5G and new wireless technologies, what does this mean for radio frequency exposure?

There is significant interest in new applications of wireless technology with particular focus on 5G mobile technology; the Internet of Things (IoT) and wearable devices. As with all wireless technologies radio frequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF) are used to provide the connectivity. RF-EMF is part of everyday life, emitted both by natural sources like the sun and the Earth, and by artificial sources such as: wireless networks, TV and broadcast radio. Some people are concerned about possible health risks and the GSMA has produced a new booklet addressing the question ‘What do the new uses of wireless technologies mean for radio frequency exposure?’

These new wireless applications will be designed to comply with existing exposure limits. The international exposure guidelines have been developed as a result of the work of researchers for many decades. The guidelines are not technology specific and are periodically reviewed. The consensus of reviews by independent public health authorities, expert groups and the World Health Organization (WHO) is that these guidelines provide protection for all people (including children) against all established health hazards.

With the rapid evolution of consumer lifestyles, wearable devices, such as smart watches and fitness bands, have increasingly become part of the everyday life. Wearable devices incorporate electronics, software, sensors and connectivity, often using a wireless technology. The US Centers for Disease Control has commented that because such devices transmit at extremely low powers and only for brief periods of time the user exposure will be very small.

Some of the potential bands for 5G are at similar frequencies to mobile technologies already in use. Higher frequencies, known as millimetre waves, will be used for capacity in conjunction with small cell deployments. At these frequencies RF energy is absorbed superficially by the body, mostly by the skin, and limits have been set in existing exposure standards. As small cells are close to the users of mobile phones, it means that the phone will operate more efficiently, improving the available data rate and reducing the exposure of the user.

There may be a small localised exposure increase when 5G is added to an existing site or when coverage is provided in a new area. All mobile technologies, including 5G, are designed to minimise power to reduce system interference resulting in levels that will remain very low relative to the international exposure limits. An analysis of measurements conducted over 10 years of mobile network deployments in more than 25 countries around the world found that that the mean level of environmental signals from mobile networks is about 5,500 times lower than the international guidelines.

PDF download: 5G, the Internet of Things (IoT) and Wearable Devices: What do the new uses of wireless technologies mean for radio frequency exposure?