Saturday, December 19, 2020

All you need to know about 5G

The new 5G network technology is currently being rolled out in the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, and many other countries all over the world. What’s new about it? Does it really use microwaves? Like in microwave ovens? Is that something you should worry about? I began looking into this fully convinced I’d tell you that nah, this is the usual nonsense about cellphones causing cancer. But having looked at it in some more detail, now I’m not so sure.

First of all, what is 5 G? 5 G is the fifth generation of wireless networks. The installation of antennas is not yet completed, and it will probably take at least several more years to complete, but in some places 5G is already operating, and you can now buy cellphones that use it. What’s it good for? 5G promises to deliver more data, faster, by up to a factor one hundred, optimistically. It could catapult us into an era where driverless cars and the internet of things have become reality.

How is that supposed to work? 5 G uses a variety of improvements on the data routing that makes it more efficient, but the biggest change that has attracted the most attention is that 5G uses a frequency range that the previous generations of wireless networks did not use.

These are the millimeter waves. And, yes, these are the same waves that are being used in the scanners at airport security, the difference is that in the scanners you’re exposed for a second every couple of months or so, while with 5G you’d be sitting in it at low power but possibly for hours a day, depending on how close you live and work to one of the new antennas.

As the name says, millimeter waves have wavelengths in the millimeter range, and the ones used for 5G correspond to frequencies of twenty-four to forty-eight Giga-Hertz.

If that number doesn’t tell you anything, don’t worry, I will give you more context in a moment. For now, let me just say that the new frequencies are about a factor ten higher than the highest frequencies that were previously used for wireless networks.

Another thing that’s new about 5G are directional phased-array antennas. Complicated word that basically means the antennas don’t just radiate the signal off into all directions, but they can target a particular direction. And that’s an important difference, if you want to know how the signal strength drops with distance to the antenna. Roughly speaking, it becomes more difficult to know what’s going on.

Because of these new features, conspiracy theories have flourished around 5G and there have been about a hundred incidents, mostly in the Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, and the UK, where people have burned down or otherwise damaged 5G telephone towers. Dozens of cities, counties, and nations have stopped the installing. There have been protests against the rollout of the 5G technology all over the world. And groups of concerned scientists have written open letters twice, once in 2017 and once in 2019. Each letter attracted about a few hundred signatures from scientists. Not a terrible lot, but not nothing either.

Before we can move on, I need to give you some minimal background on the physics, so bear with me for a moment. Wireless technology uses electromagnetic radiation to encode and send information. Electromagnetic radiation is electric and magnetic fields oscillating around each other creating a freely propagating wave that can travel from one place to another. Electromagnetic radiation is everywhere. Light is electromagnetic radiation. Radio stations air music with electromagnetic radiation. If you open an oven and feel the heat, that’s also electromagnetic radiation. These seem to be different phenomena, but physically, they’re all the same thing. The only difference is the wavelength of the oscillation. Commonly, we use different names for electromagnetic radiation depending on that wavelength.

If we can see it, we call it light. Visible light with long wavelengths is red, and at even longer wave-lengths when we can no longer see it, we call it infrared. We can’t see infrared light, but we often still feel that it’s warm. At even longer wavelengths we call the radiation microwaves, and if the wavelengths are even longer, they are called radio waves.

On the other side of visible light, at wavelengths shorter than violet, we have the ultraviolet, and then the X-rays, and gamma-rays. The new millimeter waves are in the high frequency part of microwaves.

Now, we may call electromagnetic radiation a “wave” but those waves are actually quantized, which means they are made of small packs of energy. These small packs of energy are the particles of light, which are called “photons”. You may think it’s an unnecessary complication, to talk about quantization here, but knowing that electromagnetic radiation is made of these particles, the photons, is extremely helpful to understand what the radiation can do.

That’s because the energy of the photons is proportional to the frequency of the radiation, or equivalently, the energy is inversely proportional to the wavelength.

So, a high frequency means a short wavelength, and a large energy per photon. A small frequency means a long wavelength, which means small energy. Again that’s energy per photon.

That the frequency of electromagnetic radiation tells you the energy of the particles in the radiation is so useful because if you want to damage a molecule, you need a certain minimum amount of energy. You need this energy to break the bonds between the atoms that make up the molecule. And so, the most essential thing you need to know to gauge how harmful electromagnetic radiation is, is whether the energy per photon in the radiation is large enough to break molecular bonds, like the bonds that hold together the DNA.

Breaking molecular bonds is not the only way electromagnetic radiation can be harmful, and I will get to the other ways in few minutes, but it *is the most direct and important harm electromagnetic radiation can do.

So how much energy do you need to damage a molecule? Damage begins happening just above the high-energy-end of visible light, with the ultraviolet radiation. That’s the light that gives you a sunburn and that you’ve been told to avoid. It has wavelengths that are just a little bit shorter than visible light, or frequencies and energies that are just a little bit higher.

In terms of energy, ultraviolet radiation has about three to thirty electron volts per photon. An electron Volt is just a unit of energy. If that’s unfamiliar to you, doesn’t matter, you merely need to know that the binding energy of most molecules also lies in the range of a few electron volts.

If you want to break a molecule, you need energies above that binding energy, so you need frequencies at or above the ultraviolet. That’s because the energy for the damage has to come with the individual photons in the radiation. If the individual photons do not have enough energy to actually damage the molecule, they either just go through or, sometimes, if they hit a resonance frequency, they’ll wiggle the molecule. If you wiggle molecules that means you warm them up.

So, what matters for the question whether you can damage a molecule is the energy per photon in the radiation, which means the frequency of the radiation, *not the total energy of all the particles in the radiation, of which there could be many. If you take more particles, but *each of them has an energy below what’s necessary for damaging a molecule, you’ll just get more wiggling.

All the radiation used for wireless networks, including 5G, uses frequencies way below those necessary to break molecular bonds. It is below even the infrared. So in this regard, there is clearly nothing to worry about.

But. As I mentioned, breaking molecular bonds is not the only way that electromagnetic radiation can harm living tissue. Because tissue is complicated. It’s not just physics. You can also harm tissue just by warming it.

And how much warming you can get from electromagnetic radiation is not determined by the energy per photon, it is determined by the total energy per time that is transferred by all the photons and on the fraction that is absorbed by the tissue. That total energy transfer per time is called the “power” and it’s commonly measured in Watts. So: The frequency tells you the energy per photon. The power tells you the total energy in photons per time.

For example, if you look at your microwave oven, that probably operates at about 2 GigaHertz, which is a really small energy per photon, about a million times below the energy required to break molecular bonds.

But a microwave oven operates at maybe four hundred or up to a thousand Watts. And that’s high in terms of power. So, a lot of photons per time. On the other hand, if you have a wireless router at home, it quite possibly operates at a similar frequency as your microwave oven. But a wireless router typically uses something like one hundred milli Watts, that’s ten thousand times less than the microwave oven, and the router radiates into space, not into a closed cavity.

That’s a relevant difference for a simple geometric reason. If the photons in the electromagnetic radiation distribute in all of the directions, as they do for antennas like your wireless router, then the density of particles will thin out, meaning the power will drop very quickly with distance to the sender. This is why, in wireless communication, the highest power you’ll be exposed to is if you are close to the sender and that is usually your cell phone, not an antenna, because the antennas tend to be on a roof or a mast or in any case, not on your ear.

Ok, to summarize: The frequency tells you the energy per particle and determines the what type of damage is possible. The power tells you the number of particles and it drops very quickly with distance to the source. The power alone does not tell you how much is absorbed by the human body.

Back to 5G. What the 5G controversy is about is whether the electromagnetic radiation from the new antennas poses a health risk.

5G actually uses electromagnetic radiation in three different parts of the spectrum, called the low band, the mid band, and the high band. The frequency of the radiation in all these bands is below that which is required to damage molecules. The frequency of the mid band is indeed comparable to the one your microwave oven is using, but actually, there’s nothing new about this, microwaves have been used by wireless networks for more than two decades.

The radiation in the high band are the new millimeter waves. This band has so far been largely unused for telecommunication purposes simply because it’s not very good for long-range transmission. The electromagnetic waves in this range do not travel very far and can get blocked by walls, trees, and even humans.

Therefore, the idea behind 5G is to use a short-range network, made of the so-called “small cells” for the millimeter waves. These small cells have to be distributed at distances of about one hundred meters or so.

The small cells communicate with macro cells that use the mid and low bands with antennas that operate at higher power and that do the long range transmission. So, a fully functional 5G network is likely to increase the exposure to millimeter waves, which have not before been used for cell phones.

This means the people who are citing the lack of correlation between cell phone use and cancer incidence in the past 20 years missed the point. These studies don’t tell you anything about the 5G high band because that wasn’t previously in use.

Now the thing is if you look what is known about the health risks from long-term exposure to the new millimeter waves band, there are basically no studies. We know that millimeter waves cannot penetrate deeply into the human body, but we know that at high power, they warm the skin and irritate eyes. Exactly what power is too much in the long run no one knows because there just hasn’t been enough research.

Here is for example a Meta-review published about a year ago, which came to the conclusion:
“The available studies do not provide adequate and sufficient information for a meaningful safety assessment.”

And here we have Rob Waterhouse, vice president of a telecommunication company in the United States:
Waterhouse admits that although millimeter waves have been used for many different applications—including astronomy and military applications—the effect of their use in telecommunications is not well understood… “The majority of the scientific community does not think there’s an issue. However, it would be unscientific to flat out say there are no reasons to worry.”
That’s not very reassuring. And the World Health Organization writes:

“no adverse health effect has been causally linked with exposure to wireless technologies… but, so far, only a few studies have been carried out at the frequencies to be used by 5G.”

So the protests that you see against 5G, I am afraid to say, are not entirely unjustified. Don’t get me wrong, damaging other people’s property is certainly not a legitimate response. But I can understand the concern. We have no reason to think 5G *is a health risk. Indeed, it is reasonable to think it is *not a health risk, given that this radiation is of low energy and scatters in the upper layers of the skin, but there is very little data on what the effects of long-term exposure may be.

How should one proceed in such a situation? Depends on how willing you are to tolerate risk. And that’s not a question for science, that’s a question for politics. What do you think? Let me know in the comments.

You can join the chat on this week's topic on Saturday, Dec 19, at noon Eastern Time/6pm CET here.


  1. Another argument against 5G is environmental: these gazillion antennas represent a significant amount of hardware to install, they will consume significant amounts of energy, and then there's the question of all the terminals (phones etc.) that will have to be replaced. Is it really worth it, just to be able to stream p0rn in 4K everywhere?
    You may argue that it's not so much in the grand scheme of things, but the point is that it's still "more of the same", i.e. not going in the right direction of reduced resource and energy usage, and that many people are fed up with the lack of vision it shows.

    1. I'd that a scientific or a political question though?

    2. You don't have to replace your phone because 5G has arrived.
      Old and new services will coexist for a long time in most places. However, phones get replaced all the time because the technology is currently escalating rapidly, "natural attrition", etc.

    3. Sure, those are political issues, but shouldn't discussions of those be based on facts too? Environmental effects are very much factual constraints that any political stance should take into account.

      For what concerns phone replacements, I agree that people replace their phones all the time with or without 5G, but many people buy a new phone even though their old one still works perfectly, just to get the latest features... 5G is just one more such feature that will prompt people to buy new.

  2. I have generally not been terribly concerned over the EM waves. 25 to 50Ghz mm waves will rattle molecules. Generally, they rattle water molecules and this is a main way by interaction of radiation and matter that microwaves heat food. In arguing with people on this I have said that so long as the density of transmissions is not to great this should not be a problem.

    With the coming of IoT, or internet of things, there is a prospect our world will be saturated with this EM radiation. If these small cells that transmit the highest frequency band of these mm waves become ubiquitous, we may have a problem. With frequency shifting and growth of this technology there may be a multiplicity of these and the flux, power per unit area in units of watts per square meter, may grow enormously. At some point we may end up acknowledging a problem.

    These waves are absorbed by the upper layer of the skin, and in this region there may be a tiny heating that occurs. Where to me the issue might be a problem is with the cornea of the eye. If there is heating of this it could deform it optically or maybe cause fogging of the cornea.

    To me the biggest issue is not the radiation, but that in a 5G IoT world we may simply go utterly mad. Already I find myself more irritated at the compulsory application of computer technology. At a near future where everything we do is uploaded into the cloud, what we ate, what we saw, who we met, what clothes we wore, biomedical data, and so forth I have this sense we will be in effect in a sort of prison. We might find that life has become intolerable. However, it will be very profitable for the big tech industries.

    This may be just the start. There is talk of using soft X-rays for communications. These have very short wavelengths, nm scale etc, and data transmission rates would be much faster. What will happen if we find ourselves as weavers in this sort of information web?

    1. Lawrence, regarding the minor point about the possible future use of soft X-rays for communications:

      Yes, encoding data on soft X-rays has been discussed [1], but only for guided (e.g. fiber) transmissions, not in free space where it could interact with humans. More importantly, the cost/benefits analysis in the fairly recent paper I just referenced suggests that soft X-ray data piping would be insanely energy inefficient, particularly given the rather modest bandwidth gains likely.

      My own reflexive reaction is that given what a long haul it has been to develop the technologies for encoding data efficiently on optical frequencies, the problem of how to build electronics for encoding data efficiently at soft X-ray frequencies would be quite daunting.

      In short, I don't think we need to worry too much about this particular EM mode as a serious human or environmental threat, at least not anytime soon.

      [1] Winzer, P. J., Would Scaling to Extreme Ultraviolet or Soft X-Ray Communications Resolve the Capacity Crunch
      Journal of Lightwave Technology?
      , IEEE, 2018, 36, 5786-5793.

    2. I can't agree more with what you are saying how the Internet of Things may turn into a kind of 'prison'. Soshana Zubanoff detailed this in her book Surveillance Capitalism. I didn't finish reading it since I'd read George Orwells 1984 a long time ago and which was a warning to humanity about the horrors of totalitarianism which Europe had shaken off. At least thats how I took it - it never occurred to me that there would be people who could read this book as a blueprint of a society that they would like to construct - with themselves as the rulers of it of course. Over the last few years I've come across people who seem to think exactly that. It's an abomination. I'm hoping that the recent anti-trust action against both Google and Facebook is going to chill the debate about computerising society without first thinking about the kinds of checks and balances we need. Personally, I date it back to a piece of legislation that allowed the internet to be free of all the laws regulating publishing.

      But then again, I never thought we'd see a day when a sitting American President would throw doubt on the electoral process, and then after losing an election by a substantial amount - refuse to concede. That's not 'winning'.

      An American philosopher, Cornel West has recently said that there has been what he called 'zones of fascism' in the USA and which he also said some have traced back to the days of slavery. Personally speaking, I regard what we saw in the aftermath of the election as when the smokescreen hiding the face of American fascism lifted and we saw it, unmasked. Noam Chomsky has called the Republican Party the most dangerous party on earth because of their lack of real leadership on the climate crisis. It's clear that this is going to take global governance and this should not have been a time, as the USA has done, to throw doubt on our global institutions, like the UN and the WHO. Luckily for us, the democratic institutions of the USA managed to hold off that rising tide.

      A lot of people have scorned Chinas firewall. But I think recent events should make us rethink that: digital sovereignty as part of sovereignty.

    3. @ Terry: I think there is talk of X-rays transmission through free space as well. Obviously it is better if done through a cable or some form of wave guide or fiber. I agree that transducing this electronically would be difficult, for if converted into electrical current the impedances would be a large problem.

      @ Mozibur; In Camus' The Plague at the end the narrative focuses on the rats in the sewers under the town. The plague is a metaphor for fascism. This takes various forms, and in the United States it assume a form that is far less ideologically sophisticated than what fascism, past or its neo-fascist, forms take. Fascistic thinking has in the US been wrapped up in ideas surrounding the old Confederacy, the KKK and other more "red necked" cultural identities.

      The Republican party has always had problematic aspects to it. This is unfortunate, for I think a healthy political environment is one that permits both liberal and conservative thought and polity. Richard Nixon though began the "southern strategy" for the Republican Party. After the Democrats under President Johnson voted and Johnson signed civil rights legislation, effectively abandoning the segregationist southern Democrats, the Republicans began to court them. The conversion of the south to the Republican Party was a major political turn around that has made the Republicans the primary political Party in the US. This was based on ultimately the political courting of racists and segregationists.

      Since Reagan politics has been 2 steps right, 1 step left, and repeat. The one step left is not done so much because the Democrats or so called liberals have presented a better case, but more because the Republicans made a big mess of things. The one-term for Don-the-Con t'Rump is case in point. He made a big muddle out of the covid pandemic, and even prior to that he was clearly a bumbler who knew not what he was doing. The election though was still fairly close.

      As with Camus' rats, the problem of t'Rump is not going away, and he still refuses to concede. How this will play out in a month's time will be interesting to see. I see a lot of people still flying t'Rump banners and signs. There are a lot out there still behind him. I could easily see him setting himself up as the alt-president at Mar-a-Lago with a lot of people behind him and militia types guarding him against being forced to appear in court. SDNY has over a lot of indictments that will be unsealed after Jan 20, and it might prove to be a prickly prospect to actually get t'Rump to show up to face the charges against him.

      Stay tuned, this will still be interesting to watch.

    4. Back as a young teenager, being a believer that our world was being visited by aliens, I had the thought that maybe while traveling through space, and even in our atmosphere despite air molecules limiting transmission range, I imagined that they might be using the X-ray band for communication. So, I had the crazy idea of sending off a burst of X-rays from the closet of my bedroom to see if anything happened. I wired up the primary of an old CRT TV flyback transformer to the 12 volt output of a model railway power supply. I then hooked up a burnt out incandescent light bulb to the secondary, thinking some X-rays might be emitted as the spark passed across the open gap in the bulb. As I bent over in the closet underneath jackets and clothes on the hanger above I switched on the power, somehow managing to make contact with the potentially lethal output of the flyback transformer. There was a huge burst of light and I experienced a terrific shock, throwing me backwards into the room. On recovering I immediately dismantled my homemade ‘UFO communicator’, and never tried it again.

    5. “The one-term for Don-the-Con t'Rump is case in point.”

      I confess I’m worried about our democracy, making radiation from cell towers seem rather a minor concern in comparison. With reports of 450,000 ballots, distributed among the six swing states, having only Biden ticked off and no other down votes, and numerous other ‘oddities’ like windows in polling places being blocked after Republican poll watchers were kicked out, and hidden suitcases of ballots being pulled from under a table (caught on video), etc. All summer and into the fall I received fliers in the mail urging me to use the mail-in voting option. There were so many I could have used them as kindling if I had a wood stove. Knowing their vulnerability to fraud I chose to go in person to the voting center. Once there it took me quite a while to fill out all the down votes, after I filled in the presidential box, due to the instructions to fill in the entire box with a small pencil. I do hope all such issues are worked out for future election integrity as the long term consequences would dwarf radiation exposure problems from cell towers.

  3. Thanks for that Sabine, pretty much my understanding but you've considerably added to that.
    One thing we can be pretty sure of though.
    5G doesn't cause Covid.
    Which is the claim that most of the nutty anti-5G protestors here in the UK seem happy to make.

  4. It is (a bit) unconnected, but maybe it's time to talk again to Professor Afshordi, see how the new model for the COVID pandemic has stood the test of new data.

  5. A difference between carcinogenic and thermal effects that are often ignored is that the former is a statistical effect with long delays and the latter is deterministic and immediate.

    That's is, the effects of ionising radiation are rare and long term. On the other hand, if I put my hand in a working microwave oven, I feel the effects immediately.

    Any thermal effects of 5G radiation would have been observed with the very first handset test.

    I found a calculation of the power absorbtion in (m)W from 5G stations and handsets:

    These emissions have gone down considerably since 2000.

    If your worries are centered around heat absorbtion by eyes, that seems to be unlikely.

    1. Rob,

      You are oversimplifying. We know that microwaves don't have enough energy to themselves break molecular bonds. But cell damage happens all the time & is repaired by the body. If you hamper this repair mechanism, the risk of cancer increases.

      Also, I said explicitly why the "but we'd have seen that already" argument is nonsense. What about my explanation did you not understand?

    2. "Also, I said explicitly why the "but we'd have seen that already" argument is nonsense."

      What I do not understand is makes 5G thermal "damage" worse than walking in the sun? Or tanning on the beach?

      We know well how cells and tissues react to thermal stress. That has been studied for over a century.

      Why does that not apply to 5G? That what I do not understand.

    3. A way that a single nucleotide polymorphism can occur is when DNA kinks. This is a misfolding of DNA, where there are mechanisms for repair with DNA transferases. The DNA is cleaved and then reattached. The 3' to 5' repair is not that complicated, but in the dual strand with 5' to 3' there are complexities with Okasaki fragments. The upshot is that this can result in an error.

      Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) like to bind onto the p-51 gene, and this causes a kink. PAHs are a main component of smoke and this is how they lead to transformed cells and cancer in lungs.

    4. I didn't say microwaves are worse than walking in the sun. I said we don't know.

      "We know well how cells and tissues react to thermal stress. That has been studied for over a century."

      It has not been studied in the frequency range under question; that's the issue.

    5. Sorry, I should have been clearer. It has been studied (see the meta-review I cite), but the studies are few and in total they're inconclusive. I really recommend you look at the review, it's fairly easy to understand and it will give you a good impression of what we actually know. Which is, imo, shockingly little.

    6. I have read the review. The whole review can be summarized by a quote from the discussion:
      " It is also noteworthy that there is no trend towards a classic dose-response pattern where stronger or more frequent effects would be caused by higher exposure levels. "

      No dose response relations and no non-thermal effects. The authors also note that risks due to localized thermal effects in vivo are unrealistic scenarios.

      They conclude that not every combination of tissues and exposure have been investigated. But that is always the case. We still have not looked behind every tree in the world for gnomes. We still if ore that risk

    7. Do you realize that "no dose relation" is actually bad news? It means that the response does NOT consistently go down with decrease in dose. Maybe read that again.

    8. Sorry, I should have been clearer. In my experience, "no dose response relation" is a polite way of saying that the effect is an artifact.

      For every chemical or physical "stressor" (poison) there is a dose response relations as long as the the subject survives.

      In the whole paper, the authors stay polite, but the whole review screams "artifacts" to me. Time and again, the studies that controlled for temperature increases found nothing. Which tells me the only effect of 5G radiation is from temperature. Which is also the conclusion of the review.

      This is expected. Infrared and microwave radiation only have thermal effects. There is no known biological mechanism for another effect (Which is also a polite way of saying "seeing is believing").

    9. "In the whole paper, the authors stay polite, but the whole review screams "artifacts" to me. "

      Please go look up "confirmation bias".

    10. I am just as likely to fall for confirmation bias as the next person. But I would like to add a quote from the review:
      "The results of some of the studies may suggest that exposure to power densities at or below the guideline recommendations induce biological effects. There are, however, some arguments against it. One of these is the apparent heterogeneity of the study design and the outcomes studied. There are very few (if any) independent replication studies that confirm the reported results. It is also noteworthy that there is no trend towards a classic dose-response pattern where stronger or more frequent effects would be caused by higher exposure levels. Since the studies with conditions promoting tissue warming show no greater effect than below the guideline values (1 mW/cm2), this would either mean that the same interactions are present at all power densities tested, or that experimental artifacts unknown to the scientists are present."

      When I see this in the discussion of a (systematic) review, all alarm bells go off.

      In such a case, I fall back to: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

      No relevant "evidence" is presented here. No plausible mechanism is known. No observations of actual harm are known. So what is left?

    11. Rob,

      I don't know what your problem is there. The paper clearly says the current research is inconclusive. You want to make that into "we know it's harmless". I am not saying we know it's dangerous. As a matter of fact, I spent most of my video explaining why we have reason to think it is NOT dangerous. But if you look at what we actually know, the data is inconclusive. That's it. If there's one thing setting off alarm bells here it's that you're trying make inconclusive evidence into conclusive one.

    12. "I don't know what your problem is there. "

      My problem is that this discussion is non-scientific.

      Like you wrote earlier, falsifiability is not enough to make a theory scientific. Your suggestions about possible negative effects of MMW 5G radiation are such falsifiable but unscientific theories. They are not based on observations and not based on a scientific theory. They are based on just-so stories.

      It is OK to be careful, but overzealous carefulness can become damaging or dangerous (cf, anti-vaxxers).

    13. "Your suggestions about possible negative effects of MMW 5G radiation...

      I have not made any such suggestions. You are now simply lying. And this isn't an argument about theories. It's an argument about the absence of data. You seem to have an opinion about what to do in absence of data, but what you do is that you try to argue your case based on science which doesn't exist.

    14. Sabine, I see I misunderstood and misrepresented your position in this, my apologies for this mistake and bad choice of words. In no way do I want to imply or suggest that you intended to say 5G is unsafe.

      "You seem to have an opinion about what to do in absence of data,"

      I actually have an opinion about what to do in the absence of specific data points in a fully coloured-in picture. You interpolate. We have a very good understanding of the effects of EM exposure of biological systems. The review quoted shows this. And it will be nice if the few loose ends are fastened, eventually.

      But does anyone in the research field expect sensational results from filling in these gaps? Not according to the authors of the review. They talk about artifacts and unrealistic scenarios when discussing such ideas.

      I am all for filling in every gap found in our knowledge. But, weighting the risks and benefits of 5G, should we stop the roll-out of 5G and wait 5 years to study all these lose ends in depth? And everything else that comes up?

      5G has considerable benefits. Currently, there are no credible risks. The review shows that too (and no mice died from MMW exposure).

      In the end this is always the question. Should we stop 5G, COVID vaccination, or the LHC because there could be an unknown unknown that is harmful?

      In my opinion, if there is no observed harm, no theory of harm, no data of harm, no credible experiments showing harm, then I do not see why we should always wait another year

    15. Hi Rob,

      Thanks, apology accepted and sorry for not having expressed myself clearer. I have no particular opinion about what course of action to take and I have no reason to think 5G is harmful.

      But when you say you "interpolate" I am guessing you mean a linear interpolation. We also have no reason to think this is a good interpolation. If you'd "interpolate" from the infrared to the ultraviolet, you'd end up concluding humans are all blind. The human body is not a bag of water. It's response is not linear. This isn't physics, it's biology.

  6. So the people who believe in universal fine-tuning are **more** mentally deluded than the people destroying 5G masts. Interesting.

  7. I think that given the established science explained in the article (strictly non-ionizing radiation, only thermal effects, the intensities involved), the likelyhood of 5G actually turning out to be harmful is extremely unlikely, bordering on scientifically impossible. Yes, it has not been directly tested on lots of humans, but in this case I think it would be a waste of time. There is a time for caution, but this is not it. The benefits of 5G far outweight the extremely tiny risk.

    1. You call the risk "tiny". Can you quantify it? You speak of likelihood, where do you get the likelihood from? How did you estimate it? How much do you know about the reaction of the human body to long time mm wave exposure?

    2. Considering the frequency and thus photon energy is well below the value needed for ionization, anything other than thermal effect would require extreme fine-tuning on the part of the receiver (just like 5G antennas have very specific components and very specific tuning to receive the signal at all). Is it theoretically possible that something in the human body might react to the exact frequency just like a 5G antenna in a phone? Yes. Is it likely? Nope. Such a thing, body reacting to non-ionizing radiation, has never happened before, with the only exception - eyes detecting light. And that single exception required millions of years of evolution driven by large survival advantage to fine tune (and a significantly higher photon energy).

      Dont expect specific numbers from me, but I would be more worried about meteorite falling on me than 5G harming me. At some point the risk is so small that it should be simply ignored, until perhaps proven otherwise (not the other way around).

    3. It always worries me when people don't talk about relative risks. It's black and white thinking. Flying is dangerous but is it more dangerous than driving to the airport? We certainly don't want to eliminate all risks. I'm all for acceptable risks.

      I also think that in general the direct beneficiaries of 5G are not actually consumers, it's the owners of the networks who able to carry more data and charge more fees. There may be specific locations or times where the old frequencies are maxed, or consumers who absolutely need to download whole 4K movies in 15 seconds, I guess. Consumer benefit largely accrues indirectly from membership of a community with more capable networks supporting more applications. This is also tricky for some people.

    4. Could you clarify something? Rob van Son seems to be arguing that we already know how tissues react to thermal stress. If thermal effects are the only way that 5G might harm human tissues, it would seem to be irrelevant whether or not we have a lot of studies involving heating *from 5G*, we just need studies on how heating harms human tissues, which it seems we already have. Is your point that we could be missing some third harm mechanism, different from either breaking molecular bonds or heating tissues?

    5. Kevin,

      If thermal effects are the only way that 5G might harm human tissues,"

      It's the "If" in this sentence that's the problem. Living organisms are complex systems. Their response to stimulus is highly nonlinear. If someone tells me you can extrapolate a frequency response over one order of magnitude I call "bullshit".

      Interesting example: In the 1980s, physicists thought they knew how the ozone layer would react to CFS. You see, they knew the physics. They could calculate it. T'was supposed to be a slow, gradual, and global loss. Instead all of a sudden there was a hole over the Antarctic. Oopsie! How did this happen? Well, making predictions for non-linear systems is more difficult than you'd think. In this case it was a type of cloud that no one had looked much at before.

      Really the thing that irks me most about it is that it would have been simple enough to DO these studies. I mean, look, this technology didn't pop out of the ground yesterday. It's been in development for a decade, and even then, it's not like mm waves are new in any respect. Why the heck do we not have this data? Why isn't the literature cluttered with double blind studies on that. And, most amazingly, why aren't companies required to do these studies?

    6. Typo, sorry: CFS should have been CFCs.

  8. Given that there has been little research on long term exposure then surely the right response is more such research. Personally, it doesn't surprise me that there are people protesting against it - although, personally, I don't think there is much danger for the reasons you've outlined - we're physicists and know the physics, but theres plenty of people who don't. We don't always do a good job of educating people as climate denialism and anti-vaxxers show.

  9. How microwaves differ from sunlight:

    Boil a chicken egg, and let it cool in a fridge over night.

    Then put it to microwave oven for a minute or so. Peel the egg, and cut it half.

    You might find burnt center within the egg. Typical egg size makes quite a good dielectric resonator at 2.4 GHz microwave frequency, and focuses energy (electric field) to the center of the egg.

    With sunlight, as it penetrates the skin/flesh not so easy as mw, and because the wavelength of light is in a range where there is no structure in dielectric constant within the body (which is requirement for focusing / resonating), no similar effect is possible.

    Meaning: microwave radiation can indeed cause more severe heating effects compared to same power of visible light.

    Of course you can take focusing lens and put your finger in the focal point in sunlight and get a burn, but with microwaves similar thing can happen unintended.

  10. You can laugh loudly at what I'm going to say .. but wifi produces me terrible headache and other minor symptoms ..

    I though I was the only lunatic, but to my surprise I found a lot of people saying exactly the same issue, just googling.

    And yes, I know 'normal' people doesn't feel Anything.

    At least I'm not the only one.

    Thanks Sabina for your beatiful blog and vĂ­deos ¡¡¡

  11. I was much too hasty above where I say "we're physicists and we know the physics". I assumed too much. I just looked at the review and was startled to see right there in the beginning they write "80% of the in vitro studies showed responses to exposure, whilst 58% of the in vitro studies demonstrated effects". In fact, I went right past it the first time and it wasn't until I was on the next page that I thought, did I really read that? I went back, and saw that I did.

    It doesn't surprise me that there are protestors tearing down masts. The companies obviously haven't done enough research to properly settle matters. Like me, they appear to have assumed too much.

    1. Mozibur,

      Yes, basically I had the same experience.

    2. Responses are thermal responses.

      The experiments showed that MMW radiation heats water. That is not new. On the contrary, we know that radiation from microwave oven to infrared wavelengths heats water.

      The actual question is: Does radiation power on or below the safety regulation levels cause biological effects beyond heating tissues.

      See my citation above for the answer of the authors.

  12. I actually live across a highway from a giant cell tower, perhaps 800 feet away. It was put up about 5 years ago. My one car garage is interposed between the tower and my living area, so that likely helps somewhat in attenuating the radiation. Plus there are some pine and deciduous trees in the path, which might absorb a little bit of the radiation. I've considered installing thin metal sheets or metal screening on the garage wall facing the house. I do have a radiation meter, though not sure it's sensitive to the frequencies that will be used in 5G. Unfortunately, I misplaced it and will have to keep searching for it to see what its specs are.

    1. The fact you use your cell phone pretty clearly indicates you are getting signal from that tower. 4G stuff is nothing to be concerned about.

    2. @Lawrence Crowell:

      The nice thing about the proximity of that tower is having superb reception. Before it was erected I had spotty reception at best. My brother used to live next door to me and was offered 1000 dollars a month if he would agree to have a cell tower installed on his 14 acre property. I would have jumped at that offer, but my brother had already invested a large amount of money and labor in a new property some 50 miles away which he eventually moved to. I believe the tower is owned by AT&T, but am not completely sure.

  13. I've read ~6 books on "EMF is bad for you" and I've been very skeptical of their claims until recently. Due to the lockdown, my exposure to wifi has sharply increased and I now experience an uncomfortable sensation in my head when I use my smartphone. Also, I recently read "The Invisible Rainbow" by Arthur Firstenberg. He has a fascinating hypothesis that EMF (because it disrupts the electron transport of our metabolic pathways) is a major causal factor of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. (He claims the cell phone industry is suppressing the increase of brain cancer rates.) And yes, he also strongly implies that 5G is related to COVID-19 (although this book predates COVID-19) and previous pandemics in 1968/1957/1918 because human EMF (radio, radar, satellites) perturb the earth's natural EMF state when they're first introduced. As I said, I'm skeptical but I also have to admit it's within the realm of possibility. Anyway, I urge others to read it and make up their own mind instead of censorship (e.g. Amazon banned the Contagion Myth book recently because it also says 5G is causing COVID-19).

  14. Yesterday on a cross country ski run I had to pass within 150 feet of a giant cell tower on the Aushelot River bike trail. I didn't notice anything different from when I was at the furthest point away from the tower. But, oddly, whether it was just psychological, as I passed behind a metal chain link fence used as a backdrop to a baseball field, in the Keene, NH athletic center, I had a sense of 'pressure relief' that persisted only as long as I was 'shielded' by the fence from the straight line radiation of the cell tower, which towered above the landscape. Today I might XC ski in Mt. Monadnock State Park, where there are no nearby cell towers.

  15. Thank you, Sabine, for this very clear and understandable explanation. Maybe it would have been helpful to emphasize the two main point of criticism, first: the side effects of tissue warming and second: the suspicion that there may be other unwanted effects than warming which hadn't been discovered yet. The first point (warming of tissue) is, so far as I know, very well understood. I. E. this 1986 IEEE paper reports that millimeter waves at certain intensities would cause a thermal sensation because the skin's thermal receptors are likely to recognize them as IR:
    So, mainly the research should be focussed on the second point.

  16. There may exist some harmful effects, but we need to consider that biological systems exist very far from equilibrium, they fall apart as soon as they stop working. So, we are talking about chemical processes that are constantly building the system as fast as it is broken down, this dynamical equilibrium is the living organism. Such systems are not going to be easily thrown off course by small perturbations.

    For us there are some other complicating factors at play. G5 is not the only unnatural influence that could be perturbing our biology. Our modern civilization started about 10,000 years ago, we changed our diets in ways that are not all that healthy. It's precisely that biological systems are very robust that allowed us to do this. If we had all dropped dead due to making unhealthy choices, we would not have made those choices.

    Most people today only get about 20 grams of fiber a day while indigenous populations get 80 grams or more fiber a day. This us the result of eating high energy density foods, the main component of which in our modern diets is fat. While we do need to get small amounts of the essential Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids and a small amount to absorb fat soluble vitamins, we do not need to eat fat for our energy needs. There is no real direct harm if we do eat more fat, but because our source of fat is refined oils, butter etc, and not the natural sources like nuts and seeds, we then don't get all the other nutrients and fiber that would come with the calories.

    An additional problem with the modern diet is that your intestines get used to the small volume of food and the small amount of fiber in it, making it difficult to revert to the natural diet. It's analogous to why a couch potato cannot easily start with strenuous exercise.

    A recent study confirms what the advocates of this sort of natural diet have been saying for many decades now:

    "...the Tsimane, a forager-horticulturalist population of the Bolivian Amazon with few coronary artery disease risk factors, have the lowest reported levels of coronary artery disease of any population recorded to date."

    This is consistent with older research results from the 1950s when in Uganda under British rules you had an indigenous population that was eating in the traditional way and also hospitals keeping records that could be studied:

    "In the African population of Uganda coronary heart disease is almost non-existent. This statement is confirmed by adequate necropsy evidence1. In the Asian community, on the other hand, coronary heart disease is a major problem."

    The diet of the Africans as described in this article is similar to that of the Tsimane. There exist similar research results from studies of other indigenous populations.

    So, I think we need to put the potential problems G5 can cause in the right perspective. Your diet is likely many thousands of times more harmful than any damage that G5 may do. And if there is a health effect due to G5, that is then likely going to be the result of both the effects of G5 and your diet. If the diet were healthy to begin with, your body's capacity to repair itself would be much better.

  17. The combination of;
    'high' energy photons;
    'low' power radiation from phone (maximum of about 200mW in poor reception areas - is lowest with strong tower signal);
    very short distance when phone held to ear - gives a risk which is as yet unquantifiable.

    To me the major potential for problems arises from extremely short distances between head and phone antenna.

    SABINE is simply saying that we do not yet know the extent of the risks, if any. No claim is made that there IS no risk, as some readers appear to interpret the analysis to conclude.

    To me, this suggests the wisdom of hands-free or video operation until more is known.

    But it's your call. This matter is a mere bagatelle compared with the ignored but very real and imminent serious threats facing us today. Threats discounted by most. So why not ignore this one also? Please realise that such an approach is an emotional one based upon personal preference rather than an intellectual one based on an understanding of what we know.

  18. Police in Nashville are investigating whether a “person of interest” in the Christmas Day bombing was paranoid about 5G technology by AT&T.

  19. "Because of these new features, conspiracy theories have flourished around 5G"
    -- rather because of lost market competition to Huawei.
    These "conspiracy theories", as well as legal issues gives time for Western companies to develop its own 5G-equipment.

    1. That's a different story entirely and has nothing to do with the conspiracy theories that I am referring to.

  20. Dear Sabine,
    Thank your very much for your video on this topic, and all of your other videos too! I have many to watch, but they look amazing at first glance. I'd like to share this video with my mother, as to make our discussions better informed. Could you give me the possibility to translate this video (and perhaps others) to Dutch so that you may add it as a subtitel on YouTube? It'd require you to send the .CSV file of the current English subtitles to my e-mail address, and I can send you the translated version back. Dutch is my mother's tongue and I am C2 level in English, I write a speak about science to a broad audience at Utrecht University, and I hope this gives me enough credit in your eyes to help you bring your video to a new audience, which doesn't speak English but does speak Dutch. Thanks in advance for your efforts!

    1. Hi Niels,

      You can download the subtitles yourself, but if that's difficult I can send you the file. Please email me at hossi[at]

  21. Hi Sabine, I just found this discussion tool, so am reposting my public comment here if it's better to do that.

    As usual, a balanced and easy digestible explanation of a topic of interest to everyone. Your question "how should we proceed from here?" - without searching through the comments, do you think it prudent to use wired or wireless earphones instead of holding a phone near your ear, especially for those who talk often and for long periods on their mobile device? Has anyone raised that?


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