Written by Kasper Baggerman, City Affairs Editor
“5G is the successor to 4G, and it is the latest generation of mobile telecommunications,” explains Sander van der Zande, Technology Strategy Manager at VodafoneZiggo. “With 5G, you can achieve higher speeds, and it has a very short response time.”
He thinks it is good to know about the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP). Universities, telecommunication companies, and governments work together on standards for mobile telecommunication. Van der Zande: “Once every ten years, they come up with a whole set of new agreements in order to develop a new generation for mobile communication. Think of the different generations that have developed in the last decades: 2G, 3G, 4G, and now 5G. Since the technology is internationally standardized, the great thing about it is that it works all over the world. It doesn’t matter who makes the networks or who makes the phones. Because of this standardization, it works worldwide.”
5G is simply the latest version of the standards. Van der Zande: “There are roughly three innovations compared to 4G. First of all, 3GPP thought about how to get much more bandwidth and speed into the network, and they succeeded. Much more data can pass through the network thanks to 5G. The second is the massive internet of things (IoT). That had already been used with 4G, but connecting physical elements to the internet really gets a boost with 5G. 5G is optimized for sensors so that they can still send data over the network with little energy consumption. For example, a parking lot can tell via a sensor whether it is available or not. “Sometimes those sensors are deep in the ground, for instance, in a basement. “That’s why the 5G network had to have very good coverage. That, too, is an optimization.”
According to Van der Zande, the third innovation is summarized as critical communications. “With 2G, 3G, and 4G, there is a certain capacity that the users divide among themselves. If the network is full, all users will be affected. But because it is so distributed, you cannot implement certain critical applications. Think of a connected ambulance where the hospital can see live how the patient is doing. When lives are at stake, you don’t want to be disconnected. A guaranteed connection and a guaranteed speed are then needed, which is a significant advantage of 5G.”
Latency is also included. “That’s the delay on the line. Suppose you drive a car from home via a network. Then it takes milliseconds before the signal comes back and forth, but that may be just too late if you encounter an oncoming car. With 5G, 3GPP has looked at how they can keep that delay as little as possible. So that you can just control a car or a drone from a distance.”
With 4G, a user could be happy if he reached 100 megabits per second (Mbps) of internet speed. Van der Zande: “That is quite a lot. For example, to watch a video on your mobile phone, you only need 5 Mpbs download speed. On average, on 4G, we achieve 70 to 80 Mpbs in our network. With 5G, and we are not even talking about the full potential of 5G with all frequency bands, we have already seen 2,000 Mpbs. The promise is that it can go up to 10,000 Mpbs. Many more users and devices will then be able to be connected to that network. “
The potential and possibility for massive IoT do not mean that everything is connected to everything once you use 5G. Van der Zande: “That is a misunderstanding around 5G. For example, a vehicle is connected to a vehicle management system. The lamppost with the lamppost control system. Only when the producers decide to work together to exchange signals can there be a connection between the two. Then they could arrange for information from the car to reach the lamppost. This exchange also makes it complicated to get applications off the ground. Everyone has his own interests, while the possibilities are great.”
5G works with three different spectrum bands. A low band, a middle, and a high. Each band has its own pros and cons, explains Van der Zande. For example, a low band has a long-range of about 20 kilometers, but little information can be transmitted. A high tire has a very high capacity but a short range of a few hundred meters.
A 5G network in the city uses all of these bands. In many cities, a mix of low and mid bands is now the norm. A number of low-frequency transmission points form the basic network. When it is busy, and there are many users, the mid bands’ extra capacity is used. The same antenna sites are used for the low and mid bands of 5G. New in 5G is the option to use high bands (26 GHz still to be auctioned), specifically in busy places where users need a very large capacity. Think of areas such as stations, squares, and football stadiums.
5G can therefore largely be done from existing antenna sites. Especially in very busy places, extra antennas will eventually be needed. In short, the realization of 5G in the city is not expected to have a major physical impact. Monet, the Dutch association of network operators, estimates that 10 percent extra antennas are needed for 5G. These antennas can be installed in small and inconspicuous boxes. This means that hardly any additional masts are required and that a large internet cabinet does not have to be installed on every street corner. The extra antennas are also highly concentrated around busy places in a city. The average city user does not notice it much.
There is a lot to understand around 5G and health. Is the latest generation of mobile telecommunications safe? Coherence between 5G frequencies and health damage has not been demonstrated and is unlikely, the Health Council states.
At the beginning of September 2020, the Health Council issued an advisory report on 5G and health (see https://bit.ly/5g-en- health). The Health Council is a Dutch independent scientific advisory body whose task is to advise the government and parliament on public health. Monique Beerlage, general secretary at the Electromagnetic Fields and Health Knowledge Platform: “They have previously issued recommendations on mobile telephony. It was found that the only scientifically proven effect is possible damage from overheating the body or body parts. The exposure limits are based on this, but as a precaution, the exposure limits are fifty times lower than the level at which health effects occurred in research. Below those limits, there is no evidence of health effects. We have known this since 2010. Subsequently, a lot of research has been done on this, but it has not produced scientific evidence. In addition, there are people who indicate that they develop health problems due to electromagnetic fields below the limits. However, it is not scientifically clear what the cause of these complaints is. Those complaints are about electromagnetic fields in general, not specifically about 5G.”
The Health Council is cautious with 5G, notes Beerlage. “At the request of the House of Representatives, they looked at the recent studies for each frequency band of 5G. The House of Representatives asked to investigate health risks. They couldn’t go that far in this time frame, they argued. The Health Council: “We can only indicate what comes from those investigations as potential damage.” In short, they collected all the investigations and made an initial selection. This is not yet a real risk assessment. The Health Council indicates that the World Health Organization is already working on this. The result is expected in 2022.”
According to the Health Council report, a relationship between mobile communication, including 5G, and health consequences has not been demonstrated and is not likely, but cannot be 100 percent ruled out for a number of diseases. The report writes: “However, for none of these and the other diseases and conditions studied, the Committee considers the relationship between exposure and the disease or condition to be proven or likely.”
Later in the report: “Because the lower frequency bands for 5G (up to 3.5 GHz) have been in use for telecom applications and WiFi for years without this having led to proven health damage, the committee sees no reason to stop or limit using these frequency bands. However, they do recommend monitoring exposure before, during, and after the rollout of the 5G systems.”
According to Beerlage, the Health Council’s advice also says: keep exposure as low as reasonably possible. “That has also been the practice for the current networks for years. In addition, telecom providers want to use their capacity as optimally as possible. “All in all, would it not be more sensible to wait with the rollout of 5G and specifically the 26 GHz, because not all health effects are clear yet? Beerlage: “We have exposure limits for 26 gigahertz based on heat effects. We know that all frequencies comparable to 26 gigahertz cause heat in and on the skin.”
The Health Council says: “We recommend using the latest guidelines from the International Commission on Non-ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP, www.icnirp.org) in the Netherlands as a basis for exposure policy.” This is an international committee of experts who provide advice for exposure limits. The Netherlands has been applying the ICNIRP guidelines for years, as laid down in the National Antenna Policy Memorandum of December 2000. The ICNIRP guidelines were confirmed and specified in March 2020 based on the current state of science. ICNIRP has taken extra account of the use of higher frequencies for the use of new technologies (such as 5G) and added new requirements to further guarantee health protection. The Cabinet will record these new guidelines in the Telecommunications Act. According to the Health Council, the European Commission has also indicated that it will adopt the latest ICNIRP guidelines in a recommendation or policy.
Beerlage finds that the Health Council’s call for further research into 26 gigahertz is understandable in the light of the expectations expressed, but she also has a comment. “Scientists can never say that something is 100 percent safe, while society demands it. I understand very well that they want to look at the possible effects. The question is: when was enough research done? You never have complete certainty.”
Finally: conspiracy theories about 5G and corona are circulating rapidly. What can Beerlage argue against that? “That there is no scientific evidence whatsoever that it has anything to do with each other. We know that corona is a virus, and it simply cannot be spread by 5G. It’s something completely different. However, we see the strangest theories passing by, where often the basic assumption is already incorrect, and people see assumptions as ‘evidence.’ We will try to remove the wrong assumptions. But that remains difficult because people are completely convinced that they are right.”