5G ‘Health Scares’ and the Anti-Tech Bandwagon (Part 1)

A little bit about how the electromagnetic spectrum is allocated. There are 2 elements to this: frequency and power.

Let’s talk about power first: the more power you drive a signal with, the further it travels (within reason), but the closer you are to it, the more of that signal you get. Think about speakers at a gig, for example, you *could* just turn the volume up louder so the people at the back can hear better, but that risks deafening the people at the front. Much better to add some extra speakers at the sides and the back and have everything at a lower volume level. The people at the back get better sound, and the people at the front aren’t deafened.

This is one of the biggest misunderstandings with wireless networks: more power is almost never the answer. When I’m visiting clients who say they’re having wireless problems, I frequently find myself actually *turning down* the power of their wireless units. Much better to have more, but lower power units providing even coverage across a space.

Frequency is the wavelength of the signal you are transmitting. Different frequencies have different properties, so a very low frequency travels through large bodies of water quite well, but has an extremely low data rate; by contrast a very high frequency struggles to travel through anything for more than a short distance, but you can send extremely high data rates over it.

From a safety perspective, you can’t just roll up at a location and start transmitting with whatever frequency and power you like. Nearly everything that transmits and receives in the UK has to be licenced by Ofcom – the independent telecoms regulator. They maintain a database of exactly who is allowed to transmit in each frequency range, how much power they’re allowed to use, and any special requirements. Part of this is simple good practice: it does no-one any good to have their signals overlap with others – it degrades the signal for everyone. The other part of this is safety: you can’t just go and put up a super-mega-powerful wireless transmitter on the side of your building without it being licenced by Ofcom (who will also specify the maximum power you can transmit at).

So, the frequencies for the 5G rollouts are well published, just like all the frequencies for GSM, UMTS (aka 3G), LTE (aka 4G) are. It’s all publicly available information published freely on the Ofcom website – you don’t need any special access or passwords to go and download the spectrum allocations for yourself and look through them.

The 5G allocations in the UK aren’t new: they’re being reclaimed from other users like analogue TV who’ve been using them for nearly 70 years. If there was evidence to suggest that the 700Mhz spectrum (old analogue TV) caused us harm, we’d be all over it by now, by virtue of having 70 years of medical data to work with.

Moreover, because 5G – like most other mobile technologies – is cell based, the individual transmit power of each cell is *tiny* compared to the big old TV transmitters. We’re talking single digit watts vs. several thousand watts for some of the early TV transmitters. So if anything, the actual ‘exposure’ each of us will have to those wavelengths is going to be considerably reduced vs. people in the mid 20th century.


IT Consultant, Network Engineer, Photographer, Audiophile.

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