Exposure to waves: the future 5G appears harmless to health

The measures noted by the National Frequency Agency are encouraging: they show that the public’s exposure to the waves of the future 5G band (26 GHz) should be very low.

These are encouraging first steps for the future of 5G. A campaign has been carried out on a key next band of ultra-broadband mobile, the arrival of which is not expected for a few years. This test reveals that the public’s exposure to waves in this band (26 GHz) is particularly low, which is positive in terms of health.

A new generation for mobile telephony, 5G uses several portions of the electromagnetic spectrum to transport information for a communication, for example between cell towers and smartphones. In France, three bands (700 MHz, 2.1 GHz and 3.5 GHz) are used, each having its own characteristics in terms of range, speed and penetration into buildings.

Other frequencies will eventually be used to transport 5G signals, starting with the 26 GHz band. However, this slice of the electromagnetic spectrum is atypical: it turns out to be very far from the other 5G bands, to such an extent that it is the only one which appears in a category called “millimeter waves” (this name is explained by the that the difference between two wave peaks is a few millimeters).

More energetic millimeter waves

This physical reality has consequences: electromagnetic radiations which have a shorter wavelength carry more energy than those which have lower frequencies, with a longer wavelength. This is why the 26 GHz band is very promising for improving speeds: as it has a very short length, it conveys more energy, faster.

The 26 GHz band will be the highest ever used for mobile telephony in the medium term. However, the particularities of this portion of the spectrum legitimately raise questions about human health, since it is by nature more energetic, because it radiates more intensely. The good news, however, is that public exposure to 26 GHz signals is expected to be very low.

This is indeed what emerges from a campaign of measurements carried out by the National Frequency Agency, an establishment attached to the Ministry of Industry, one of whose prerogatives is to verify that the levels observed do not exceed the regulatory thresholds, which are themselves established while leaving a safety margin in relation to the effects of radiation observed experimentally.

Identified 5G frequency bands // Source: ANFR

In the case of the 26 GHz band, the regulatory limit value is set at 61 volts per meter (V / m). It is based on the work of ICNIRP, the international commission for the protection against non-ionizing radiation. This international non-governmental organization brings together scientific experts. The thresholds were established in 1998 and can be revised if necessary.

However, the measurements obtained at the Rennes station – while experiments were underway between the operator Orange and the SNCF, which is very interested in this 5G for its activities – oscillate between 0.4 V / m to 3.2 V / m according to the test configurations, reports the National Frequency Agency. Thus, even for the highest value, it remains nineteen times lower than the limit value of 61 V / m.

In its report, the ANFR explains having carried out three scenarios: without traffic, with maximum and continuous traffic in a blocked antenna beam (increased case), and finally by causing the download of 1 GB files (case most realistic). From these three scenarios, it emerges that the beams of the 5G antenna in the 26 GHz band have in fact an extremely limited range.

This is indeed another physical characteristic of radiation: the shorter the wavelength, the less it carries. Conversely, the longer the wavelength (in light, if the frequency is low), the more it diffuses. This is why, for example, the 700 MHz band was nicknamed the golden band of 4G, because its frequency, lower than the others (1800 MHz, 2.1 GHz, 2.6 GHz), covers more distance.

As soon as you move a few meters away from the core of the beam, the contribution of 5G becomes negligible ยป, Says the ANFR. ” In the case of realistic use, the maximum exposure levels recorded do not exceed 1 V / m, which is of the order of the average exposure recorded in the context of the several thousand measurements carried out each year by ANFR on French territory “.

5G antennas
The 26 GHz frequencies are certainly very energetic, but they carry less. // Source: Melvyn Dadure for Numerama

A measurement campaign dedicated to 5G

These first results, well below the regulatory limits, are encouraging in anticipation of the future allocation of 26 GHz frequencies in France, which is due to take place at an as yet undetermined date. Work on this tape has been underway since 2019, but it is likely only around 2023 that it will become a topic for operators and, through them, for the public.

These measures are also relatively reassuring in the context of the debate on the effects of waves on human health. In April 2021, the National Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health Safety issued a general report on 5G, concluding that it had found no new health risks. She regretted all the same an insufficient scientific literature for this band.

Before the launch of 5G in France, exposure measurements were already carried out on the experimental sites and the conclusions showed very low public exposure. In general, the ANFR notes that the population is very little exposed. However, given the health concerns, an effort of transparency has been undertaken, and additional measures are taking place to better inform the public.

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