When Donald Trump is apoplectic with Boris Johnson in a phone call it’s a bit difficult to know where one’s sympathies lie. I guess that we know that Donald Trump is pretty certainly irredeemably bad whereas Boris Johnson has time to amaze us with good things in future. But it did mean that for a while two of my least-favoured public figures were dealing with each other rather than the rest of us.

The argument was about Huawei and 5G.

I don’t really know what 5G is except it is said to be what we all need to get even better phone performance. I’m not quite sure what this performance is but apparently I really want it.

Occasionally I get emails, unsolicited ones, from people telling me that 5G is a disaster for people and wildlife. These emails often have LOTS OF CAPITAL LETTERS and !!!!!!!!!!!! marks ( and in a previous time of life, such messages used to arive by post they tended to be written in green ink). That doesn’t make them wrong but it does create a certain impression and they tend to get deleted. But I glance at some of them, and usually find them unimpressive.

But just because someone’s advocacy is for whatever reason unconvincing it doesn’t necessarily mean that their concern is wrong. Maybe there is more or better evidence which could be put in a more convincing way.

I can recall times in the past when I was told that GM crops would kill us all and that they were a panacea for farmland wildlife, and when I was told that neonicotinoids were the cause of all songbird declines and the salvation of wildlife in arable areas. In neither case was it quite that simple. And, incidentally, as often written by me here, it’s not that simple with people either, even Trump and Johnson.

But back to 5G. A very quick internet search provides plenty of articles with fewer upper case letters and exclamation marks which point to some concerns over 5G – see here, here, here – but I still don’t feel I know enough.

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2 Replies to “5G”

  1. I'd settle for a signal. Just like I'd settle for 5MB (currently 2MB on a good day at home and 0.1 - 0.01MB at the office) and don't know what I'd do with 20 or 100.

    There's a serious underlying issue; those with good connectivity get better and better connectivity, while rural areas are bypassed entirely. Meanwhile service providers, incl DEFRA, assume everyone has London speeds. It might make commercial sense but as a national policy it is appallingly complacent.

  2. The 'Fifth Generation' of communication equipment intends to use higher frequencies (or shorter wavelengths) to improve download speeds. However, shorter wavelengths don't travel as far through the air or materials, so would need either the same number of higher powered transmitters or more transmitters of the existing power ratings to be as effective as 3 or 4G.

    People worry about this sort of stuff, and I'm ok with that as there's plenty of occasions where the public have been hoodwinked by big business (tobacco and pesticides to name a few).

    The heat generated from these types of signal are also preferentially absorbed by different parts of the body, depending upon the wavelength and the size of the body part. For instance, early mobile phone frequency bands meant that an adult human head would be about the correct size to experience an increased heating effect compared to other parts of the body. For 5G frequencies, with shorter wavelengths, smaller parts of the body could be affected.

    In the manufacturing of equipment, industry must abide by the rules and regulations set out by governing bodies and authorities e.g. the World Health Organisation. For transmitting equipment, the main concern is exposure to non-ionising radiation (which causes a heating effect) and so guidelines are published by the International Commission on Non-ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), see https://www.icnirp.org/ for more info.

    My understanding is that any infringement of these guidelines would lead to the manufacturer being liable to prosecution by, in the UK, Ofcom and/or Public Health England. This gives the public (and installers!) the confidence that research has been carried out into safe levels, and also that the rules are enforced. I'm sure there can be a debate about what those safe levels are, but industry can only work with the current published data.

    Obviously, different technologies can use similar frequencies. So although certain military applications use some of the 5G frequencies, it does not follow that all 5G frequencies are death rays. The tricky part is for all of us to be able to understand the difference.


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