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5G: the new generation of the mobile phone network and health

20 March 2019

Mobile phone networks and other wireless telecommunications sources emit low-level radiofrequency (RF) electromagnetic energy (EME) and some members of the public have some concerns of adverse health effects. Of particular concern is the new generation of the mobile phone network called ‘5G’.

Although the 5G mobile phone network is new, limits set in safety standards, our understanding of the evidence of health effects and the need for more research have not changed. Why?

The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) safety standard sets limits for exposure to RF EME. These limits are set well below levels at which harm to people may occur. The operating frequencies of the 5G network are included within the limits set by the ARPANSA safety standard. 5G infrastructure and devices emitting RF EME are regulated by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), and emissions are required to comply with the limits of the ARPANSA safety standard. 

At exposure levels below the limits set within the ARPANSA safety standard, it is the assessment of ARPANSA and international organisations such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation (ICNIRP) that there is no established scientific evidence to support any adverse health effects from very low RF EME exposures to populations or individuals. 

Dr Ken Karipidis, Assistant Director of ARPANSA’s Assessment and Advice Section is an expert on how radiation affects the human body. He explains that: ‘5G is the 5th generation of telecommunication infrastructure which provides connectivity over a wide range of frequencies to mobile phones and other devices on the wireless network.’

Dr Karipidis details that the 5G network will ‘initially use frequencies in the current mobile phone network, then move to higher frequencies where the depth of RF EME penetration into human tissue is short.’
 
‘Consequently, this energy is absorbed mostly within the skin where surface heating is the predominant effect. 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.’

‘In our community today there are a range of devices and applications that utilise higher frequencies, for example security screening units at airports, police radar guns to check speed, remote sensors and in medicine.’ 

Dr Karipidis acknowledges that there are gaps in this knowledge that require further research, ‘ARPANSA therefore has made recommendations for areas where further studies are needed. The recommendations include research for frequencies above 6 GHz and for emerging technologies that use them like 5G. Despite gaps in the knowledge, no health effects are expected from radio frequency exposures below the limits set in the ARPANSA standard.  

‘ARPANSA will continue to review the available research on 5G and other upcoming technologies in order to provide advice to the Australian people,’ Dr Karpidis says.