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Demystifying 5G and Safe Internet

It was a priority in the Speech from the Throne – good Internet connections while physically distanced. Through the pandemic, the gearing up and rollout of wireless 5G is continuing, with the goal to connect billions of devices wirelessly, to other devices and to us, at home, work, school, across communities and globally. There is a better way.

So, what is 5G, and does wireless fit the bill? Green economic and social recovery requires safe, secure, reliable, resilient, low-energy communications, and the clear winner will focus on fibre.

What is 5G?
The complicated wireless 5G package builds on 3G and 4G technologies, that use radiofrequency (RF) radiation bands in ranges 700-900 megahertz (MHz), and 1700-2100 MHz.

5G will add millimetre (mm) waves  above 30 gigahertz (GHz) for higher bandwidth (to transfer data more efficiently). As well, mm waves require line of sight – they do not penetrate buildings or foliage like frequencies for 3G and 4G – so 600 MHz signals are used to take data through walls and obstacles.

[from Building science and radiofrequency radiation, used with permission. *Hertz is a measurement of frequency defined as one cycle per second, in honour of Heinrich Rudolf Hertz. In the 19th Century, Hertz proved the existence of electromagnetic waves. One MHz is 1 million (106) Hz, and 1 GHz is 1 billion (109) Hz.]

The Dream
Fifth generation or 5G cellular wireless network technology is promoted for ample bandwidth for work, school and much more … games, entertainment and virtual reality, any time, anywhere. The “Internet of Things” will connect billions of devices to track and control minutiae of life and in buildings, at home, school, work and play; in traffic, cities and commerce.

Are eggs in the fridge, kids home, cats clawing the couch?
Check your phone.

Want a 3-D tour of a gorge, the pyramids or an art gallery?
Use your phone in a holder close to your eyes (maybe not for children).

Do you want to let the car do the driving, come rain, hail, sleet and snow?
5G promises this too.

Radio and TV – one signal for everyone – is so yesteryear
Really? Does everyone need a personal signal?

5G Up Close
Higher frequencies provide more bandwidth to transfer large amounts of data, but the signal range is limited by poor penetration of solids (e.g. buildings and vegetation) and liquids. Millimetre waves are only reliable over short distances, so base or cell stations are required every 100-200 metres. These smaller sized cells will be mounted on hydro poles, lamp posts, buildings and other structures, and even in manholes, and hidden throughout communities. With 5G rollout, it is estimated that there could be a million base stations and a billion transmitting objects. Maybe more.

This is what 5G looks like along a street.
Some wonder – is this security or surveillance?

Here are 5G antennae, on an Ottawa street, on the searchable Canadian antennae map.

Some antennas will be “multiple input, multiple output” or MIMO, with the ability to receive and to beam many signals from and to various directions. This poses risks of high RF radiation exposure if multiple outputs are focused a small area. In reality, the full extent of exposures with use of 5G is largely unknown.

Data from Space – Whither the Weather and Stars?

Long-standing geostationary satellites have provided limited radio-telephone, geo-positioning signal (GPS) and Internet to remote locations. Now satellite initiatives, such as SpaceX, Iridium and others are deploying thousands of satellites in low earth orbits, posing risks of collisions, being shot down, and signals being jammed by foreign powers. The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) warns of risks of interference with astronomy and weather forecasting for previously quiet frequencies and with “leakage” of 5G signals. Low earth orbit is becoming a dangerous junk yard.

Astronomy is also at risk with thousands of satellites being deployed in low earth orbit, as seen in time lapse photos (e.g., obscuring comet Neowise).

With limited lifespans, satellite detritus burning up in the atmosphere and raining down will eventually pose physical and toxicity risks, while expending limited mineral resources.

5G Details
5G technologies are complex and diverse, as illustrated below. New radio access network technologies (RAT) are deployed at frequencies above 6 GHz, with multi (OFDM FBMC) and/or single carrier (DFTs- OFDM) formats. Phased array (PD-NOMA) signals are guided by visual light communication (VLC) to beam large amounts of data quickly and accurately to numerous users.

What do the Scientists Say?
Scientists are concerned about harms to humans and the environment from exposure to RF radiation. Compounding the concern is that regulations have not kept up with research and technological advancements.

Current safety guidelines and regulations, including Canada’s Safety Code 6, aim to protect against excessive tissue heating, shocks and burns, and at lower frequencies, peripheral nerve and muscle stimulation affecting sensation, motor function and coordination.

Long before the launch of 5G, peer-reviewed scientific studies indicated harm to human and environmental health from RF radiation at levels well below international and Canadian guidelines. Adverse health effects range from cancers to cardiovascular disease, impaired sperm function and quality, and DNA damage. Early exposure of children may predispose to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Science supports substantially greater precautions, particularly during development.

In addition to human health effects, considerable evidence of harm has been documented in plants, trees and wildlife including ants, birds and bats, frogs, fruit flies, honey bees, insects, mammals, mice, and rats.

Cancer – In 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified RF radiation between 30 MHZ and 100 GHz in Group 2B, possibly carcinogenic to humans, based on the recommendations of an expert panel. The Group 2B classification includes RF radiation from all emitting devices such as cell phones, cordless phones, laptops, tablets, Wi-Fi, wireless detectors and monitors, and innumerable wireless-enabled gadgets and toys. The conclusion was based largely on human epidemiological evidence of increased risk of the brain tumour glioma with cell phone use.

In 2019 an IARC advisory group found that interim extensive human and animal studies make it a high priority of IARC to reassess RF radiation (see pp 148-9). We believe this will place RF radiation in IARC’s Group 1, known human carcinogen, alongside tobacco smoke and asbestos. There is no “safe” level of carcinogens.

Possible mechanism – One explanation for non-thermal biological effects at low RF exposures is microwave catalysis. Well known to chemists, it is used to accelerate particular chemical reactions using low levels of RF radiation. The same can happen in living organisms. Rapidly changing electric and magnetic fields put forces on electrons in molecules, affecting biochemistry. The implication is that the building blocks of cells are affected including mitochondria, ribosomes and endoplasmic reticulum. This is consistent with observed human effects of non-thermal RF radiation listed above.

Despite dozens of petitions and appeals by international scientists and the IARC recommendations urging caution, industry marches on, with no interference from the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (a.k.a. Industry Canada).

All power rests with Industry Canada, that in turn relies on Health Canada’s guidance in Safety Code 6 (2015).

Canadians receive no notice and have no legally enforceable control over where small cells are placed, even close to sensitive areas such as homes, playgrounds, parks, schools, or indoor work spaces. Municipalities provide a non-binding “notice of concurrence” for placement of large towers. Industry Canada conducts theoretical modelling assessments of multiple antennae but rarely ground-truths radiation levels.

In any legal vacuum, the dollar decides what will be built. As tax dollars are spent on Internet access, the buyer (our governments, for us) must stipulate that every penny has to go towards safe, fibre/wire infrastructure, with commitments for Fibre To and Wire Through the Premises (FTTP).

Many of us have come to expect high data rates and easy control of many aspects of daily life through cell phones, tablets and other devices. Present wireless radiation levels already causes harms, but with full 5G rollout everyone, every species on the surface of the earth will be subject to RF signals on a continuous basis, 24/7. Considering the magnitude of 5G and future wireless innovation, we should err on the side of caution, rather than continuing undocumented experimentation without our consent. As humans we need to consider our options, especially when safe, wired options are at least as fast, and more secure and resilient, with virtually unlimited bandwidth.

Safer solutions exist!
Led by Canadians, a Building and Environment paper reviewed the science of why and how to minimize RF radiation. The Canadian Committee for Indoor Air Quality published guidance regarding indoor environmental quality, including low RF radiation solutions for workplaces and schools.

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