Does my head look big in this tin foil hat?


When it comes to talking about 5G, the conversation’s previously been presented as having two camps; the kooks wearing tin foil hats and the rest us.

Mobile phone and WiFi technology has developed at a phenomenal rate and we’re reaping the benefits. Few would even know where to plug an ethernet cable into their computer, let alone remember the days of the dial up tone. Fax is long dead, instead I’m able to send text, images and videos at the drop of a hat – and add bunny ear filters if I so chose.

But what’s been shouted from the fringes along the way is a call to question the physical effects that this technology might be heralding. This call has become louder, and more mainstream with the advent of 5G. And I’ll add my voice to it, because when it comes to 5G, I’m tempted to pop my tin foil kook hat on too.

What is 5G?

5G describes the 5th generation of mobile technology, it will run concurrently with 4G which superseded 1-3G. Each new generation primarily brings advancements in speed, which supports progresses in the technology we carry in our pockets. Without 4G, video streaming, image sharing and our day-to-day phone uses would be prohibitively slow. 5G is set to be so mind-blowing fast that a film can be downloaded in mere seconds. It’ll support “the internet of things” that our hyper-connected worlds are pitched to eventually become.

According to Telstra, 5G will be like nothing you’ve ever experienced before.

Streaming will be fast (real fast), latency will be reduced, providing almost instant response time and capacity will be flawless. With 5G it’ll be possible to download and instantly interact with whatever people in 2020 download (holograms maybe?) in a sea of people, all also doing the same thing.

If you’re curious about it watch this video Telstra have produced.

These vast improvements are the result of higher-frequency bandwidths; unlike 4G which relies on signals broadcast in all directions from a central tower, 5G relies on many, close towers, using direct signal and device-device communication. It’s this direct signal and higher radiofrequency that’s the main worry among 5G skeptics.

Why? Well, because previous generations relied on low frequency signals beamed from central towers. This radio-frequency dissipated exponentially with distance from the tower. 5G relies on towers in close proximity to mobile phone users and will be operating between 24GHz and 90GHz. 4G currently uses 1-6GHz. This use of higher gigahertz is especially worrying as the use of similar technology has been developed by the U.S military as a weapon for crowd control; 95GHz signal is applied to cause discomfort and a burning sensation in skin.

Note: GHz refers to a unit of measure for the alternating current or electromagnetic wave frequencies equal to one billion Hertz.

So, should people be nervous?

According to the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection, no. But leading researchers suggest otherwise. Part of the issue in informing an educated opinion is the lack of supporting scientific research for either argument. Early research, in 2011 confirmed an increased risk for glioma and acoustic neuroma cancers in humans as a result of exposure to radio-frequency radiation. This informed WHO’s classification of radio-frequency (RF) radiation as “possibly carcinogenic”, but researchers are now campaigning to adopt the classification of “probably carcinogenic”.

Much of the research undertaken for this blog pointed to various studies that had confirmed a correlation between cancer in humans and proximity to cell phone towers – indicating probable if not certain carcinogenic effects of RF radiation exposure. However, finding and citing these studies was a different matter. This topic really seems to be an area of confusion for the general public and scientists alike. Finding a reputable source is hard.

Studies on animals have proved more definitive, with scientists concluding that RF radiation definitively caused the development of tumors in rodents. Further links have been made to RF radiation resulting in DNA damage, affecting fetuses and sterility in men (see link).

And the tin foil hat?

Not scientifically advised. In writing about this topic, I worry that the science really isn’t mature enough to draw cemented conclusions, in part perhaps because this conversation has previously been pushed into the fridge: to question 5G and WiFi technology had you labeled as a kook. I’d argue the stereotype of the tin foil hat needs to retired and that research should be informing the technology, not the other way around.

A hard fact is that these systems haven’t been tested on human populations over long periods of time, but if the result on rodents are anything to go by we should be wary. I’ll be honest, I am nervous. What concerns me is the lack of research on the effects of this radiation we will soon constantly be exposed to. And at the cost of what? Being able to download a movie in under 5 seconds. I’d sooner choose healthy DNA.

If you’re interested in learning more check out these links…


10 Responses to “Does my head look big in this tin foil hat?”

  1. coatesa says:

    Thanks for your reply Aimen! This blog was calling to question the fact that long term studies haven’t (and can’t be) conducted just yet as the technology is so new so that in part informs why people are concerned. I think that researchers will be looking into the effects but that can only come after 5G has been widely implemented.

  2. coatesa says:

    Thanks Liuyup, I agree – with a bit more information perhaps the public could be part of making this decision

  3. coatesa says:

    Thanks for your response Kaih! Your insights on the topic are very appreciated, reading your comments on directional transmissions and power usage add a very valid contribution to a complicated conversation

  4. Kaih Mitchell says:

    Concerns about the higher frequencies used in 5G are nothing new. 4G and WiFi that operate in the 1-6GHz range are also pretty terrifying. While this frequency range is radio frequency, it also has another name: microwave frequency. The radiation emitted by your phone is the same as you use to cook your food. The reason you can’t cook popcorn with a smartphone is power. A microwave oven uses about 1 million times more power than a phone call.
    One interesting benefit of 5G is that it is directional. This means far less total power is emitted for a single transmission than if the radiation was in all directions like 4G. If we’re going to bathe people in radiation, it’s better to only do it in the directions that are needed. This is also good for electricity bills as the energy cost of communication is only going to increase, putting more strain on our power production.

  5. liuyup says:

    I had never considered that 5G technology will bring potentially negative impacts on human health. Actually, I think everyone is desiring 5G providing an extraordinary web service. Maybe those communication companies should give the public more information about what potential hazard will be brought by 5G.

  6. jellis1 says:

    I reckon I would sooner choose healthier DNA as well – we are far too reliant on these little electronic devices residing in our pockets and on our desks. There are some areas that I’m not sure we really need progress in, especially at the cost of so many other important things! Great read.

  7. rursino says:

    I never knew about the adverse impacts 5G could have. It looks really exciting to use though, so I’d hope that there could be a way to enjoy the benefits without these possibly harming effects.

  8. Nikolas Leander Putra says:

    Very interesting reading! Its very cool yet daunting to see how the innovation of 5G can come with high benefits but also consequences. There are some words that I don’t quite get when I was reading such as carcinogenic (maybe you can explain it?). There is also some repetition of explanation on 4G and 5G in the paragraph “Why?” and the one before it. Other than that, I find your blog very engaging.

  9. Daniel Fry says:

    This topic is really interesting. I don’t often hear people questioning technology advancements like 5G, so it’s really cool to learn about it from another point of view

  10. Aimen Ksiksi says:

    What a great read! It really is an intriguing concept. Will 5G cause problems to us in the long run? The part that got me was that the U.S military use 95 GHz for crowd control while 5G can operate at up to 90GHz.

    Do you think telecommunication companies or even governments would look into the long term effects of 5G? I personally think the future looks grim in this aspect. But hey, we get to download a movie in 5 seconds. That’s all I need in life!!

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