under 20 seconds and a 4K movie in 25 seconds.

But the catch is that 5G networks will have very less network coverage. This is because of the high-frequency waves 5G networks will be using. The lack of range can be considered as a trade-off for the very high download speed the network can offer. 5G networks when brought into the mainstream would require a network tower every 500 meters. In contrast, a 4G GSM tower can provide connectivity to devices in an 80,000-meter radius. The low range of 5G networks can be attributed to the very high-frequency waves 5G uses to provide high-speed internet. Increase in frequency of radio waves also increases the energy irradiated during propagation and dampens the wave. Added to this setback is the fact that 5G frequency is interrupted by physical obstructions such as trees, towers, buildings and walls. The very high download speeds and lower latency are the only positives of replacing 4G with 5G networks. The trade-offs for the aforementioned advantages include lower connectivity range, very high operational costs and health disorders.

There has been speculation about the ill effects 5G can have on human health and the environment in general since it was first introduced. The prime cause for this speculation is the fact that 5G uses millimetre waves which lie in the 30GHz to 300GHz range. As discussed earlier this compels the telecom companies to exponentially increase the number of cell towers. Most of these are low-profile antennas rather than full-blown cell towers. Skin and in particular sweat ducts have the capability of absorbing energy with radio frequencies in the range 6GHz to 100GHz. This has the potential to increase the occurrence of Melanoma (cancer of the skin) in humans. A 2018 study conducted by the researchers associated with the renowned Ramazzini Institute in Italy announced that a large-scale lifetime study of lab animals exposed to environmental levels of cell tower radiation developed cancer. A $25 million study of much higher levels of cell phone radio frequency radiation (analogous to 5G radiations), from the US National Toxicology Program, has also reported finding the same unusual form of heart cancer called Schwannoma in male rats. Increase in malignant brain tumours was observed in female rats.

With such long term health consequences which may be fatal eventually, is 5G speed worth the risk? Use of 5G networks must be limited to emergency disaster response and healthcare applications until proper research is done to assess the damage millimetre waves can do to the environment. For areas where wired connections can be used, optical fibre-based broadband internet can replace 5G networks.

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