5G exposure and guidelines

How does 5G work?

Initially, 5G networks will make use of existing infrastructure. The so-called 5G macro cells are similar to antennas used for 3G & 4G and are aimed at providing coverage to large areas. They will be installed on masts together with existing 2G, 3G & 4G antennas.

Radio waves at the higher 5G frequencies cannot travel as far as those used in 4G (or the lower 5G bands) and therefore will need to be boosted at regular intervals. To do this, it is envisaged that smaller antennas will be deployed for example on lamp posts in urban areas to ensure connectivity.

One distinctive feature of 5G is the ability to generate device-focused beams, known as "beamforming". This allows the signals to be created and directed only when and where they are needed. Pre-5G technologies use continuous beams, similar to broadcast media. Recent simulations indicate that beamforming could lead to reduced exposure levels from 5G antennas when compared to equivalent 4G equipment, though this needs to be verified using measurements in real-life situations.

5G frequency fields

Further technical details on 5G and other wireless technologies can be found on this website, developed by several telecommunication associations.

Is 5G expected to increase public exposure to EMF?

The introduction of a new technology using higher frequency RF fields can understandably give rise to concerns. However, it is important to note that higher frequencies does not mean higher or more intense public exposure. The radio frequencies envisaged for 5G are not new. They are in common use today, for example in airport security scanners, radar guns that check traffic speed and in point-to-point microwave links.

Since 5G equipment are being added to existing telecommunication networks, it is possible that there may be a small increase in the overall exposure to radio waves. However, the total or cumulative RF exposure level is expected to remain low and well below the ICNIRP guidelines.

RF levels comparison

In managing the radio spectrum, ComReg monitors compliance with conditions attached to licences and general authorisations. Compliance with the ICNIRP levels is obligatory and reports of EMF measurements from ComReg licensed sites are published on ComReg’s Siteviewer website. The ICNIRP guidelines apply to frequencies up to 300 GHz, well above those frequencies envisaged for 5G.

In order to inform our advice function, the EPA will monitor population exposure to EMF, including the frequencies used for 5G. This monitoring programme will also allow us to assess potential increases of the total EMF exposure levels and their comparison with ICNIRP and existing everyday values.

If 5G is a new technology, are existing Guidelines applicable to it?

The introduction of a new technology using existing or new radio frequencies does not change the characteristics of those frequencies. This means that the ICNIRP guidelines which apply up to 300 GHz, well above the frequencies proposed for 5G, remain valid. Therefore, no health effects are expected provided that 5G levels remain below the ICNIRP guidelines for members of the public. 

Using a simple analogy, the RF spectrum may be considered as an existing road network. The introduction of a new type of vehicle on to that road does not change the characteristics (or hazards) that are present on the road. Thus, provided that the existing regulations (for that road) such as the speed limits are monitored and enforced no additional risks would be expected from the use of a new type of vehicle on the road. In the same way, the introduction of a new technology like 5G on to existing radio frequencies ought not to increase public risk provided the ICNIRP guidelines are not exceeded.