Why Is Everyone Worried About 5G?

The world of mobile data has progressed massively since the days of GRPS and EDGE. 3G was the breakout marketing term to sell a new iPhone model, and we made it through the murky waters of 3.5G to reach the current 4G standard upon which many of us have come to rely. 4G is very respectable at this point: in areas near strong transmitters, it’s plenty good enough to handle HD video, high-quality music streaming, and high-intensity mobile gaming.

But while 4G seems universally loved, 5G (its successor in the G family) is having a tougher time, being eyed with great suspicion and no shortage of concern — the kind of concern you’ll see regarding public WiFi or malware attacks. The unfamiliar onlooker might wonder why this is. Isn’t technological progress good? Won’t it bring us faster speeds? What exactly is the problem supposed to be?

In this post, we’re going to set out the main reasons why people are concerned about the rollout of 5G, and decide which ones are reasonable. Let’s get started, shall we?

Coverage will never be as good as with 4G

Despite its speed, 4G now has excellent coverage in urban areas throughout the world, and you can even get solid access in many rural areas too. This consistency has made it more than just a gimmick, turning it into a standard — but 5G will likely never rival that consistency.

Here’s the main problem: operating at a higher frequency than 4G allows it to transmit more data, but also limits its range. And while the same thing could be said of 4G relative to 3G, the distances were still more than enough to cover most areas. Not so with 5G. Those who’ve tried 5G in some of its testing locations have noted that the signal drops out very easily (and can even be blocked by thin fabric) when you’re not in the immediate vicinity of a signal tower.

This worries some because they expect it to replace 4G, which is why this concern isn’t reasonable: 4G didn’t replace 3G, it merely added to it, and the same will be true of 5G. If the 5G signal cuts out, 4G will still be functional (indeed, ComputerWorld expects 4G to remain dominant in several years and in 5G areas), so users should only see improvements.

It requires massive infrastructure investment

Even if telecommunication companies accept the reduced coverage, it will still take large-scale infrastructure development to make 5G more than just an occasional bonus, and that worries some who don’t want to see the installation of yet more massive transmitters.

Many of them simply don’t want yet more metal eyesores blighting their skylines, while others have health concerns (more on those later). 4G is more than adequate for the average phone user, and the rise in accessibility and affordability of fibre-optic broadband (as evidenced by the latest broadband deals from the Post Office, for instance) means that home connections are plenty strong enough to account for even 4K streaming.

This is a fair concern, as there’s no way of getting around it. That said, 5G will be rolled out heavily sooner or later (for better or worse), so anyone who heartily objects to it is best served finding a way to move past it and put that energy towards something more practical.

Most current generation phones can’t take advantage of it

Just as it took 4G some time to become supported by mainstream phones, most mobile devices on the market don’t yet support 5G, and it might be quite some time before that changes. Given that 3G could be annoyingly sluggish at times, there were many people excited to make the jump, but that might not be the case with 5G.

The reason for this is that 4G is still pretty fast and legitimately sufficient for many people. They don’t download much, largely streaming music and video, so if a connection can keep buffering to a minimum then they’re happy. If you’re watching YouTube, adding 5G speeds won’t help.

This isn’t necessarily worrying for consumers, but it can be worrying for mobile data providers who want to make a lot of money selling 5G contracts. They’ll simply need to wait until it’s standard-issue technology provided with every new phone above a low price point.  

High-frequently radiation sounds scary

Finally, plenty of people worry about 5G because they hear it described in technical detail and imagine that it’s likely to cause major health issues. It is technically radiation (radiofrequency radiation, to be specific), and radiation sounds terrifying. Of course, we’re exposed to many different kinds of radiation on a daily basis, many of which are more likely (but still not at all likely) to be dangerous than 5G.

So is this worry justified? To my knowledge, at least, the answer is no. It’s always possible that some long-form study will eventually suggest some kind of causal link between exposure to 5G signals and illness, but wireless transmissions in general have been eyed with skepticism for many years without any compelling evidence being found to hold us back from using them.

Wrapping up, then, there are various reasons why people are worried about 5G. Of those we’ve looked at here, the two most common are that it might be hazardous to health and that the infrastructure required to support it will significantly damage communities. The former isn’t reasonable, but the latter is a genuine concern — with mainstream 5G realistically being an inevitability, though, it’s something people will just need to accept.

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