5G: FAST OR FEROCIOUS?

87-year old retired Davao City teacher Josefina received a pass-it-on video on messenger and didn’t quite understood what the two-charactered term meant. She forwarded the message to her son who was riding his bike somewhere thousands of miles away across the world. 

A cellular base station towers over a commercial area along Quimpo Blvd. in Davao City on Saturday. Lean Daval Jr

The intriguing characters read “5G” and more intriguing is the message of health risks that the video warns concerning it.

And for an octogenarian like Josefina, ageing certainly has a lot of drawbacks not only from creaky joints to memory loss, to the confusing taxonomy of technology. The terms modern technology is designated these days are as Greek as they can be. But that’s not the point, even octogenarians are very much into social media and internet and thanks to the wonders of technology, communicating from one side of the globe to another is as fast as it can get.

It may even be faster in the next few months with this thing called 5G. Internet used to be at snail speed in this part of the Philippines and buffering over video messages could be as long as summer’s day. Things have gone better but maybe not quite. Internet speeds have improved dramatically albeit still erratic in areas around Davao.

Yes, there is a lot of hype around 5G at the moment. But what it really is, and what it brings to people’s daily lives is as complex as its nomenclature. You don’t expect an octogenarian or to their extreme counterparts–those techie millennials–to understand what 5G means off the bat and break it down in technological terms.

One thing sure, it’s turning heads in almost the same fashion as it turns up megabits per second.

Yes, 5G may be the next biggest thing since sliced bread but even across the world, like Australia where Josefina’s son now lives, concerns over 5G is making the rounds not just in social media but also in public parks where protests have been staged.

“There is a lot of misconception,” Josefina relayed his son’s answer. 

Indeed, despite 3G’s enormous promise, there is a cloud of misconception that came with its entry into the country.

What does 5G mean?

5G, or fifth generation, mobile internet is the next advancement in telecoms technology. It promises to provide much faster data download and uploading speed. It should also be able to offer wider coverage and more stable connectivity.

How fast is 5G compared to LTE or 4G?

According to tests, 5G should be capable of data transfer rates of up to 10 Gigabit/s as compared to LTE, or Long Term Evolution which is a 4th Gen mobile comms standard and offers data rates of around 100 Megabits/s. That’s a few orders of magnitude difference. In other words, it will be very fast indeed. 

In June this year, the Philippines became the first country in Southeast Asia to experience commercial fifth-generation (5G) fixed wireless broadband after telecom giant Globe launched 5G postpaid plans for home.

“The arrival of 5G has caused excitement in the global world of telecommunications. Today, we made a crucial step in fulfilling our goal of connecting more Filipino homes, and our vision of bringing first-world Internet to the Philippines,” Globe CEO and president Ernest Cu said in a statement. 

The leading telecom company’s Globe At Home Air Fiber 5G can connect more Filipinos at home given the external challenges of rolling out fiber optic cables in the country.

“Globe At Home Air Fiber 5G makes use of fixed location wireless radios instead of fiber optic cables which enables the company to go over the circuitous approval process of deploying a fiber optic cable—a task which proves to be arduous and involves securing multiple permits from local government units),” Cu said. 

The postpaid plans, which offer fiber-like speeds up to 100Mbps and super-sized data packages of up to 2 terabytes, will be initially available in select areas in Pasig, Cavite, and Bulacan in July. 

But while 5G ay be the next big thing, there’s a concern over the technology. Are we celebrating too early?

The concerning messages over 5G, including videos circulating around and received by ordinary internet users like Josefina, is that while it is 100 times faster, it is claimed to be 100 times more radiation and 100 times more harm. It claims that every 5G tower built is a death tower.

Let’s take a look, and attempt to tackle some common misconceptions about it.

IS 5G DANGEROUS?

It’s a question that spread like wildfire. Maybe as fast as its 1gigabit per second promise.

The answer, however, is yes and no depending on who you ask.

In essence, those who claimed that the 5G technology poses health risks maintain that it is considered dangerous because of the wavelengths of radiation that it will use. According to radiationhealthrisk.com, “5G cell towers are more dangerous than other cell towers for two main reasons. First, compared to earlier versions, 5G is ultra high frequency and ultra high intensity. Second, since the shorter length millimeter waves (MMV) used in 5G do not travel as far (or through objects), with our current number of cell towers the cell signal will not be reliable.To compensate, many more mini cell towers must be installed. It is estimated that they will need a mini cell tower every 2 to 8 houses. This will greatly increase our RF Radiation exposure.”

On the other hand, there are those who are of the opinion it will offer no ill-health risks at all. 

NON-IONIZING RADIATION

Authoritative website on technology cnet.com reported on June 20, 2019 on the fears of 5G health hazards.

The website’s explanation breaks down the issue to the main suspect: radiation. CNet wrote that “radiation is the emission of energy from any source. That means that even heat that comes from your body counts as radiation. But some forms of radiation can make you sick. We can organize types of radiation by their levels of power on the electromagnetic spectrum. Bigger wavelengths with lower frequency are less powerful, while smaller wavelengths at higher frequencies are more powerful. This spectrum is divided into two distinct categories: ionizing and non-ionizing.”

Ionizing radiation, which includes ultraviolet rays, X-rays and gamma rays, are the harmful forms. The energy from ionizing radiation can pull apart atoms, and it’s known to break the chemical bonds in DNA, which can damage cells and cause cancer. This is why people are warned against having unnecessary X-rays. It’s also why exposure to the sun can cause skin cancer.

The electromagnetic spectrum is broken up into two categories: ionizing and non-ionizing. The high-frequency millimeter wavelengths that are expected to be used for some 5G deployments are in the non-ionizing category.

Therefore, it makes sense to say that non-ionizing radiation has lower frequencies and bigger wavelengths. It doesn’t produce enough energy to break apart the chemical bonds of DNA. Examples include radio frequency, or RF, radiation such as FM radio, TV signals and cellphones that use traditional 3G and 4G service.

Quite understandably, the phone industry maintains that there are no harmful effects from cellphone radiation, including 5G.

But beyond that, it leads people like Josefina and maybe even more Filipinos receiving the video message every day back to the question on whether 5G is safe. The real bottom line here is that 5G is no more of a concern than the many “wireless” technologies people had for many, many years.

Even simply, spending the day in out in the sun is probably more harmful than living under a mobile tower.