Is 5G safe enough?
In the last few months, we've been bombarded with news about whether or not to cooperate with Huawei in the creation of a 5G-network, due to fear of being spied upon by the Chinese government.
However, it is rare to see concerns being spoken about the possible health effects of introducing a 5G-network, which is necessary in order to create the ability for the 'Internet of Things' (IoT).
What is 5G?
5G, also known as 5th generation mobile networks or wireless systems, is considered the next phase in mobile technology. These wireless systems are the transmitters that carry signals to our cell phones and other wireless devices.
While the public isn’t operating on 5G yet, it’s anticipated that over the next decade, most wireless carriers will shift to 5G technology. This transition is expected to bring better coverage, lower battery consumption, faster Internet connection speeds, and the ability to support a growing market of products other than phones and tablets that feature wireless integration.
What is the Internet of Things?IOT is the extension of Internet connectivity into physical devices and everyday objects. Embedded with electronics, internet connectivity, and sensors, these devices can communicate and interact with others over the Internet, and they can be remotely monitored and controlled.
IoT technology is most synonymous with products pertaining to the concept of the "smart home", covering devices and appliances (such as lighting fixtures, thermostats, home security systems and cameras, and other home appliances) that support one or more common ecosystems, and can be controlled via devices associated with that ecosystem, such as smartphones and smart speakers.
The concept of a network of smart devices was discussed as early as 1982, with a modified Coke vending machine at an American university became the first Internet-connected appliance,able to report its inventory and whether newly loaded drinks were cold or not.
A growing portion of IoT devices are created for consumer use, including connected vehicles, home automation, wearable technology (smart watches), connected health, and appliances with remote monitoring capabilities.
IoT devices are a part of the larger concept of home automation, which can include lighting, heating and air conditioning, media and security systems. Long-term benefits could include energy savings by automatically ensuring lights and electronics are turned off.
One key application of a smart home is to provide assistance for those with disabilities and elderly individuals. These home systems use assistive technology to accommodate an owner's specific disabilities.
For example, sensors may monitor falls or seizures, so users may reside in their own home for longer with more freedom and a higher quality of life.
The Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) is an application of the IoT for medical and health related purposes, data collection and analysis for research, and monitoring.
IoT devices can be used to enable remote health monitoring and emergency notification systems. These health monitoring devices can range from blood pressure and heart rate monitors to advanced devices capable of monitoring specialized implants, such as pacemakers, smart watches, or advanced hearing aids.
The Internet of things offers immense potential for empowering citizens, and broadening information access. However, the privacy threats are enormous, as is the potential for social control and political manipulation.
These immense powers over data in the hands of corporations seeking financial advantage and governments craving ever more control creates the chance this power will be used. Chances are big data and the Internet of things will make it harder for us to control our own lives, as we grow increasingly transparent to powerful corporations and government institutions that are becoming more opaque to us.
This has already led to a major uproar in both the United Kingdom and the Netherlands regarding the use of 'smart meters' to monitor use of electricity in our homes.
More on this topic can be found in this report on societal impacts of IoT technology :
A challenge for producers of IoT applications is to clean, process and interpret the vast amount of data which is gathered by the sensors.
Another challenge is the storage of this bulk data. Depending on the application, there could be high data acquisition requirements, which in turn lead to high storage requirements. Currently the Internet is already responsible for 5% of the total energy generated.
Environmental sustainability impact
Modern electronics are replete with a wide variety of heavy metals and rare-earth metals, as well as highly toxic synthetic chemicals. This makes them extremely difficult to properly recycle. Electronic components are often incinerated or placed in regular landfills. Furthermore, the human and environmental cost of mining the rare-earth metals that are integral to modern electronic components continues to grow. This leads to societal questions concerning the environmental impacts of IoT devices over its lifetime.
Security is the biggest concern in adopting IoT-technology. In particular, as the Internet of things spreads widely, cyber attacks are likely to become an increasingly physical (rather than simply virtual) threat.
The current IoT space comes with numerous security vulnerabilities. These vulnerabilities include weak authentication and unencrypted messages sent between devices.
Many Internet-connected appliances can already "spy on people in their own homes" including televisions, kitchen appliances, cameras, and thermostats.
Security researchers and hackers already demonstrated the ability to remotely control pacemakers without authority, or use remote control of insulin pumps and implantable defibrillators.
Many of these IoT devices have severe operational limitations on their physical size, which make them unable to directly use basic security measures such as implementing firewalls or using strong cryptosystems to encrypt their communications with other devices.
As a result, consumers increasingly perceive privacy risks and security concerns to outweigh the value propositions of IoT devices and opt to postpone planned purchases or service subscriptions.
Health concerns of 5G
As 5G still needs to be rolled out, we aren’t quite sure of 5G health effects, also because we don't know yet how electromagnetic radiation involved with current forms of wireless technology are impacting human health.
What we do know is that moving to 5G technology will bring a surge of cell phone transmitting towers and more wireless devices, including more wireless-enabled vehicles that we spend a lot of time in and appliances around the home. Shifting to 5G will help support an explosion in wireless products, meaning we’re going to be facing major increases in exposure.
While the industry contends this is all safe, the preliminary results of a huge 2016 American toxicology study suggest otherwise. Scientists found a link between cell phone radiation and cancer.
Keep in mind researchers found the increased risk at radiation exposure levels similar to what’s deemed safe by the U.S. government. In the rat study, the cell phone radiation raised levels of brain cancer and a rare heart tumor. Risk increased with higher radiation exposure.
Of course, there’s still a lot of research to be done before we can definitely say cell phone radiation causes cancer. But should we be guinea pigs in the meantime?
A 2018 study published in the journal Health Physics that the extremely fast bursts of data transfer on a device as the result of 5G technology may lead to the heating of skin tissue and in extreme cases even to permanent tissue damage in exposed people under current safety guidelines
A 2018 scientific article points out how the high frequency millimeter waves (MMW) that power 5G have been linked to significant health implications:
High frequency waves increase skin temperature, alter gene expression, promote cellular proliferation and synthesis of proteins linked with oxidative stress, inflammatory and metabolic processes, could generate ocular damages, affect neuromuscular dynamics.
For decades, we were told things like cigarette smoke, DDT, and other pesticides were safe, when we now know they’re linked to cancer and other health problems. So are we going to do it again — on a massive scale — with wireless without even properly studying human health impacts or considering possibly safer ways of doing things?
Wide-spread use of 5G would irradiate everyone, including the most vulnerable to harm from radiofrequency radiation: pregnant women, unborn children, young children, teenagers, men of reproductive age, the elderly, the disabled, and the chronically ill.
Unfortunately, there’s a strong history of rushing new products and technologies to the public without adequately safety testing. Yes, wireless technology is making our lives simpler in many ways. But we need to practice the precautionary principle when it comes to dealing with unknown 5G health effects even if you don't care about the privacy and security dangers.
If we’re seeing evidence of brain damage and other negative health effects, we need to pull back and do more research before unleashing this to the public. After all, you may have little control over whether you’ll live by a 5G tower or not.