The industry's latest effort to convince 5G doom-mongers that the technology is not detrimental to health has come from European MNO trade association ETNO.

Mary Lennighan

September 22, 2021

3 Min Read
5G is safer than ham – ETNO
5g Antenna Coronavirus Covid-19 3D image

The industry’s latest effort to convince 5G doom-mongers that the technology is not detrimental to health has come from European MNO trade association ETNO.

The ‘Understanding 5G’ report, published in cooperation with the GSMA, covers the health and safety, and environmental side of the technology, all of which have been the subject of endless column inches in recent years, some more credible than others. In addition, it includes a number of case studies designed to extol the virtues of 5G in areas such as waste collection, the emergency services, ship building and others.

“Since the coronavirus hit Europe in early 2020, 5G disinformation spreading online has provoked more than 288 arson attacks against antennas as well as several episodes of violence against telecom workers across 13 European countries, including 30 attacks in the first three months of this year,” ETNO said, in a statement accompanying the report. Add in the reports of environmental damage – anecdotal evidence suggest countless people believe 5G is responsible for the demise of the bee population, even in areas where there are no 5G masts – and it’s clear that the organisation has its work cut out to reshape public opinion. But it is giving it a go.

Naturally, the report is carefully worded, but its overriding message is that 5G is as safe as anything else out there at the moment. And is in fact safer than some things; it’s less likely to cause cancer than ham, apparently.

Specifically, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) places radio signals in the same category as pickled vegetables when it comes to the likelihood of causing the disease, because there is limited evidence that they could cause cancer in humans, ETNO points out.

“Processed meats have a higher classification than radio signals because there is stronger evidence that eating them might cause cancer in humans,” the report reads.

When it comes to the overarching question ‘Could 5G be detrimental to my health?’ the report leans heavily on the opinion of the World Health Organisation (WHO), which to date is pretty comfortable with the technology.

“The international public safety guidelines were updated in early 2020 and confirmed that existing safety guidelines retain a high level of protection, with limits well below the thresholds for established hazards for all radio frequencies for 2G to 5G,” ETNO said. It provided the following quote from the WHO: “Provided that the overall exposure remains below international guidelines, no consequences for public health are anticipated,” and added that the organisation is continuing to monitor research into the health implications of 5G.

Essentially, the report stops short of a hard ‘no,’ but only just.

Another key question addressed by the report centres on 5G masts. ‘What about 5G base stations, are these dangerous?’ it asks.

ETNO missed the obvious answer, which is, yes they are…if you happen to live next to one and someone sets it alight. Shame.

Instead, the organisation plumped for the sensible answer, which is that the WHO, the European Commission’s Scientific Committee (SCHEER), and others believe there is no established health risk from exposure to the low-level radio signals used for mobile networks, including 5G.

It also noted that reports of the mass death of birds or harm to trees – myths that spread quickly due to the proliferation of social media – have been debunked by fact-checking groups.

It’s unlikely that such an assertion will hold any water with those wholly determined to attach conspiracy theories of all sorts to 5G. ETNO is preaching to the choir here. As it points out itself, the spread of misinformation has accompanied the rollout of telecoms technologies for decades. 5G is no different, and we can expect more of the same with 6G and beyond.

About the Author(s)

Mary Lennighan

Mary has been following developments in the telecoms industry for more than 20 years. She is currently a freelance journalist, having stepped down as editor of Total Telecom in late 2017; her career history also includes three years at CIT Publications (now part of Telegeography) and a stint at Reuters. Mary's key area of focus is on the business of telecoms, looking at operator strategy and financial performance, as well as regulatory developments, spectrum allocation and the like. She holds a Bachelor's degree in modern languages and an MA in Italian language and literature.

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