THE CHALLENGES OF 5G
Is 5G bad for your health? The question is growing, and so are the concerns, as this new mobile phone technology is rolled out around the world. There are many opponents and also a lot of haste.
We would like to take stock of what the science says.
Considered a major disruption in the telecoms industry, the technology will offer much higher speeds than current 4G, with faster access to content and the ability to move billions of data points without bottlenecks.
5G will allow all kinds of electronic equipment to be connected to each other, enabling futuristic applications such as autonomous cars, automated factories, remote surgery, "smart" robots and a strong development of IOT technology.
To increase the volume of data, 5G will use a higher frequency band than current mobile telephony: from 3.4 gigahertz (GHz) initially and eventually above 26 GHz.
But the higher the frequency, the shorter the range. This is why the deployment of 5G will require an increase in the number of antennas, a prospect that worries some NGOs.
Deployment has begun in the US, and South Korea announced in April that it would cover its entire territory.
In Europe, Switzerland, Finland, Estonia and Monaco are among the first countries to start rolling out 5G. Germany has allocated the necessary frequencies to operators and France will soon do the same.
5G and Health: what does the science say?
Mobile phones, but also television, radio or wi-fi: the sources of exposure to radio frequencies are numerous, which causes "concern", as the World Health Organisation (WHO) acknowledges.
"Despite extensive research, there is no evidence to date that exposure to low-level electromagnetic fields is harmful to human health," the WHO said.
Nevertheless, some studies suggest "a possible increase in the risk of brain tumours, in the long term, for intensive users of mobile phones", the Anses reminds.
The WHO's cancer agency, Circ, classified radio frequencies as "possibly carcinogenic to humans" in 2011, recommending hands-free kits for mobile phones.
Furthermore, in a 2016 report, the Anses estimated that waves from mobile phones, tablets or connected toys could have effects on the cognitive functions - memory, attention, coordination - of children. It recommended limiting their exposure.
Digital Minister Cedric O has stated that there has never been any scientific evidence of potential health problems, at least in the short term, with the 3.5 GHz frequency. Indeed, the frequency bands in which 5G is starting to be deployed, around 3.5 GHz, "are close to those currently used for 4G or wi-fi".
This does not radically change the questions that science is asking to better study the transition to 26 Ghz.
In France, the Minister said, there are areas saturated by 4G. They need to be replaced with 5G soon.
5G is a vector for the development of all industry, commerce, entertainment and the environmental transition. Otherwise we risk losing France's competitiveness and the attractiveness for companies that would like to set up in France.
WHO and ANSES opinions on biological effects .
"The main biological effect of radiofrequency electromagnetic fields is thermal", i.e. the increase in temperature of exposed areas, according to the WHO.
This is the principle of microwave ovens, which is why power thresholds are imposed on mobile phones.
It should be noted, and this is an important point, that a biological effect does not necessarily mean a health effect, i.e. a danger to health. This distinction is difficult for the general public to grasp.
Biological effects are a sign that the body is adapting to changes in its environment.
For example, stress raises adrenaline levels and physical effort raises body temperature, which is a normal and reversible physiological reaction," says Brahim Selmaoui, a researcher at Ineris (French Institute for the Industrial Environment and Risks).
The question is whether the accumulation of biological effects exceeds our body's capacity to adapt, which may then have consequences for health.
The frequency bands in which 5G is starting to be deployed, around 3.5 GHz, "are close to those currently used for 4G or wi-fi".
However, it is different for the bands that will be used afterwards, from 26 GHz onwards (this is what is known as "millimetre 5G").
Scientists tell us that from 10 GHz onwards, electromagnetic energy hardly penetrates the body but is concentrated on the skin: this raises different questions about potential health effects. At 70 GHz, the brain is not exposed at all, the concentration is superficial, on the skin or the ears...
At present, there is a lack of data to fully understand the impact of "millimetre 5G".
In 2012, the Anses assessed the risks of body scanners used in airports, which also operate with millimetre waves.
Conclusion: "this type of scanner does not present a health risk".
The Anses has launched an expertise on the specific potential effects of 5G signals on humans, and the conclusion is expected by the end of this year.
Taking a break? A society that moves too fast?
Beyond the issue of airwaves, organisations opposed to 5G fear that it will push us into an "out of control" world: a society where everything will go too fast and where people will be ever more connected, with their eyes glued to their screens. (Put up one of my slides). They call for "taking a break and finally integrating digital sobriety into our technological practices".
We know that the Anses is going to launch a specific study on the question of the societal impact of these technologies.
The aim is toexamine the effects of our exposures to digital tools on health in the broadest sense, i.e. a state of physical, social and mental well-being, setting aside the question of radiation.
This expertise will take a long time to complete. It will take at least two or three years, and the words of the Minister for Digital Affairs are clear: we must not wait, 5G is a development factor and essential to France's competitiveness.
"5G is killing us. In a widely commented Facebook post, astrophysicist Aurélien Barrau castigates the deployment of this new network, alarming at our structural inability to say "enough is enough, we don't need, we don't want, this senseless debauchery"
Facing him, Laurent Alexandre, founder of Doctissimo and apostle of transhumanism deplores a "reactionary and retrogradevision , wanting to block technological progress".
IS 5G ENERGY EFFICIENT?
First of all, in terms of its energy efficiency. The researcher Romain Chevillon has just published a thesis on this subject. He calculates that at constant scope of use, 5G will be less energy-consuming, in particular thanks to directional antennas. "However, given that the number of users will increase, we will undoubtedly see an increase in consumption.
The researcher illustrates the"rebound effect": this occurs when the environmental gains obtained through energy efficiency are cancelled out by an increase in usage.
In the case of 5G, users will devour more data and thus destroy the benefits of technological progress. This means that it is not 5G, which is a means of transporting information, that really consumes. Rather, it is the data centres, which will store the transported data.
Beyond the energy aspect, there is also the question of the programmed obsolescence of our connected devices. Indeed, to take advantage of the benefits of 5G, we will have to change our phones. This is why we must already start programming in our minds the future obsolescence of the current tool.
As long as the technology sector does not undergo a profound cultural rethink and its companies do everything in their power to encourage the perpetual purchase of new products, all eco-design processes and recycling programmes will remain alibis with limited effects and will also slow down the emergence of alternative and complementary approaches to recycling.
The State will be obliged to legislate, impose energy audits, and help people change their behaviour. We will have to integrate digital sobriety into our technological practices.
What are the conclusions on the roll-out of 5G?
It is clear that 5G is a vector for the development of all sectors of our activity. If we do not have 5G, we will lose competitiveness and the possibility of attracting new investments in France.
At this stage, there is no scientific evidence of problems for our health, but there are doubts about the next generation of 5G "millimetre".
5G is less energy-intensive than 4G, but scientists warn that the huge amount of data that will be generated and the problem of storing it in data centres will require large amounts of energy.
Rabelais, who was a sceptic, always criticised those who knew neither fear nor human limits. He sought to reconcile scientific capabilities with their moral acceptability. He wrote: Wisdom cannot enter a wicked mind, and science without conscience is but the ruin of the Soul.