The big problem with the conspiracy theories over '5G apocalypse'

You’ve probably heard a bit about 5G by now but there’s a good chance some of it is accidentally misleading, or in some cases just flat-out wrong.

This is the second in a three-part series on 5G mobile technology that seeks to explain what this new technology is, tackle the myths and fears surrounding it, and show you exactly what is possible on a 5G smartphone.

Why are people protesting 5G?

Last month there were protests in Melbourne against 5G out the front of a Telstra store, while activists have been dotting the city with posters warning of the coming “5G apocalypse”.

There are various “Stop 5G” Facebook groups around the country with thousands of members who post their concerns and stoke fears.

5G protestors in Melbourne are pictured holding signs that read 'Stop 5G terrorism' and demanding protection.
5G protestors in Melbourne hold signs that read "Stop 5G terrorism". Source: Facebook

Anti-5G activists around the world attribute a bewildering range of health dangers to the latest evolution in wireless technology, including the idea that it causes cancer.

But the fact of the matter is, there is no real evidence to warrant any concern that 5G could adversely affect your health.

Electromagnetic radiation explained

Any type of telecommunications that uses wireless transmissions emit radio waves. This is basically electromagnetic energy in the radio frequency spectrum.

The only established health effect of radio waves at very high power levels, is a rise in temperature.

“There’s two sorts of radiation in the electromagnetic spectrum,” Australian scientist Dr Karl Kruszelnicki told Yahoo News Australia. “There’s ionising and non-ionising.”

The first includes ultraviolet light like X-rays, gamma rays and sunlight which have been proven to cause cancer. However non-ionising radiation used in telecommunications, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and microwave ovens has never been proved to cause any health effects apart from mild heating.

“The bottom line is 5G is non-ionising,” Dr Karl said. “It is quite clear from all of the literature that is does not cause cancer or affect your health.”

Dr Karl pictured on the left with an Australian telecommunications tower with antennas and mobile receivers pictured on the right.
Australia's beloved science communicator Dr Karl has tried to dispel the myths around 5G. Source: AAP/Facebook

“What the anti-5G protestors are doing is misrepresenting the science. They’re talking complete mistruths.”

5G operates at a higher frequency than previous 4G networks, which means it can carry more data, but can’t travel as far. That actually means it has less impact on the human body, Dr Karl said.

“Low frequency equals good penetrations but a low data rate,” he explained.

“High frequency means a very high data rate but a very low penetration rate into the human body ... It stops at the skin!”

Russia misinformation and birds falling from the sky

There is a wealth of disinformation and conspiracy theories when it comes to this kind of technology - some of it is being fanned by the Russian government.

As The New York Times recently revealed, the Kremlin is running a disinformation campaign spreading falsehoods about the dangers of 5G, even suggesting it might kill you. As Russia plays catch-up on the crucial technology, it wants to disrupt the rollout in rival countries.

Other conspiracies seem to spread more organically. A viral Facebook post about birds dropping out of the sky after the Netherlands tested its 5G network made its way around the world in November. The only problem was the tests actually took place months earlier.

It’s true that some reputable sources have flagged the potential for adverse effects when it comes to high levels of radiation, and the Austrian government recently paused its 5G rollout to address public concerns. But Australian authorities don’t have any worries.

5G mobile phones are hitting the market. They offer fast speeds but are expensive.
Samsung Galaxy S10+ is one of a few 5G mobile handsets currently on the market. Source: Getty

Australian radiation regulators unconcerned

The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) governs this sort of thing and says the operating frequencies of 5G are well within the limits it considers safe.

“There is no established scientific evidence to support any adverse health effects from very low radio frequency electromagnetic energy exposures to populations or individuals,” the agency says.

Assistant Director, Dr Ken Karipidis, is an expert of how radiation effects the human body and says there is no need for concern.

“At these higher 5G frequencies, the limits in the ARPANSA safety standard are set to prevent excessive heating at the surface of the skin and the eye.”

And as for the cancer stuff, that’s complete poppycock.

As Dr Karl put it: “One bit of garbage repeated lots of times is still garbage”.

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