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Is 5G safe to use?

Yes. Just like any other existing mobile technology, or things in everyday use like TVs, home WiFi routers, hairdryers, radios or microwave ovens, 5G is covered by international and national exposure guidelines and regulations.

There has been scientific research on mobile frequencies for decades, including those used by 5G. As long as exposure is within national guidelines, the consensus is that there’s no adverse impact on health.

Vodafone’s masts fully comply with national guidelines, and we continually monitor and evaluate to make sure we meet all regulations. In addition, all the phones we sell are rigorously tested to ensure they comply with international safety guidelines.

Most countries set their national regulations based on international guidelines from the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP).

ICNIRP’s guidelines are based on reviewing thousands of separate pieces of scientific research, and apply in the same way to 5G as they do to existing 2G, 3G and 4G technologies – and other radio frequencies used by radio and TV.

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 radio frequencies 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.”

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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.

The European Commission published a statement on their Fighting Disinformation pages, ‘There is no connection between 5G and COVID-19. The Coronavirus is a virus that is spread from one person to another through droplets that people sneeze, cough or exhale. 5G is the new generation of mobile network technology that is transmitted over non-ionising radio waves. There is no evidence that 5G is harmful to people’s health.’

WHO myth busters on Covid-19

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

Read more about Health: the science and evidence

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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.

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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, radiofrequency 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’.

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The word radiation is sometimes associated with illness and cancer, but the emissions from mobile phone technology, including 5G frequencies, are not strong enough to do any damage to humans.

Mobile phones transmit signals using a frequency range that is ‘non-ionising’ – at the low end of the electromagnetic spectrum and carrying less energy. At its worst, non-ionising radiation can cause cells to vibrate - which can be experienced as heat. It doesn’t change the structure of cells or cause lasting damage, unlike exposure to ‘ionising’ radiation including ultraviolet light, X-rays and gamma rays.

In any event, mobile operators fully comply with the ICNIRP guidelines or national equivalents to ensure there is no adverse impact on the health of those using mobile phones or living in communities where base stations or masts are located. Measurements have shown that the total exposure from mobile phones or antennas is significantly below the limits set by ICNIRP and accordingly represents no harm to human health.

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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.

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Some articles have been written about 5G needing much higher radio frequencies and requiring many more masts than current 4G technology.

These articles are referring to millimetre wave (mmWave) technology, which uses frequencies between 24 - 60 GHz. None of Vodafone’s current 5G services use mmWave and we are unlikely to ever use it widely. When we or other operators deploy it, we would still have to ensure that we complied with the international guidelines set by the ICNIRP.

Because the frequencies used for 5G are close to current 4G frequencies, in almost every case mobile operators can upgrade or replace the antennas and use existing masts for both services.

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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.

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European Commission (2019)

“The strict and safe exposure limits for electromagnetic fields recommended at EU level apply for all frequency bands currently envisaged for 5G” (European Commission, 2019)

United Kingdom: Public Health England (October 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.”

Germany: Federal Office for Radiation Protection (August 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: Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (January 2019)

“In the light of current information, exposure to radiofrequency 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 radiofrequency radiation, the new base stations do not differ significantly from the base stations of existing mobile communication technologies (2G, 3G, 4G).”

USA: Federal Communication Commission (FCC) December 2019

“Despite requests from some to increase and others to decrease the existing limits, we believe they reflect the best available information concerning safe levels of RF exposure for workers and members of the general public, including inputs from our sister federal agencies charged with regulating safety and health and from well-established international standards”

Australia: Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (March 2019)

“At exposure levels below the limits set within the ARPANSA safety standard, it is the assessment of ARPANSA and international organisations such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation (ICNIRP) that there is no established scientific evidence to support any adverse health effects from very low RF EME [radiofrequency electromagnetic energy) exposures to populations or individuals.”

“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.”

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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.

“The ICNIRP RF EMF guidelines have taken the above considerations into account and protect against all potential adverse health effects relating to exposure to RF EMFs from 5G technologies. This includes potential differences in the effect of RF EMFs as a function of age, health status, and depth of penetration, the effect of both acute and chronic exposures, and it includes all substantiated effects regardless of mechanism”

ICNIRP 5G information

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diagram from GSMA

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

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

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