On the Advent of 5G



Should we be concerned about 5G networks? There has recently been much concern expressed in the UK media about a potential security risk if the government commission the Chinese telecoms Huawei firm to help build the UK’s 5G network. A further furore has resulted from a National Security Council leak revealing that the decision has already been made in Huawei’s favour. Donald Trump has opposed such a move and the US administration is expected to put further pressure on the UK to reconsider the decision. The UK government expects the 5G rollout to commence in 2020.


Mobile Phone Mast at Two Burrows © Tony Atkin (cc-by-sa/2.0)


So far we have had few qualms about the fact that a majority of the items in our homes and especially electronics, have originated in China. After all, China is a major manufacturer and exporter. But with 5G networks, China is now perceived as a security risk. That is, of course, a possibility but there is no reason to believe that a Chinese tech company is any more of a security risk than any other multinational ICT provider.


But while we worry about China having control of our infrastructure and the related NSC leak, we are perhaps missing some other matters that we need to be concerned about in our headlong rush into the future of technology in pursuit of convenience and entertainment. As with previous generations of communications technology there is a promise of more speed and higher bandwidth. In fact, 5G brings three new aspects to the table: greater speed (to move more data), lower latency (to be more responsive), and the ability to connect a lot more devices at once (for sensors and smart devices). The latter will probably represent the most obvious difference for phone users because it means that thousands of devices in a small area can be connected at the same time. It is expected that WiFi will become redundant and especially so in public places.


However, it is anticipated that, in using your phone as you do today, you are unlikely to notice much difference. Yet 5G networks are going to change everything about the way we live because even machines and devices will be connected by a network of ‘smart’ technology and it will all work in real time. For example, a set of traffic signals at one junction will immediately and automatically respond to traffic conditions elsewhere and 5G technology will be used in driverless cars allowing vehicles to communicate with each other and the environment. This level of ‘smart’, inter-device communication in real time means that we have now reached the stage where many, if not most, processes in the workplace can be performed by machines and more competently so. In such cases people will only be needed in order to oversee and maintain the networks. Yes, we have heard such predictions before but the game has now reached that new level.


Not least, this has significant implications for employment and there are many other ways in which all our lives will be changed. Yet the public have not been advised of this nor consulted about the desirability of all the likely changes. The time has come for a much needed debate about the direction of smart technology, yet that is unlikely to happen until it has all been implemented and the profits made.


Nor have I heard much mention in the media of the new masts that will be needed across the country. The 5G masts will be sending data between themselves and will be processing it as well. The required coverage will need an array of masts that are closer together or taller (or both) than existing masts. According to a BBC news report, there will be a mast every 50m. It is likely that this will apply in urban areas but in rural areas a sparser array can be used by having taller masts (on the basis that there are already wind turbines there anyway).


Many existing 4G masts will be upgraded by making them taller and there has already been local opposition to upgrades that have already been planned or carried out in some areas. The current UK legal height limit for masts is 25m (lower in Wales and some other areas) but that is now perceived as redundant and the mobile operators are already calling for it to be replaced by the EU limit of 50m.

The phone companies are already fighting to build 500,000 new masts and believe that taller masts across the rest of Britain can be fast-tracked through planning. In densely built-up areas even more masts will be needed but ‘mini-cell masts’ can be installed on existing tall structures. In such cases it is estimated that there will be a ‘mini-mast’ every 2 to 8 houses.


And for those who are already concerned about the amount of radiation from existing networks that we are being exposed to, 5G cell towers are more dangerous than other cell towers for two main reasons. Firstly, compared to earlier versions, 5G is ultra high frequency and ultra high intensity. Secondly, since the shorter length millimeter waves (MMV) used in 5G do not travel as far (or through objects), more cell towers are needed. Accordingly, current safety limits and regulations are about to be relaxed in preparation for 5G.




Image Source:

1. Photographer Tony Atkin at geograph.org.uk Licence: CC-BY-SA 2.0



1. Guide to 5G at The Evening Standard
2. Guide to 5G at 5G.co.uk
3. New mast concerns at Manchester Evening News
4. UK National and local concerns at 5G Exposed website
5. Cancer concerns at The Bristol Post
6. Cancer risk UK court case
7. Dangers of 5G at Eluxe Magazine
8. UK Cancer concerns at The Guardian
9. Safety standards relaxed at The Telegraph