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Why 5G is safe

Speed read
  • 5G promises wireless speeds up to 100 times faster than current 4G standard
  • Suntanning and touching elevator buttons are far bigger health risks than 5G
  • Because of new decentralized architecture, 5G presents cybersecurity issues

There is no connection between COVID-19 infections and 5G. Anyone who tells you different either doesn’t know what they’re talking about or is trying to sell you on something.

5G is the 5th generation of mobile technology. It operates at a higher frequency than previous generations, enabling better bandwidth and faster data rates.

5G architecture pushes data closer to the end user, storing content at base stations around the world. Decentralization makes 5G even faster and more efficient.

But you don’t have to take our word for it. We talked with Dr. Theodore Rappaport, founding director of NYU Wireless and 5G expert, about this claim. Not only does he state that that there is “absolutely no factual basis” to a 5G-coronavirus connection, he’s written an entire paper on the safety of this new mobile technology. 

Despite the facts, at least 77 mobile towers were damaged recently in the UK in by people concerned with catching this novel coronavirus via 5G. Rappaport took time out of his busy schedule to set the record straight about disinformation linking the rollout of 5G to the spread of the novel coronavirus. And just to make sure we didn’t waste his day, we also talked about real concerns that might come with 5G deployment. 

You should be more worried about putting on sunscreen

Rappaport is a professor of electrical engineering, computer science, and radiological medicine. His research led to the creation of the first Wi-Fi standard and the first US digital cellphone standards. He and his students engineered the world’s first public Wi-Fi hotspots. So it’s probably fair to say that he knows a lot more about wireless communication than Woody Harrelson.

<strong>If you’re worried about dangerous radiation</strong>, tanning without sunscreen is a far bigger risk. More than 90% of skin cancers are caused by exposure to the sun’s UV light. “It boggles my mind why there's a fringe group that views this as an issue,” says Rappaport. “The frequencies of cell phones and other radio devices are orders of magnitude below the energy level of ionizing radiation, which can lead to cancer.”

Ionizing radiation, Rappaport explains, is strong enough to knock electrons out of a valence shell and force atoms to become unstable. These atoms are then called free radicals, which are linked to a host of health problems. Free radicals are a real risk—but cell phone signals aren’t causing them.

“I tell people they should be more worried about putting on sunscreen or how often they fly above 10,000 feet and are exposed to galactic ionizing radiation,” says Rappaport.   

Overexposure to UV radiation suppresses your body’s natural response to fighting infection. Specifically, too much sun can make conditions like the herpes simplex virus harder to control. So, if you’re truly worried about harming your immune system, you’ll be better off avoiding the beach this summer.

Benefits of 5G

  • Faster speeds. 5G could reach 10 GB/second. Current 4G has a typical peak of only 0.1 GB/second. That’s 100x faster
  • Lower latency. Roundtrip data transmission clocks in at under 5 milliseconds
  • Less congestion. 5G can potentially support 1 million devices per square kilometer
  • Bigger bandwidth. More data transmitted and smooth handling of usage spikes
  • New tech. Paves the way for self-driving cars, robotic surgery, real-time gaming, and AR/VR

In addition to this fear of decreased immune response, some conspiracy theorists say 5G towers are spreading the virus itself. While it’s true that a virus can be transmitted by inanimate objects, this requires direct contact between a person and a surface contaminated by bodily fluids. In this case, elevator buttons and door handles are what you need to watch out for.

Throughout history, new technologies have prompted fear and suspicion in some members of society. But a focus on exaggerated fears can also obscure real concerns. 5G will have some problems that we’ll need to address, but we can’t do that if we’re looking at the wrong things.

5G won’t be perfect

Something we do need to consider when it comes to 5G is security. As Rappaport points out, 5G presents some new complications that will have to be confronted as the technology is more widely deployed.

One of 5G’s greatest strengths is also one of its biggest weaknesses. More content will be stored at base stations. Information will be much more decentralized throughout the whole network. This allows for greater bandwidth and data rates, but it also makes protecting  information harder.

“The security concerns are valid because there will be much more content out towards the edge of the network and closer to where people are,” says Rappaport. “A lot of content will be replicated and stored in many places all at the same time. Access to data will become much easier if there's a security breach.”

<strong>What’s next?</strong> Adoption of 4G enabled widespread use of ride sharing, video streaming, and food delivery apps that we already take for granted in our everyday lives. What will 5G bring?It’s also important to consider the hardware necessary for 5G to function. For instance, Chinese tech giant Huawei’s dominance in the production of 5G infrastructure equipment is an issue that concerns certain parts of the US government. Whether that fear is based in reality or not remains to be seen, but it’s something experts are interested in.

Fear of new technology is practically a human tradition. History provides plenty of examples in panicked rejections of everything from handwriting and the printing press to the telephone, radio, and television.

However, we cannot allow a small group of bad actors to define our steps into the future. Specifically, Rappaport reflects on how missing the 5G train could alter a country’s economic prosperity.

“The countries with 5G will have faster, better data rates, access to new apps, and access to new products and services that exploit fiber optic-like speed going to every mobile device,” says Rappaport.

“Think about Uber and YouTube—4G enabled Uber and YouTube and Netflix to become available to consumers on their phones. Countries that didn't have 4G weren't able to avail their citizens with those kinds of capabilities and the economic gain that came with it.”

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