Europe’s 5G ambition: harmonizing opportunities across EU28 countrie

The deployment of 5G will see the evolution and expansion of existing 4G networks and the introduction of new radio access networks in the millimetre wave bands.

5G networks are specifically designed to minimize transmitter power, even more than existing 4G networks. 5G networks use a new advanced radio and core architecture which is very efficient and minimizes transmissions which results in lower EMF levels.

Because of the use of much higher frequency ranges, the number of base stations will substantially increase. These networks will include a range of installations including smaller cell deployments and advanced antenna technologies. Massive multiple input multiple output (MIMO) antennas will allow the use of very narrow beams that will follow the user with an impact for the surrounding exposure level different from that of current systems.

The number of wireless devices will dramatically increase. New technology allows for the use of more efficient systems that require lower level of the signals for communication.

ITU recommendations contains an analysis of the impact of the implementation of 5G mobile systems with respect to the exposure level of electromagnetic fields (EMF) around radiocommunication infrastructure.

The level of concern that members of the public may have about this new technology cannot be anticipated. Previous deployments of 3G and 4G have raised concerns in some countries, however, in recent years consumers are more accustomed to the existence of radio antennas and the use of mobile devices is fairly ubiquitous. Notwithstanding this, it is recommended that some communication materials are written in order to educate and inform about the new 5G technology and human exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields.

Key messages about 5G EMF limits exposure:

  • Existing international exposure guidelines are not technology specific and apply to all new applications
  • Restrictive EMF limits increasing the cost of deployment
  • Restrictive EMF limits may delay deployment of new mobile technologies and associated benefits
  • In the short-term, the 5G network is not intended to replace existing networks but it will operate in conjunction with existing 4G networks
  • 5G systems will use frequencies that are already addressed by international radio-protection standards
  • New applications, such as 5G, wireless IoT and wearable devices, are 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
  • Two international bodies; International Commission on Non Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) and Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) have developed exposure guidelines and defined exposure limits in terms of specific absorption rate (SAR) and electric and magnetic field strength and power density in the 5G frequencies band. These exposure guidelines form the basis of policy and regulation in many countries
  • However, the exposure limits differ in some countries, and in some cases are more restrictive. ITU recommend that if radio frequency electromagnetic field EMF limits do not exist, or if they do not cover the frequencies of interest, then ICNIRP limits should be used
  • The main conclusion from the WHO reviews is that EMF exposures below the limits recommended in the ICNIRP international guidelines do not appear to have any known consequence on health
  • A European Commission expert committee has concluded that current knowledge about how EMF interacts with the human body can be used to set exposure limits for the whole frequency range up to 300 GHz. Therefore, existing health risk assessments are valid independently of the wireless technology for the whole frequency range.