The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired a fresh panic about 5G technology. When the technology was introduced, many became concerned because the frequencies 5G operates at are higher than its predecessors. Paired with fake news circulating and comments from celebrity conspiracy theorists — the 5G fear had a strong base.
The internet has been crafting a variety of wild theories about the origin of coronavirus: it’s a plot to keep everyone home while the government changes out the batteries in the birds, or a ploy by Zoom to boost their video conferencing product. And a bit more seriously, a group of people believes that 5G internet is accelerating the spread of the coronavirus. Last week, these kinds of theories took flight as people set fire to 5G masts in the UK.
UK government officials have called the theory nonsense — and let’s be clear, it is. The national medical director of NHS England, Stephen Powis, said, “The 5G story is complete and utter rubbish, it’s nonsense, it’s the worst kind of fake news,” said Powis. “The reality is that mobile phone networks are absolutely critical to all of us.” Powis also noted that those particular phone networks are used by healthcare workers and emergency services.
There is no evidence that 5G technology is dangerous, nor that it is related to the spread of COVID-19. The World Health Organization (WHO) has firmly stated that 5G networks do not spread the virus.
How COVID-19 is spread
The spread of the new coronavirus strain has nothing to do with radio waves (the technology that 5G uses). It’s a respiratory virus that is mainly spread through droplets from coughs, sneezes, saliva, etc. You can be infected by coming into close contact with those droplets, with someone who has it, or touching a surface that has been contaminated and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Washing your hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds can kill the virus.
How 5G works
5G is the latest wireless network technology. It has more bandwidth than 4G LTE and purports to be much faster. The fastest version of 5G has a pretty small radius, so in order to build this technology out, carriers have to install small cell sites all over — on light poles, towers, walls, etc. It’s expensive and time-consuming, which is why it’ll be available city by city over a few years. You will also need a 5G-enabled phone for it to work.
5G uses radiofrequency technology, or radio waves, to transmit that information. Radio waves are at the lower end of the electromagnetic spectrum, and are non-ionizing, meaning they won’t do damage to the DNA in human cell tissues because it’s too weak to break chemical bonds. Radiation on the ionizing side of the scale, like from gamma rays and x-rays, can break molecular bonds and cause cancer.
Radiation sounds scary, but it simply means energy. Each type of radiation on the electromagnetic spectrum is determined by its frequency. 5G frequencies are on a similar wave as existing wireless networks. There has been no conclusive evidence that those frequencies are harmful. The WHO has categorized radiofrequency radiation as a Group 2B human carcinogen (those not proven to cause cancer), the same classification as coffee.
The bottom line
It is more important now than ever to keep people connected and online. The next evolution of wireless technology, 5G, can help those connections improve. Scientists and researchers will continue to study 5G and radio waves in general. But with no scientific evidence that 5G is harmful and a slew of government organizations affirming its safety, we have no reason not to trust the technology.