Shedding Light in the Darkness

Could Future Wireless Communications Be Harmful?

future845000-Ver1-1A new research project by New Zealand’s Massey University is focusing on the electromagnetic radiation from future generations of communication devices like mobile phones and laptops, to assess their effect on human health. It will investigate any adverse effects of electromagnetic radiation to human health caused by 5G networks. The project “Analysing Harmful Electromagnetic Exposure due to Future Millimeter Wave Transmissions” is funded by the Lottery Health Research Fund and will be carried out over 2016-2017.

“If this project shows that the 5G network leads to, or potentially may lead to adverse health impacts, the industry would be required to modify the underlying wireless technology to ensure the human wellbeing,” said Dr. Faraz Hasan, principal investigator.

The upcoming 5G network proposes to increase the number of wireless transmitters in our environment.  This may bring us dangerously close to exceeding the pre-defined limits. “With some industry giants predicting 50 billion connected devices by 2020 and with the employment of much higher transmission frequencies proposed for the 5G rollout, it is essential to determine how the future of telecommunications will affect the health of its users,” Hasan said.

The FCC keeps tight limits on the antenna power limits allowed for different fixed and mobile applications; however, carriers are starting to ask the agency if they can increase the amount of Effective Isotropic Radiated Power (EIRP), or peak antenna gain, used for millimeter wave applications.

Last year, researchers at NYU Wireless advocated for new safety metrics that are based on body temperature rather than the standard power density. Their study paper, titled “The Human Body and Millimeter-Wave Wireless Communication Systems: Interactions and Implications,” used four models representing different body parts (both clothed and unclothed) to evaluate the thermal effects of mmWave radiation on humans.

Their simulation showed the steady state temperature increases — even of clothed parts with less blood flow such as the forehead of a person wearing a hat — are negligible compared with the environmental temperature variations when the exposure intensity is similar to that likely to be used in a next-generation cell phone.

The Massey University researchers will collaborate with India’s Birla Institute of Technology and Auckland University of Technology.

All four top U.S. mobile carriers have announced plans to test 5G technology, with partners including Cisco Systems Inc., Ericsson AB, Nokia OYJ, Qualcomm Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. Connections are projected to double by 2020 and reach 500 billion 10 years later as more mobile devices, robots, light sensors and drones all become part of the so-called internet of things.

5G will feed massive machine-to-machine communications that will encompass “everything from smart homes to real-time cargo tracking to enhanced environmental monitoring and myriad applications yet to be conceived,” Reed Hundt, a former FCC chairman.

“Nobody really knows yet what 5G will be,” said Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Project. “But the carriers have decided they want to control access to this spectrum for whatever it is that develops.”

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