Last week someone sent me a WhatsApp link to an article by Avior Abu in the Calcalist. Quietly, under the cover of our political chaos, an interdepartmental committee is trying to overthrow the right of a municipality to decide where a cell phone antenna will be erected in its jurisdiction. Their reasons being that while we want our cellphone, we don’t want to see their base stations or antennas in our backyard, even as we complain about poor coverage and slow data speeds. In this age of Corona, improved coverage sounds a good thing …. or is it? Will such a power be abused at industry’s whim? During the early 2000 the cellphone companies in Israel routinely exploited a loophole in the law to place cellphone antennas inside apartments. It took a Knesset law to stop that and so one cannot rely on industry playing fair. It is a pertinent question because in the next few years industry is promising us a 5G revolution. And this revolution will demand a massive deployment of antenna infrastructure. And that sort of power is easily abused. All in the name of “progress” so that nothing will stop the deployment of 5G networks here is Israel.
And why the need for such a drastic step to be taken by this committee? Because there is already public opposition to 5G cellular networks and it is increasing difficult to receive municipal planning permission for cellphone towers. The reasons for public concern range from the frankly ridiculous conspiracy theories to a genuine worry about the effect of cellphone radiation on our health.
So, should we be worried about this? Well frankly yes. There are some very real health concerns linked to our love of cellphones and they are being roundly ignored in the mad dash for a Brave New Cellular World.
I am a physicist who specializes in the interaction of matter with radio waves and I have been in this field for more than 20 years. In particular I have studied the interaction of biological systems from cells up to tissues with radio waves and that puts me in a unique position to pick apart the consequences of our love of cellphone communication. I have also come to realize that this story is not just one of pure science, but also one of technological arrogance, economics and social science. I write like a scientist, so there are references at the end of this missive for anyone who wants to know more.
The mobile and cellular industry is full of the promise of a Brave New 5G World, where wireless serves man and machines talk to each other for our comfort. While technological utopia makes for slick marketing, few question if it is really a boon to the public or a financial boon to the industry. The are some topics that need to be assessed in the cold light of fact, rather than marketing hype:
- Does 5G answer the Public need?
- Is 5G “Green”, i.e. Environmentally sound?
- Is 5G safe for the Public health?
Does 5G answer the Public need?
We, as a public, will all eventually transfer to 5G networks because we will not be given a choice if we want to stay relevant. Yet nobody seems to ask if this is what we want or need? As a public we are being treated as infantile by an industry that is dictating to us what we “want”. A simple internet search looking for information on 5G or cellphones for that matter, reveals very fast that the top search results come from industry sources that lecture to the consumer on the benefits only. However, the insurance and business intelligence websites are more phlegmatic:
- A Price Waterhouse consumer report in 2018  found that the average American household wants better connectivity in the home and didn’t find that 5G is an immediate need. Two thirds of the respondents were not willing to pay extra for 5G coverage and, for the consumer, coverage was the key: something more easily obtainable by 4G LTE expansion.
- A Global Web Index survey  in 2020 found that reliability and speed are of most concern to the consumer and so -at least for now – household broadband is the better option. It also found that consumers are greatly concerned at the increase in price of cellphones for compatibility with 5G, with price hikes of up to 40%. The implementation of 5G networks will cost over $1.3 trillion in the States alone over the next 7 years.
- The magazine ‘Politico’ conducted a similar survey  and here too, the consumer is concerned with connectivity rather than the promise of IoT (Internet of Things) applications.
So does 5G deliver the 100x download speeds it promotes?
- According to the Washington Post , 5G is still painfully slow, despite the hype. Slower than 4G networks….
- In a technical report submitted in 2017 by the NTCA to the Federal Communication Commission (FCC)  , the American regulator, the reality of wireless was put in stark light. It can never compete with broadband wired access. The complexity of a 5G MIMO wireless cell design is such that it will be resource intensive for only a fractional improvement. The boasts of 100x faster downloads are a myth. Moreover, its infrastructure depreciation and densification point to it being a labour intensive and very expensive network to maintain.
- Forbes found that real world 5G speed in the US are far lower than expected .
- The Chinese experience is showing that the real world 5G networks are not living up to their promise 
- An assessment in the Netherlands of 5G performance compared to LTE networks found only a 40% increase in performance 
- 5G networks are easily disrupted by user position, rainfall and topology. [5,6,8]
Despite industry claims, it is clear that 5G does not deliver and in many areas it make no economic sense. Enhanced broadband and a continual evolution of 4G LTE cells would most likely serve the public better.
Is 5G “Green”, i.e. Environmentally sound?
At the moment the only fully operational 5G is in China and they are not happy.
The Chinese experience with 5G densification and energy cost is not positive. The Chinese finance minister, Lou Jiwei, has expressed public concerns. 5G base stations in Luoyang province have be switched off at night to save money [7,9]. In 2020 there were significant increases in energy costs with an increase of 13% for China’s mobile utilities . Estimates for the increases in power consumption range from a two to three fold increase to nine times increases [9,10]. Coupled to the expected densification of the infrastructure, linked to the relatively small cell size for 5G compared to 4G  , it is clear that 5G in not a green technology. Its increased energy consumption will lead to increased emissions and a clear environmental impact.
There are very real concerns for the effect of 5G on wildlife and tree life [11–13], especially bees [14,15]. Simulation and real measurement show that the dimensions of these important insects coupled with the wavelength of the radio waves used by 5G will lead to heightened absorption in the insect body. The result of this will be to raise their body temperatures to a point where their vitality will be compromised. The resulting impact on agriculture cannot be underestimated. Yet it is not a concern for the FCC or industry. This represents an example of how blithely our environmental is viewed by industry. With the backing of the regulator, they dismiss any impact as “not their problem”.
Is 5G safe for the public health?
There is a premise underlying the regulation that governs the level of exposure of the public to electromagnetic radiation emanating from wireless, cellphones and their infrastructure. It is based on a belief that there are only thermal effects to consider, i.e. local and minor heating of the flesh. I choose the word ‘belief’ with care. A belief can ignore the facts that might negate it. The regulations governing the level of exposure to low intensity RF radiation (300 Hz – 3 GHz and soon to be extended to 3 THz [16,17]) are derived from the recommendations of the the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) , first established in 1996 and virtually unchanged since. This opinion was adopted as regulation by the FCC in America in 1997  then accepted by the rest of the world. However, a growing body of research negates this premise and demonstrates long term impacts on public health arise from exposure. Industry and regulation, including the FCC, prefer the “belief”.
According to the industry and private sector supported extensive database of relevant literature, provided by the EMF-Portal , there is currently an inventory of 31,195 publications and 6,724 summaries of individual scientific studies on the effects of electromagnetic fields. A recent research review on the health risks of Radio Frequency Radiation (RFR), involving independent verification based on 5,400 studies in the MedLine database, concludes that “the literature shows there is much valid reason for concern about potential adverse health effects from both 4G and 5G technology” and that extant research “should be viewed as extremely conservative, substantially underestimating the adverse impacts of this new technology” .
Not the rosy picture we are being painted by the Cellphone Industry or the Ministry of Communications……
- PricewaterhouseCoopers. Consumer Intelligence Series: The promise of 5G: Consumers are intrigued, but will they pay? PwC https://www.pwc.com/us/en/services/consulting/library/consumer-intelligence-series/promise-5g.html.
- Hype aside, what do people actually think about 5G? GWI https://blog.globalwebindex.com/chart-of-the-week/5g-adoption-and-perception/ (2020).
- The 5G World: What People Care About. POLITICO https://www.politico.com/news/agenda/2020/02/25/poll-5g-what-do-people-really-want-110831.
- Fowler, G. A. Review | The 5G lie: The network of the future is still slow. Washington Post.
- 02.13.17 NTCA Submits 2017 Technical Paper, WC 10-90. NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association https://www.ntca.org/ruraliscool/newsroom/filings/ex-parte/021317-ntca-submits-2017-technical-paper-wc-10-90.
- O’Donnell, B. Real-World 5G Speeds Are Slower Than Expected. Forbes https://www.forbes.com/sites/bobodonnell/2019/11/22/real-world-5g-speeds/.
- Chinese 5G Not Living Up to Its Hype | Voice of America – English. https://www.voanews.com/east-asia-pacific/voa-news-china/chinese-5g-not-living-its-hype.
- Oughton, E., Frias, Z., van der Gaast, S. & Berg, R. Assessing the capacity, coverage and cost of 5G infrastructure strategies: Analysis of The Netherlands. Telematics and Informatics (2019) doi:10.1016/j.tele.2019.01.003.
- Clark 11/3/2020, N. A. R. China aims to drive down 5G power cost. Light Reading https://www.lightreading.com/asia/china-aims-to-drive-down-5g-power-cost/d/d-id/765140.
- DayDayNews. At this stage 5G technology is immature and high operating costs. https://daydaynews.cc/en/technology/860327.html (2020).
- Balmori, A. Electromagnetic pollution from phone masts. Effects on wildlife. Pathophysiology 16, 191–199 (2009).
- Waldmann-Selsam, C., Balmori-de la Puente, A., Breunig, H. & Balmori, A. Radiofrequency radiation injures trees around mobile phone base stations. Sci. Total Environ. 572, 554–569 (2016).
- Iyyanki, M., Jayanthi, P., Singh, D., Tumula, S. & Megham, P. Poisson and Logistics Regression Analysis on Electromagnetic Field Radiation: A Case of Environmental Pollution. in 1250–1255 (2020). doi:10.1109/ICCSP48568.2020.9182393.
- Thielens, A. et al. Exposure of Insects to Radio-Frequency Electromagnetic Fields from 2 to 120 GHz. Scientific Reports 8, 3924 (2018).
- Thielens, A., Greco, M. K., Verloock, L., Martens, L. & Joseph, W. Radio-Frequency Electromagnetic Field Exposure of Western Honey Bees. Scientific Reports 10, 461 (2020).
- FCC Maintains Current RF Exposure Safety Standards. Federal Communications Commission https://www.fcc.gov/document/fcc-maintains-current-rf-exposure-safety-standards (2019).
- Proposed Changes in the Commission’s Rules Regarding Human Exposure to Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields; Reassessment of Federal Communications Commission Radiofrequency Exposure Limits and Policies. FCC-19-126A1 (2019).
- Wireless Devices and Health Concerns. Federal Communications Commission https://www.fcc.gov/consumers/guides/wireless-devices-and-health-concerns (2011).
- Russell, C. L. 5 G wireless telecommunications expansion: Public health and environmental implications. Environmental Research 165, 484–495 (2018).
- EMF-Portal | Home. https://www.emf-portal.org/en.
- Kostoff, R. N., Heroux, P., Aschner, M. & Tsatsakis, A. Adverse health effects of 5G mobile networking technology under real-life conditions. Toxicology Letters 323, 35–40 (2020).
Joel M. Moskowitz, Ph.D., Director
Center for Family and Community Health
School of Public Health
University of California, Berkeley
Electromagnetic Radiation Safety