As the popular saying goes “the only constant in life is change”; we’re faced with having to adapt to different circumstances almost every day. And sometimes, a change can be so overwhelming that one doesn’t know how to respond to it. Take the ongoing lockdown for instance. Something of this magnitude on a global scale is probably the first time many of us have experienced. Yet, with time, we’ve managed to find a way around it. Admittedly not everyone, but we’ll get there. In the technology world, “5G” has been generating quite the buzz for a couple of years now – promising to change the way we live. Supposedly holding the advancement of many other industries in its palm, it is unarguably one of the most crucial feats of technological advancements lately; or so one would think. Before 5G even got a chance to shine, it’s being bombarded with conspiracy theories.
You see, while many of us are head over heels to witness 5G at its full potential, it is already receiving major setbacks due to some debate – and a rather stupid one at that. For reasons that have already been disproven, there’s still a cult of people around the world who believe 5G compromises the human immune system, can cause cancer, or that it is the source of COVID-19. These may be the same people wearing tinfoil hats who are convinced that the cloud of trails left by fast-moving aircraft – aka “chemtrails” is a government tool to control the weather, vaccinations can autism & are a technique to control people and other ridiculous conspiracy theories out there on the internet.
Rise of 5G conspiracy theories
Here, the most basic (or even lower) level of knowledge paired with cherry-picking of “enriching” facts and support from some people with a large fanbase has taken the anti-5G movement to where it is today. And you know what? That’s perfectly fine; you’re allowed to have opposing views. This is not anything new either.
Similar technologies like 2G, 3G, 4G, WiFi, etc. were also met with some similar contradictions.
However, things have taken a turn for worse this time around and there are even reports of those people getting hostile in a couple of countries.
From holding protest rallies and interrupting others’ daily life to burning down 5G cell towers, these anti-5G activists with their absurd conspiracy theories have had a direct impact on the distribution & the eventual growth of the next generation of cellular connectivity. Seeing how the situation has played out, we feel obligated to speak out against the 5G-hatred. Hence, this article. But before we begin, we’ll have to understand how wireless cellular network actually works including the predecessors of 5G. Don’t worry, I’ll keep it brief.
How does a cellular network work?
First of all, a cellular/mobile network is composed of multiple overlapping geographic areas arranged in a hexagonal structure, each with its own “base station” at the center. Such areas are called “cells”, which is a skeuomorphic naming convention, similar to how cells in a human body are shaped & their inter-connectedness. The reason these cells overlap is to ensure that a subscriber always remains within a range of any base station. And ultimately, it also facilitates radio coverage over a wide area.Moving on, the base stations are connected to one another and also to the main telephone network. They send out RF (Radio Frequency) signals informing smartphones of their presence in the network and are also capable of receiving them. The received signals are then re-transmitted from the base station to the appropriate cell on a national or a global scale. And that’s how the transmission of voice, data, etc. occurs over a wireless cellular network. Usually, a cell uses a different set of frequencies for transmitting & receiving signals in order to prevent interference with nearby cells.
Enter, wireless telephone technology!
Measured in megahertz (MHz) or gigahertz (GHz), a frequency spectrum refers to the range of electromagnetic radio frequencies used to transmit data packets through the air. And these are typically grouped in ranges called “bands”. The first generation of the wireless cellular network (or 1G) developed in the late 70s, encoded analog signals into frequency band, using 150MHz of UHF (Ultra High Frequency) waves.
Similarly, its successor, 2G went full-digital with services like text messages, images & MMS being digitally encrypted. This meant that now only the receiver & sender can read the data. 2G also introduced mobile data with a theoretical maximum transfer speed of 40kbit/s under GPRS & 384kbit/s under the EDGE system. It used the 450MHz frequency band (CDMA450) which still falls under the UHF waves of the electromagnetic spectrum.Likewise, 3G was really when the whole “generation” thing started. The cellular network technologies before this didn’t actually have the “generation” suffix to them. Anyway, 3G’s communication spectrum ranged between 400MHz and 3GHz, with most common deployments being 850, 900, 1900, and 2100MHz band. With its faster speed & increased bandwidth, the 3G network made video calls possible as well. In terms of speed, it can provide a data transfer rate of at least 144kbit/s, all the way to 56mbit/s (theoretical) under the HSPA+ system. 4G LTE, on the other hand, operated at additional frequency bands and spectrum around 600MHz, 700MHz, 1.7/2.1GHz, 2.3GHz, and 2.5GHz. Here, 4G LTE can achieve peak download & upload speed of 100 & 50mbit/s respectively.
5G and its traits
And now we have 5G. It is a direct result of the industry’s deadlock on increasing speed using the existing frequency bands. It promises far faster download speeds, reduced latency, and increased bandwidth.
For example, if 4G & previous generations of the cellular network are a one-way road with busy traffic, 5G is an 8-lane highway.
Passing vehicles can travel at great speeds, there is a substantially reduced possibility of a traffic-jam, and more vehicles can pass through at a time. Because of its sheer speed & other benefits, 5G is expected to be useful in areas beyond cellphones. For example; M2M (Machine to machine) communication for autonomous vehicles, IoT devices, and other sensitive industries like health, agriculture, stock market, etc.5G network operates on three categories of frequency band: low, mid, and high (also called mmWave). These vary in terms of speed and accessibility. Here, the low-band 5G is similar to 4G in the sense that it uses similar frequency bands like 600, 700, 800, and 900MHz. It is the slowest of the three but also has a comparatively wider coverage area. Mid-band (sub-6GHz) 5G uses frequency bands like 2.5/3.5/3.7/4.2GHz and can deliver speeds of up to 100 to 900mbit/s. Finally, high-band is the most exciting and also the controversial one of the bunch with an operational frequency between 25 and 39GHz. This marks the first time a cellular network has touched the Extremely High Frequency (EHF) designation of the electromagnetic spectrum, albeit on the lower end.
“The problem of being faster than light is that you can only live in darkness.”
Because of this, mmWave 5G can achieve insane download speeds of up to 1 to 3gbit/s. Unfortunately, it has a very limited per-cell-tower range of around 1 mile, and the signal is also highly susceptible to be blocked due to factors like rain attenuation, buildings, windows, or even your own hands if it’s blocking the antenna on your phone. So, companies have to install numerous “small cells,” which is basically a low-powered wireless transmitters & receivers to boost the 5G network coverage in small & densely populated areas. These are installed indoors, or outdoors on lamp posts, walls, electric poles, etc.
5G Conspiracy Theory #1: It is the source of COVID-19
And equipment like these are exactly what the anti-5G activists are burning down in different countries like England, Netherland, Belgium, Croatia, and the USA. Their point is that because high-band 5G uses high-frequency/high-energy waves, it may be somehow linked to COVID-19. That’s preposterous! The World Health Organization (WHO) has already confirmed that the virus is transmitted through respiratory droplets from an infected individual when they sneeze, cough, or speak. And it CANNOT travel through radio waves or any other waves in the electromagnetic spectrum. Case closed.
Also, it is quite hilarious to see how the conspiracy theorists connected the dot between 5G and COVID-19 as a “cause-and-effect” relationship based on the time of their inception. Though 5G had been around much longer and COVID had already spread to countries with zero 5G infrastructure; people are set on protesting a false cause.
5G Conspiracy Theory #2: It welcomes the dangers of radiation
Another area of concern pointed out is the amount of radiation from 5G signals. Simply put, radiation refers to the energy emitted in the form of electromagnetic waves (light) or particles (photons). Naturally, our mind has been, in a way, conditioned into think of radiation as something that causes an ungodly level of harm and destruction.
Madame Curie’s death, Chernobyl nuclear disaster, etc. have filled our hearts with terror. And an unpleasant image regarding radiation has been plastered into our brains.
However, there are two classifications of radiation based on their wavelength & energy-level. Ionizing, and non-ionizing radiation.
These have very short wavelength/high frequency and thus high energy. Such energy is sufficient to produce ions in the matter at a molecular level. What this means is that, when exposed to a human subject, ionizing radiation can cause significant damage; including but not limited to damage of DNA and denaturation of proteins. Gamma-ray, PET scan, X-ray, Airport security scanner, UV rays from the Sun are some sources of ionizing radiation.
Similarly, non-ionizing radiation has a much longer wavelength/low frequency and therefore lower energy. While not as harmful as the one above, it can still cause a certain level of damage when exposed in a concentrated volume. The effect of these radiations is mostly thermal, in the form of skin burns. These are emitted by everyday items like power lines, visible light, radiofrequency & microwave frequency (from cell phones), AM radio, infrared, etc. We live around them every day and here we are; no radiation poisoning, no brain damage, nothing.
All the scientific reports hinting any possible adverse health effects of 5G have proven to be false as well. As it stands, the agreement that the industry experts have reached based on all the researches & tests conducted is that 5G is safe for human health. Period.
Thankfully, 5G operates way down under the electromagnetic spectrum to be considered of any danger to human health. Its non-ionizing radiations are just not powerful enough. But I would like to reiterate that in order to do you any considerable level of harm, you would have to be exposed to a concentrated volume of radiation for a prolonged time. That is just not practical. And add this to the fact that high-band 5G can get blocked by practically everything; this conspiracy becomes an open-and-shut case as well.
5G Conspiracy Theory #3: Other health hazards
Additionally, the internet & social media have directly fueled the spread of anti-5G propaganda as there are little measures against the spread of false news. If you remember a couple of years back, there was a viral news article circulating around Facebook; it claimed that a 5G cellular network test led to the death of hundreds of birds in the Netherlands. Turns out, that’s a blatant lie.
Word gets around, more and more people believe in such fake news, and voilà; your cult is ready!
Most people have tendencies to take the headline of an article as-is and form a verdict on their mind; without giving so much as a second thought. That’s a dangerous practice and as I said earlier, social media are the perfect grounds for it to flourish. Unless you have electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS) like Chuck McGill (from AMC’s Better Call Saul); there is no reason to fear 5G.
Wrapping it all up!
So what can we learn from all this? First and foremost, 5G is not dangerous to human or animal health. It’s that plain and simple. There is absolutely zero health hazard it brings to humanity. 5G is the next step in cellular network technology; one which is of great importance to the development of countless other industries as well. It does have its flaws, but in no way should the public actively seek to destroy its unfulfilled legacy. Blindly believing in some random person’s hearsay, without doing your own research is no good.
Having said that, I’m not discouraging anyone from embracing an incompatible viewpoint. Yet, such conspiracy theories shouldn’t in any way, result in some sort of out-of-law activities that has a direct impact on the development of 5G infrastructure. It is still in its infancy. Imagine how much of a nuisance it would be for companies investing in the tech if people actively started revolting & being violent against it.