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14 November 2021

How Green is 5G?

How Green is 5G?
by Sally Beare, Envirotec, November 2021

A panoply of dazzling new IoT applications is a given, it would seem, with all the potential benefits one would expect from a step-change in wireless connectivity. But what about the environmental footprint? Sally Beare writes

With the plan for connected devices everywhere, internet traffic is set to triple over the next five years.1 Multiple masts and densely-placed small cells will proliferate. A single 5G base station is estimated to guzzle about as much power as 73 typical homes, a threefold increase over 4G.2, 3

Once base stations, data centres and devices are added up, telecommunications could consume over 20% of the world’s electricity by 2025, says Huawei analyst Dr Anders Andrae (compared to approximately 11% currently).4. 5 Compare that with global aviation’s 2.5% share of GHGs: In a worst-case scenario 5G could create almost ten times that by 2030.6,7


Harmful to humans?

Some of the mirth accruing to the topic during 2020 might be attributable to widespread misconceptions about what constitutes harmful radiation, and a mistaken belief that only heating and ionisation effects are relevant when appraising the biological and health impacts of RFR.

Governments and telecoms companies claim that RFR is safe, yet this is strongly contested by researchers. A 2018 article published in the influential medical journal The Lancet explains that the idea that ‘non-ionising’ radiation is benign is an outdated myth.45

A 2021 piece in the British Medical Journal calls for a halt to the 5G rollout and outlines a compendium of risks from RFR: reproductive, oncological, neuropsychiatric, and immunological, in addition to DNA alteration, and gene expression and antibiotic resistance risks. RF scientists have lobbied the World Health Organisation to categorise RFR as a Class 1 carcinogen.46, 47

It is interesting to note that governments and industry rely on guidelines recommended by ICNIRP, a non-accountable body recently ruled biased by two EU courts and the object of an investigation by two MEPs.48, 49 In August 2021, judges ruled in a US court case that the Federal Communications Commission has ignored evidence of harm.50

The 5G standard encompasses both low-frequency RFR (similar to 4G) and high-frequency millimetre waves. The biological effects from low-frequency RF radiation are well-studied and established, whilst existing research suggests that millimetre waves may damage the nervous system, skin, and eyes.51


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