After nearly a decade in the making, 5G is finally a reality. Major service providers have already started rolling out 5G test projects in some parts of the world. A much more comprehensive rollout of 5G is expected to commence in 2020.

As of now, there seem to be more questions about 5G than answers. Most people are wondering how this fast-approaching, highly anticipated wireless network will change telecommunication.

How is 5G different from other networks?

Think of 5G as a new set of rules or standards dictating the characteristics of wireless communication. In order to meet the 5G standards, a network must have a faster transmission speed, lower latency, and support for more simultaneous connections than the current 4G LTE. In comparison, 5G is 100 times faster than 4G, with transfer rates of up to 10Gbps. All of this basically boils down to a faster and more dependable network.

5G achieves the blistering high speeds by adopting new technologies in telecommunication and networking. The network also uses a high-frequency spectrum, which is less crowded and therefore reliable and noise-free.

How will it be used?

The applications of such a powerful and fast network are virtually limitless. Once the 5G mobile network is rolled out, calls, texts and internet access on smartphones and computers will be transferred onto the network.

Interconnectivity of smart devices via the Internet of Things (IoT) will also be improved drastically in terms of speed and capacity. This will definitely spark growth in the automation industry in areas such as smart factories and smart homes.

It is expected that 5G will give a much-needed boost in the development of driverless cars. Fast and reliable real-time communication is essential in developing fully autonomous vehicles.

Do I need a new phone to use 5G?

To connect with the impending 5G network, you’ll certainly need 5G capable hardware devices. Leading phone manufacturers such as Samsung and Motorola are already rolling out their first 5G models. More smartphone developers are also expected to follow suit. It’s not just phones either, access points (APs), modems and receivers will all have to be 5G enabled as well.

5G health fears

Over the last few months, various groups in different parts of the world have expressed strong concerns over what they claim to be health risks associated with the 5G rollout.

The most recent of these revolts come from Switzerland, where protesters have taken to the streets demanding a stop to the 5G deployment. Protesters claim that radiation from the new 5G antennas has adverse effects on human health. Some of the Swiss cantons have already been pressured to halt the ongoing construction of 5G antennas.

Activists are now threatening to push the issue through a referendum to let the nation decide.

It’s not just Switzerland where the public has raised health fears over the next generation of wireless networks. There have also been demonstrations in parts of Australia, the U.S., and the Netherlands.

Are these protests justified, and should you be worried about exposure to 5G radio frequencies (RF)?

Getting to the root of the fear.

Heath fears over the 5G network resonate with concerns that have been building up for decades over the potential dangers of exposure to radio frequencies. Most of the fears are based on how 5G transmissions will be facilitated.

Unlike the current 4G and 3G networks, 5G will transmit across a broad range of frequencies using smart antennas. Some of these transmission frequencies may include the millimetre-wave part of the radio spectrum that ranges between 30 to 300GHz. Some believe that exposure to the high-frequency waves could lead to health issues such as brain damage and cancer.

Mobile 5G transmission will rely on numerous small antennas positioned much closer to the users than the current long-range cellular transmitters. 5G antennas can’t radiate across long distances since they operate on very low power, which means that access points have to be much closer to the ground. Protesters believe that the high number of antennas and their proximity multiply the dangers of exposure.

Health fears over 5G are unfounded

Since the 60s, several studies have looked into the health effects of exposure to RF. The general conclusion from decades of research and experiments is that the electromagnetic spectrum used in wireless transmissions is completely harmless. RFs lack enough energy to cause any damage to living cells. Recent events have motivated new studies, but it’s unlikely that the new findings will justify the claims.

The fears are an irrational reaction to unfamiliar and newfangled technology, which mostly result from misinformation and misconceptions. Nearly every new technological milestone in the past has had to deal with some level of rejection, and it seems 5G is no different.