Updated: Sep 21, 2020
Telecommunications are shifting towards the fifth generation of cellular networks (5G). In this article the possible benefits and potential risks of a 5G network will be discussed.
1. What is the 5G network?
5G refer to the 5th generation mobile network. This is a new kind of network that is designed to connect virtually everyone and everything together including machines, objects and devices.
The main difference between 4G and 5G is the radio frequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF). 5G will use a combination of both millimeter wave spectrum (mm Wave) and microwave frequency bands (cm Wave) unlike previous networks such as 3G and 4G, which used only microwave frequency bands (cm Wave).
In order for carriers to build superfast 5G networks they must install multitude of small cell sites to light poles, walls or towers, often in relatively small proximity to one another.
1G: Mobile voice calls
2G Mobile voice calls and SMS
3G: Mobile web browsing
4G: Mobile video consumption and higher data speed
5G: Technology to serve consumers & digitalisation of industries
2. How does it work?
As 5G signals will run over new radio frequencies this means cell tower equipment will need to be updated.
There are three different methods for building a 5G network:
- Low-band network (wide coverage area but only about 20% faster than 4G)
- Mid-band network (balances speed and coverage)
- High-band network (superfast speeds but signals don’t travel well and struggle to move through hard surfaces).
3. What are the possible benefits?
Much of the hype about 5G is to do with speed (peak speeds are expected to be 100x faster than 4G). It is said to enable a new wave of innovation with IoT (Internet of Things), AI (Artificial Intelligence) and AR (Augmented Reality) – among many more.
Other mentioned benefits include reduced latency- the time it takes for a cell phone (or another connected device) to make a request from a server and get a response- to virtually zero. The increase capacity of 5G networks is said to also minimise the impact to load spikes.
It is suggested the introduction of 5G would see the following things available:
Due to the fact 5G uses a large amount of spectrum bands that haven’t been used by public before.
Vehicle to vehicle communications that could potentially save thousands of people lives.
Public safety and infrastructure
Ability for municipals to install cheap surveillance equipment and utility companies to identify possible hazards such as drains flooding.
Remote device control
Control of heavy machinery from anywhere in the world.
Expected improvements in telemedicine, remote recovery and physical therapy via AR, precision surgery and remote surgery in years to come. Introduction to extensive sensor network in hospitals to track and monitor patients.
IoT (Internet of Things)
More efficient communication between sensors and smart devices.
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4. The potential risks and drawbacks of 5G.
Significant adoption of 5G is going to takes years. According to industry trade group GSMA it is estimated that by 2025 15% mobile connections will be 5G (Newsroom, 2019). There are however several concerns that have arisen with the potential 5G roll out.
There has been concerns arising about the security of 5G, especially since crucial technologies such as self-drive cars and healthcare systems will be built on top of the network (Ahmad et al., 2018; Ahmad et al., 2017; Hussain, Hussain and Zeadally, 2019; Ji et al., 2018). As the network will be less centralized there is also more ability for cyber terrorism.
4.2 Physical Human Health
There is already a wide range of studies identifying potential health implication of the currently used microwave frequency of 4G and previous networks (bioadmin, 2019; Karaboytcheva, 2020; Johansson, 2009; Russell, 2018; Yakymenko et al., 2015). It has also been widely recognised that there is a lack of controlled studies on the health and safety of millimetre waves (Di Ciaula, 2018; Khurana et al., 2009).
A study in 2019 concluded that pulsed EMF is more biologically active and dangerous than non-pulsed EMF (Panagopoulos, 2019). 5G implement the use of high-level pulsations from higher frequencies, which in tern enable large information to be carried per second. These pulsations are irregular and have high spikes.
In August 2019 an appeal was signed by 245 scientists requesting "a moratorium on the roll-out of the fifth generation, 5G, for telecommunication until potential hazards for human health and the environment have been fully investigated" (emfscientist.org, 2019).
4.3 Psychological Impacts
With the introduction of 5G and IoT, technology will be further integrated and be part every moment of life.
The psychological impacts of technology have already been widely studied and the detrimental impacts of the Internet on modern life identified. This includes phenomena such as cyber bulling, cyber porn, cyber suicide, Internet addiction, social isolation, cyber racism etc. (Biddle et al., 2016; Diomidous et al., 2016; (Englander et al., 2017; Kim and Noh, 2019).
It has been pointed out that children and adolescents are more susceptible to the negative psychological impacts of technology, and therefore particular attention needs to be given to this (Moreno, Jelenchick and Christakis, 2013; Sedgwick et al., 2019; Taesan Choi and 안재영, 2010).
Several ethical concerns and issues have been raised when reviewing the systems and technological items that will utilise 5G to function. These include: unsecured consumer IoT devices, ethical issues with health related IoT, hack able vehicles and moral dilemma for autonomous vehicles, roboethics, algorithmic bias and IoT (racist algorithms, algorithmic bias), issues with cooperative IoT, user choice and freedom (Bagloee et al., 2016; Baldini et al., 2016; Dennis et al., 2016; Loke, 2019). For example if autonomous vehicle hits someone, who is to blame?
Ultimately the public wants safe technology, and need proof that 5G are safe before it is rolled out worldwide. As the issues surround 5G are complex and multifaceted it seem that governments, telecommunication companies and also the public need to review the approach taken. It is clear that more studies need to be carried out to ensure the technology is safe, secure and not detrimental to human kind and the environment.
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