In recent times, there has been speculation about the risks of electromagnetic radiation from 5G networks. Switzerland is currently monitoring radiation risks from 5G networks; Belgian halted a 5G test in Brussels over radiation risks. Netherlands is taking a cautious step over radiation concerns from 5G networks while the UK House of Commons warned the parliament about radiation risks associated with 5G networks. In some quarters, it has been suggested that the speculation are mere fabrication from Russia, intended to slow down the acceleration of 5G technologies within the Western world.
The speculation is solely based on the fact that 5G requires the use of higher frequencies (termed mm waves) for propagation. At such higher frequencies, the waves do not propagate long distances, as such one way of dealing with this is to situate base stations closer to the user, in the form of small antenna cells located indoors or in public areas/hotspots.
Another way to deal with the short distance propagation at higher frequencies is to combine a large number of antennas to increase the signal reception. This obviously means that the users begin to observe a large number of antennas, situated suddenly close to them.
And when base stations are situated closer to the user, the public perception of electromagnetic radiation causing harm simply increases. These claims may however be untrue, but should be scientifically investigated.
For example, a survey of electromagnetic radiation among EU citizens found that the public considered visible base station antennas situated long distances away as more dangerous in comparison with their mobile phone antennas, which are of course closer to the user but invisible to the user. Studies have repeatedly shown that the mobile phone’s radiation is in fact more dangerous than base station antennas (strictly following the ICNIRP guidelines), located far away because the mobile phone’s radiation is in the near field whereas the base station antenna, operates in the far field region. It is however important that the radiation from base station antennas is below the ICNIRP guidelines, for safety.
The use of adaptive beam-forming technique to re-direct radiation away from the head has often been touted as a potential advantage of 5G technologies. This is because research is ongoing, looking at the design of 5G phones/ base station antennas which would allow the radiation signal to bypass the head/neck of the users whilst connecting the user to the station with maximum reception (best quality of service).
As developing countries are yet to deploy 5G networks (except in South Africa); we have however witnessed the testing and trialling of 5G technologies for various use cases in Nigeria. I would therefore advise that we use the testing and trialling stage to identify such risks like electromagnetic radiation etc., this would no doubt allay investors’ fears and quicken commercial deployment, when the market is ready to deploy 5G networks.