5G and Beyond

5G Is Safe, FCC Says

FCC officials today reiterated that 5G does not pose a health risk. Specifically, the agency -- the government arm in charge of the country's use of spectrum -- said it will not change its existing RF exposure limits, arguing that such limits are already among the most stringent in the world.

"The available scientific evidence to date does not support adverse health effects in humans due to exposures at or under the current limits," Jeffrey Shuren, director of the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, wrote to the FCC. "No changes to the current standards are warranted at this time."

FCC officials explained that the agency's existing RF exposure limits apply to phones and other devices, as well as small cells and marco cell towers -- basically any object that produces an RF signal. And the officials said that all the available scientific evidence indicates that 5G is no different from 4G, 3G or any other G in terms of causing cancer or other ailments. The officials said the same of true of transmissions in different spectrum bands, be it low-band spectrum like 600MHz or high-band spectrum like 28GHz, which is now being put to use in 5G -- the officials said the agency's existing RF exposure guidelines are still applicable regardless of the spectrum band.

However, the FCC is moving to codify its approach to the issue. Specifically, Chairman Ajit Pai is proposing a uniform set of guidelines on how to assess whether phones and other products are in compliance with the FCC's RF standards.

The FCC's actions today basically represent a response by the US government to concerns that 5G causes cancer and other health issues. Such concerns have been widely expressed in cities across the country as well as by some lawmakers at the federal level. Indeed, the notion of a 5G health scare even played a role in a Russian disinformation campaign, according to detailed reporting by the New York Times.

Yet, according to FCC officials, no credible science has emerged to support such claims. In fact, another NYT article notes that transmissions in millimeter-wave spectrum -- where 5G runs today in the US -- cannot penetrate human skin. That's simply due to the propagation characteristics of transmissions in high-band spectrum, and it's also something that 5G phone engineers are keenly aware of considering they need to design 5G phones so that the signal can't be blocked by a user's hand. Those kinds of problems don't affect transmissions in lower-band spectrum, like where 4G is available.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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