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Is 5G safe to use?

What frequencies are used for 5G – what protection is in place?

5G frequencies are covered by existing international and national exposure guidelines and regulations for radio-frequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF).  These international guidelines are based on extensive reviews of published scientific research spanning many decades.  And the guidelines  apply in the same way to 5G as they do to existing 2G, 3G and 4G technologies and other radio frequencies such as radio and TV transmissions.

In March 2020, following an extensive review of the best science currently available, the independent body ICNIRP updated the international safety guidelines that provide protection from exposure to EMF from mobile devices and networks.  

Although ICNIRP made several minor adjustments to its 1998 guidelines, the review confirmed that there are no adverse effects on human health from radiofrequencies used by mobile technologies, including 5G, if exposure is below these guidelines.

The World Health Organization says “A large number of studies have been performed over the last two decades to assess whether mobile phones pose a potential health risk. To date, no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use.”

COVID- 19

There is no credible scientific evidence linking 5G or mobile technologies to the spread of Coronavirus.

The international standards body ICNIRP considers all potential impacts on human health relating to mobile phone frequencies including 5G.  Following an extensive review of the best science currently available, in March 2020 ICNIRP confirmed that there are no adverse effects on human health from 5G frequencies if exposure is within their guidelines.

WHO myth busters on Covid-19

Is Vodafone confident that 5G is safe to use?

Vodafone takes the safety of our customers, the public and the environment very seriously.  We comply with national regulations in all markets, and will continue to do so across the range of new 5G devices and new radio masts.

5G and other frequencies have been the subject of research for a number of years.  The consistent conclusion of public health agencies and expert groups is that compliance with the international guidelines is protective for all persons (including children) against all established health risks.

Which frequencies are used for 5G deployment?

5G can use spectrum within three key frequency ranges:

  • Below 1 GHz: to support widespread coverage across urban, suburban and rural areas.

  • 1-10 GHz:  for a mixture of coverage and capacity.  New spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band will be used for 5G services.

  • Above 10 GHz:  For ultra-high speed 5G services, typically using ‘small cells’.

Some of these bands are at similar frequencies to existing mobile technologies already in use today, such as 4G.  This also means that with a small antenna upgrade, or addition where required, mobile operators will be able to use the same masts currently providing 4G services for 5G as well.

What is ‘millimeter wave’ and will this be used for 5G?

Millimeter wave (mmWave) frequencies are typically in the 24-86 GHz range, and today are used for satellite and point-to-point radio links.  They can also be used for providing very fast links as part of the network deployments in specific locations such as busy urban areas, stadiums and airports.

At these frequencies, radio frequency energy is absorbed superficially by the body, mostly by the skin.  The biological effects of these frequencies have been the subject of several studies and more are underway using millimetre wave exposures.

The international guidelines extend to 300 GHz and in a recent statement the European Commission said ‘The strict and safe exposure limits for electromagnetic fields recommended at EU level apply for all frequency bands currently envisaged for 5G’.

Do the ICNIRP standards cover 5G frequencies and mmWave?

Yes.  ICNIRP’s current international guidelines are applicable to 5G frequencies.  ICNIRP’s exposure guidelines cover frequencies from 100 kHz – 300 GHz.  There are also international standards for the compliance assessment of 5G networks antennas and devices, which include new approaches for smart antennas and the use of new frequency ranges.

Do 5G antennas or masts expose me to more RF compared with 2G, 3G or 4G?

With the addition of 5G transmitters, the total exposure to radio waves will remain very low relative to the international exposure limits.  There may be a small localised increase when 5G is added to an existing site or when coverage is provided in a new area, however, all mobile technologies, including 5G, are designed to minimise power and with it exposure to radio waves.

Will 5G handsets need more power and put me at increased risk?

5G handsets, as they become available,  comply with stringent testing standards that cover all the frequencies they can operate at, and at their maximum power.

What are ‘small cells’?

Small cells are a type of base station with very low power antennas designed to service a small coverage area with high network traffic, such as bus shelters, train stations and shopping malls.

Measurements on 4G small cells by the French spectrum agency found that levels in nearby areas remained well below the international safety guidelines

Do small cells have warnings on them so I know where they are?

Small cells are fully compliant with exposure guidelines at all distances so there is no requirement to label them.

Will 5G need a mast every 20 metres because of the higher frequencies?

No.  We are always looking to make the most efficient use of masts and infrastructure, so wherever possible we look to upgrade existing sites with new antennas first. 

Are 5G antennas or masts bigger than those used for 3G / 4G?

No, they are approximately the same size as existing antennas, although some of them look slightly different.  Where possible, we will add 5G antennas to existing 3G /4G sites or in some case may replace existing 3G or 4G antennas.  In a small number of cases, the mast itself may need to be upgraded.

Can I object to the installation of masts 5G near my home?

New 5G masts are subject to the same planning requirements and permissions as current masts

Health: the science and evidence

What do safety authorities say about 5G?

European Union

‘The strict and safe exposure limits for electromagnetic fields recommended at EU level apply for all frequency bands currently envisaged for 5G’ (European Commission, 2017)

Australia

‘Although the 5G mobile phone network is new, limits set in safety standards, our understanding of the evidence of health effects and the need for more research have not changed.’ (ARPANSA, 2019)

Germany: BfS, the Federal Office for Radiation Protection, (30/08/2018):

  • ‘If the limit values are adhered to, no health-relevant effects are to be expected according to the current scientific knowledge. However, with regard to the 5G planned use of additional frequency bands in the centi- and millimeter wavelength range, only a few results of the investigation are available. Here the BfS sees still need for research.’

  • BfS also repeats its existing recommendations for ‘prudent’ use of wireless devices including choosing a low SAR phone.

Finland: STUK, the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority, (08/01/2019):

  • ‘In the light of current information, exposure to radio frequency radiation from base stations will not rise to a significant level with the introduction of the 5G network. From the point of view of exposure to radio frequency radiation, the new base stations do not differ significantly from the base stations of existing mobile communication technologies (2G, 3G, 4G).’

Norway: DSA, the Norwegian Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority, (11/01/2019):

  • ‘The overall research shows that the radiation from wireless technology is not hazardous to health, as long as the levels are below the recommended limit values. This is the prevailing view among researchers in many countries today, and it is supported by the EU Scientific Committee. We have used cell phones and radio transmitters for decades and much research has been done on how this affects our health. Risk factors of importance to public health have not been found. With the knowledge we have today, there is no need to worry that 5G is hazardous to health.’

United Kingdom: Public Health England, 5G technologies: radio waves and health (3/10/2019)

  • ‘It is possible that there may be a small increase in overall exposure to radio waves when 5G is added to an existing network or in a new area. However, the overall exposure is expected to remain low relative to guidelines and, as such, there should be no consequences for public health.
    PHE is committed to monitoring the evidence applicable to this and other radio technologies, and to revising its advice, should that be necessary.'

Has Vodafone or the mobile industry conducted its own research?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) sets priority areas for research, which is carried out by international, national and regional research programmes.  Vodafone does not carry out its own scientific research into EMF, although we do test and measure the compliance levels of antennas.

Why do some countries have limits up to ten times lower than those of ICNIRP?

Many national governments have produced regulations in line with the ICNIRP guidelines, and introduced regular monitoring.  In some countries, such as India, stricter regulations than the ICNIRP guidelines have been implemented, in response to public pressure.    We comply with all national regulations, and where there are no regulations we comply with international science-based guidelines from ICNIRP.