The science is clear; we’ve more to fear from baby monitors than 5G


Frequencies are measured in Hertz, after the scientist who first proved this invisible energy actually exists. A thousand hertz equals one kilohertz, and so on through mega, giga, tera, peta and exahertzs; that’s one quintillion Hertz, with an impressive 18 zeros.

Australia’s 5G networks run on the 3.5 gigahertz (GHz) radio band, sitting between the 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi networks we’ve used in our homes for decades. Soon, the 5G rollout will add the 26GHz “millimetre wave” band, used by radar and satellites for more than 50 years.

While 26GHz sounds like a big scary number, a look at the full breadth of the electromagnetic spectrum helps keep things in perspective. You can see all the mobile phone networks fall between radio broadcasts and visible sunlight.

Even the upcoming mmWave 5G is comparable to exposure to a radio signal.

Even the upcoming mmWave 5G is comparable to exposure to a radio signal. Credit:EMF Guide

Keep in mind this graphic isn’t to scale, it’s logarithmic. Ultraviolet frequencies are 10,000 times higher than sunlight, while sunlight in turn is 1000 times higher than microwave.

It’s only when you get up to the top end of ultraviolet — around 3000 terahertz — that you encounter deadly “ionising” radiation. At the top of the spectrum, X-rays and radioactive sources are powerful enough to break chemical bonds and damage living tissue.

The danger zone

It’s difficult to visualise the entire spectrum to scale, so imagine it stretches from Melbourne to Sydney. Standing in the heart of Melbourne, you’re at 1 megahertz; roughly the frequency of AM radio.

If the Hume Highway is the spectrum, you’re safe until you get to Sydney, about 900 kilometres north. That’s the 3000-terahertz mark where you run into ionising radiation.

So where do the 5G networks lie on the highway to the danger zone? Yass? Albury? Not even close.

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After just ten steps, you’ve reached the 26 gigahertz band where 5G operates. You haven’t even left Bourke Street Mall.

It’s safe to keep going, you won’t even hit the frequency of visible light until you drive 90 minutes up the Hume to Seymour. Remember, you need to get all the way to Sydney before you’re actually in danger from ionising radiation.

On the level

The health effects of EME are far from untested, with more than 25,000 studies over the years. This includes more than 500 on working in close proximity to high power millimetre wave signals, such as radar installations on aircraft carriers.

After all this research, the World Health Organisation says “there is no evidence that exposure to low level EME is harmful to human health”. Meanwhile Australia’s radiation safety watchdog, ARPANSA, says “there are no established health effects from the radio waves that the 5G network uses”.

So what is “low level” EME? Once again, it helps to get a sense of perspective.

ARPANSA sets Australia’s maximum safe EME power levels for the general public, taking into account children, the elderly and people with medical implants. Transmissions are tested independently to ensure that telcos abide by the rules. So where does 5G come in? At 90 per cent of safe levels? Maybe 50 per cent? Perhaps 10?

It’s more like one hundreth of 1 per cent.

Rather than take the telcos’ word for it, we put this to the test at Telstra’s 5G research centre on the Gold Coast. Armed with an independent tester’s $150,000 EME meter, we pitted the power levels from a 5G hotspot against a range of household items; only to find the baby monitor, walkie-talkie and microwave oven exposed us to more radiation.

EME from 5G is less than one per cent of the maximum safe levels, lower than microwave ovens and baby monitors.

EME from 5G is less than one per cent of the maximum safe levels, lower than microwave ovens and baby monitors.

In some ways 5G is safer than TV and radio broadcasts. The higher frequency 5G signals can’t pass through you, they struggle to even penetrate your skin, which is why 5G phones place their antenna on the back.

Opponents of 5G also fear the impact of spreading mini 5G towers throughout the suburbs, but this actually makes it safer. The tower and your phone dial down their power output when they have a strong signal.

Insisting 5G towers are moved further away from your neighbourhood is counterproductive, as is sticking so-called radiation shields on your phone. This only forces the handset to work harder to reach the tower, actually increasing your EME exposure.

When you look at the facts, 5G isn’t new and scary. It relies on the same radio frequencies and power levels we’ve used for decades, while falling well within safety limits. Before you panic, it helps to get a sense of perspective.

Adam Turner travelled to the Gold Coast as a guest of Telstra.

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