5G: Empowering Recovery and Fighting Misinformation in Europe

On 3 June, the GSMA, alongside ETNO, hosted an online event on 5G: Empowering Recovery and Fighting Misinformation, garnering over 700 registered participants. Moderated by GSMA’s Maria Sotiriou and ETNO’s Paolo Grassia, the event gathered the views of the European Parliament and included dialogue on the facts, figures and ideas shared by the European Commission, scientists and industry concerning 5G, misinformation and Europe’s post-COVID-19 recovery.

Watch the Event Recording

Event Slides
Event Summary

GSMA’s Vice President and Head of Europe, Afke Schaart, and ETNO’s Director General, Lise Fuhr, opened the event. Lise Fuhr commented on how 5G will be one of the main enablers for the EU’s recovery plans and of the European Green Deal due to its capacity to empower Europe’s economy, society and globally competitiveness. As such, 5G misinformation is a real threat that must be addressed. Afke Schaart highlighted the strategic importance of 5G for Europe, both in terms of its global competitiveness and recovery from the COVID-19 recession. She also covered the state of misinformation concerning 5G and the severe consequences posed by its distribution, as exemplified by the attacks on mobile base stations and telecommunications employees.

Over the course of the event, MEPs Miapetra Kumpula-Natri, Susana Solís Pérez, Pilar del Castillo, Andreas Schwab, Anna Michelle Asimakopoulou, Sean Kelly from 3 different political groups (EPP, S&D and Renew Europe) showed significant alignment in the importance of prioritising 5G rollout in Europe, as they considered connectivity and digitisation as major tools to fight the COVID-19 recession and upon which to base Europe’s recovery. MEPs considered that the importance of 5G rollout extended also into Europe’s global competitiveness and as such, they called for European leadership in facilitating an environment conducive for investments in 5G infrastructure. There was significant agreement in fighting misinformation on all levels, including the local level, with MEPs advocating for equipping local authorities with official, fact-based information.

The contribution of the MEPs was followed by that of the mobile industry, with representatives from Vodafone and Telia Company highlighting examples of government/industry cooperation in addressing 5G misinformation and the current state of and benefits posed by 5G rollout. The European Commission outlined the EU’s precautionary approach on 5G, reminding the audience that the EU’s limits for the public are consistent with those of ICNIRP and set 50 times lower than the levels at which health effects start to be seen. The European Commission also reiterated their work on collecting 5G uses cases and creating the fact-checker Digital Media Observatory Project. Scientific experts: Dr Jack Rowley from the GSMA and Dr Frank de Vocht from the Bristol Medical School noted that the effects of EMF exposure linked to 5G are unlikely to result in increased health risks and that the overall exposure remains well below international guidelines.

As the event went over the allotted time, attendees were informed that their questions would be answered via email in the coming days. The event concluded with a short interview of Vivacom CTO Radoslav Zlatkov and a representative from the Bulgarian Permanent Representation to the EU.

Answers to Your Questions

We received many interesting questions during the event. Due to time constraints, we were not able to answer them all. We have prepared answers to most of your questions.

What are the consumer benefits of 5G?

The first benefit that most people think about when they hear the term 5G is the much higher data rates that will be available (up to 100 times faster than current mobile networks). These higher data rates can support virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) for high-quality gaming or virtual tours of museums. However, 5G is much more than that, as well as supporting new gigabit applications, it also offers low latency and high reliability connectivity that will enable industrial applications and provide efficient support for larger numbers of connections, enabling the Internet of Things (IoT) and supporting Smart Cities. The European Commission highlights some of the healthcare applications such as expanding telemedicine; reliable real-time remote monitoring of patients; and supporting the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to determine potential diagnoses and decide on the best treatment plan for a specific patient. The European 5G Observatory provides updates on market developments, including deployments and 5G trials.

Are there recommendations on responding to 5G misinformation?

The starting point is to rely on trusted sources of information. The European Commission, the WHO and ICNIRP have all confirmed that international health protection guidelines for EMF exposure apply to all the frequencies in use for and planned for 5G. The next point is clarity of information and to avoid too technical information for non-expert audiences, the GSMA is doing this with our recently published 5G EMF booklet, video and other resources. This includes explaining technology features such as smart antennas that are used in 4G and will be more sophisticated in 5G. The European Commission provides guidance on how to recognise disinformation on social media and the importance of checking the source, the story and the intention in order to recognise fake news.

What will happen with the European Council recommendation for EMF limits now that ICNIRP has published updated guidelines?

The European Commission explains that the current EMF exposure limits for the public are set at 50 times lower than the levels at which health effects may start to be seen, according to World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates. While the setting of EMF limits for the public is a member state legal competency, the European Electronic Communications Code references the existing European Council recommendation and calls for consistency and predictability throughout the Union regarding the use of radio spectrum and more consistent deployment conditions for 5G.

In publishing the updated guidelines, ICNIRP confirmed that the existing limits cover current commercial radio services, with the update providing important additions and changes, particularly for EMF frequencies above 6 GHz. ICNIRP strongly recommends that countries adopt the updated guidelines and the European Commission is examining the situation.

What is the evidence supporting the safety guidelines for 5G radio signals?

The international EMF guidelines are based on protecting people and are independent of any particular radio technology. Following an extensive seven-year review of the scientific literature ICNIRP concluded that the updated limits provide protection against all established health hazards from EMF exposures and, importantly, there was no scientific mechanism that would predict harm at levels below the limits. This is not just the ICNIRP view, it is the consensus of many expert reports, including reports for the European Commission in 2001, 2007, 2009, and 2015.

In simple terms, this means that all the existing scientific literature at radio frequencies above, below and similar to those used by 5G is relevant to the health risk assessment and, as the WHO says, no harm is expected from 5G. Measurements conducted by regulatory authorities in France, the Netherlands and the UK show that 5G levels are only a small fraction of the safety limits and similar to 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi. The community levels from 5G (and other wireless networks) are also similar to those from broadcast TV and radio transmitters. These have been operating for more than 50 years without established harm to nearby communities. Similarly, if mobile phone use increased cancer risk, there would be evidence in the national data for cancer trends and they remain unaffected by the introduction of mobile phones.

What are the implications for 5G rollout of restrictions on 5G equipment supplies?

Security and political concerns around the use of mobile networks within critical national infrastructure have resulted in restrictions in several territories for some equipment vendors. Privacy and security are core to the deployment and ongoing operations of telecoms networks; they are not an afterthought. Operators take this responsibility very seriously – it is part of their DNA. The controls must be proportionate, risk and fact-based, in order for them to avoid unnecessary restrictions that could harm mobile subscribers, have severe consequences on competition and hamper the rollout of 5G networks and the innovative services that they will deliver.

The GSMA and its members will continue to develop and improve the “GSMA Security Framework”, to safeguard our members and their customers, on an ongoing basis, to ensure that we continue to reflect industry best practise at all times.

The GSMA will also continue to work with Governments, Regulators and National Security Agencies (where appropriate) to provide industry support for their plans and processes to ensure security in general and of critical national infrastructure in particular. To facilitate improvements in security levels across the mobile industry, the GSMA jointly with the 3GPP defined the Network Equipment Security Assurance Scheme (NESAS), which provides an industry-wide security assurance framework.

More Information on EMF and 5G Safety