5G: Faster speeds, more devices, but no health risks - Experts

Is Malaysia's 5G rollout worth the health risk?

18 Feb 2024 08:02am
Photo for illustration purpose only. - FILE PIX
Photo for illustration purpose only. - FILE PIX

KUALA LUMPUR - If you own a smartphone or a similar device, you could be using 5G.

5G, or fifth generation, is the latest wireless mobile phone technology that was first widely deployed in 2019, which provides high-speed wireless connections and improves on the capabilities of 4G.

Besides faster connectivity speeds, it also opens new use cases in the Internet of Things (IoT) due to its high bandwidth and low latency, enhances performance and offers a wide range of new applications, including strengthening e-Health, such as telemedicine, remote surveillance and telesurgery.

In Malaysia, 80.2 per cent of the country's 5G coverage has been achieved in populated areas as of Jan 1 this year, according to Communications Minister Fahmi Fadzil on Jan 10.

However, the rollout of 5G using super high-frequency radio airwaves has reignited old fears that it might increase total exposure to radiofrequency (RF) radiation.

"If you are worried about electromagnetic radiation being connected to cancer or other health problems, all you have to do is to find out everything you need to know about how 5G works,” said Prof Emeritus Dr Tharek Abd Rahman from the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM).

"Indeed, so far there is no concrete evidence or conclusive findings that prove 5G could harm human's health," he told a media briefing at My5G Portal Digital Nasional Bhd (DNB) recently.


Related Articles:

Currently, DNB is continuing its rollout of the 5G network, having already achieved its 80 per cent coverage of populated areas (COPA) target at the end of 2023, as well as maintaining the network in terms of performance and service level agreements in the signed access agreements as well as serving all of its customers.

Tharek, who is also an advisor for the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) Academy, said 5G uses electromagnetic wave with higher frequencies than previous wireless networks, making it faster and more efficient.

"The radiofrequency of 5G uses is higher than the previous iterations of wireless communication, including 4G and 3G. Compared to the 4G which provides 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) fast speed, 5G is 10 times faster than that which provides 10 to 20 Gbps speed.

"When it comes to 5G, greater speed means greater connectivity. The 5G mobile broadband will be able to support up to a million connected devices per square kilometre compared to 4G which only supports 10,000 per square kilometre.

"This will be a revolutionary enhancement for industrial plants with thousands of connected devices sending and receiving information in real-time," he said.

In his talk titled '5G Towers, Are They a Health Risk' Tharek said besides that, it also allows smart cities, autonomous cars and high-tech commercial complexes to operate seamlessly through IoT.

He said the improved broadband bandwidth means 5G will carry a lot more data and transfer it much quicker than 4G.

"All traffic data which is sent over 5G radio network is encrypted, as well as the user's identity and location, with its integrity protected and subject to mutual authentication.

"From home devices to construction, mining and manufacturing facilities with thousands of high-tech machinery, 5G is set to lay the foundation for all things connected.

"The same goes to doctors who would now be able to have consultation and pre-diagnosis sessions with their patients through video call without needing to physically be with them," he added.


On the misconception that 5G is harmful to one’s health, he said that within the electromagnetic spectrum, everyday devices such as radio, microwaves, mobile phones, remote controls, and ultrasound instruments emit non-ionising radiation, which poses no threat to one's health.

"Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields (RF-EMF) is categorised under non-ionising radiation, which means that the electromagnetic waves do not carry enough quantum that could break bonds between molecules and ionise atoms, as opposed to ionising radiation.

"In this context, exposure to non-ionising radiation would only cause thermal effects, but not enough to cause long-term defect to human tissues; while ionising radiation is more capable of causing health effects due to the ionising process.

"Some examples that are categorised as ionising radiation are Xrays and Gamma light, which are used for medical purpose," he said.

He said that sunlight, with its ultraviolet rays, can be more harmful to one's health than everyday devices or the telco towers that are built in residential areas.

"The radiation from the sun is a thousand times stronger than the radiation emitted by these devices, which can also cause skin cancer due to its heat directly to our skin," he added.


Meanwhile, Malaysian Nuclear Agency (NUKLEAR Malaysia) Radiation Health and Safety Division Manager, Roha Tukimin said the organisation has been collaborating with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) on continuous research on 5G RF-EMF exposure in urban, sub-urban and rural areas since early 2000.

"When 5G was first rolled out, the people were concerned over telcos’ 5G towers being built near residential areas as they feared that it was radioactive and would be harmful to their health,” she said, noting that other countries have also raised similar concerns over 5G’s health risks.

Roha, who is also the non-ionising radiation group researcher, said RM-EMF exposure from the telco structure is far below the permissible exposure limit (PEL) and complied with the MCMC Mandatory Standard and International Guidelines (ICNIRP).

"In Malaysia, in regulating the RF-EMF compliance, three documents that we shall refer to namely Mandatory standard (MS) for Electromagnetic Field Emission from Radiocommunication Infrastructure; Determination No.5 of 2021 Technical Code (TC); and Prediction and Measurement of RF-EMF Exposure from Base Station.

"The objective is to achieve EMF Compliance and applicable to all Network Service Providers (NSP) and Network Facilities Providers (NFP)," she said.

Roha said the PEL set for 3.5 gigahertz (GHz) is at 61 v/m (volt per metre), yet Kuala Lumpur recorded 1.72 v/m, Johor Bahru 0.12v/m, and Penang is at 0.08v/m.

Citing the World Health Organisation (WHO), she said current evidence does not confirm the existence of any health consequences from exposure to low levels of electromagnetic fields (RF).

"The total Electromagnetic Fields measured for the study sites were only below 10 per cent of the limit, and well below the recommended exposure limit stipulated by the MCMC Mandatory Standard.

"The results of RF-EMF emitted by 5G transmitters are in compliance with the permissible exposure limits for the public," she explained.


Meanwhile, Datuk Dr Chang Kian Meng, a haematologist from Sunway Medical Centre advised the public, especially those who are consistently exposed to radiation from devices such as computers and electronic devices, to take precautions to limit their exposure.

"I believe it is a good practice to minimise exposure to environmental chemicals and pollutants as a preventive measure against cancer.

"I don't think there is a clear correlation to assert that excessive use of mobile phones can cause brain cancer or that prolonged use of computers with radiation can lead to cancer," he told Bernama at Sunway Cancer Centre recently. - BERNAMA