4 Myths About 5G: What You Need to Know and How It Differs from LTE
Bad information about new technologies is common. Whether it’s unfounded rumors, misunderstandings of technical details, or even outright disinformation campaigns, it’s easy to get burned if you’re not careful. In today’s tech landscape, nowhere has misinformation been more common than in discussions of the 5G rollout.
5G is a next-gen telecom technology that provides vastly increased data speeds and network capacity through an increased transmission spectrum and large antenna arrays. There’s a lot to be excited about when it comes to 5G, but naturally, there’s also a lot of misinformation to sort through about its potential harms.
What’s up with those little antennas in the plastic enclosures? Could 5G make us sick? Will my 4G phone suddenly get bricked? It’s on each one of us to separate the facts from the myths and make sure we understand the world based on the best available science. That’s why you should know about these four commonly cited “facts” about 5G, and why they’re actually myths.
MYTH 1: 5G is connected to or causes COVID-19.
We should get this one out of the way first because, as ludicrous as it might seem, the idea of a connection between 5G and COVID-19 has been persistent on social media. So let’s get it straight: The alleged connection between 5G and COVID is a pernicious lie that has no basis in fact.
In fact, we know what causes COVID-19: the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The supposed 5G-COVID connection has been debunked time and time again by scientific authorities, and most of the research they’ve used to prove this is freely available to the public. But you don’t have to read a single scientific paper to know, just for a start, hundreds of thousands of people have died from COVID-19 in countries that have basically no 5G deployment.
Unfortunately, the misinformation continues to flow on social media. Even worse, it’s now affecting the vaccine rollout as baseless rumors spread about microscopic tracking devices implanted in vaccines. If someone you know has been spreading conspiracy theories, experts have advice about how to talk to them.
Also read: What are the 5G Scenarios in Digital Transformation
MYTH 2: 5G is unsafe because of the type of radio waves it uses.
Next up, we have the less outrageous cousin of the 5G-COVID myth: 5G is unsafe due to the high-frequency radio waves it uses to transmit its signal. Currently, scientists are still researching the effects of 5G, so it’s understandable to be somewhat apprehensive about a technology that hasn’t been proven beyond a doubt to be completely safe. And to complicate the matter, some scientists have indeed raised concerns about 5G’s safety, despite the electrical components and wiring being safeguarded within an electronic project box.
But all of the scientifically valid evidence currently points to 5G as essentially harmless. For one thing, most of the network spectra used by 5G have already been in use for decades in a variety of other applications. The key point is, like radios, cell phones, and other RF devices, millimeter waves are still well inside the spectrum known as “non-ionizing radiation” which doesn’t have the same hazardous effects as ionizing radiation like X-rays and gamma rays.
Millimeter wave antennas, which form a key part of the plan for ultra high-speed 5G and use a higher radiation band, aren’t as well studied as some other types. But what really matters anyway is the power of the radiation. As PC Magazine points out, Bluetooth uses the same frequency as a microwave oven, but the power of Bluetooth is many, many times less. Tests have found 5G millimeter waves are easily blocked by human skin, as well as plenty of other everyday objects like clothes and cars.
MYTH 3: 5G is going to make 4G devices obsolete as soon as it rolls out.
Older wireless technologies like 2G and (to some extent) 3G have been retired to the technological dustbin, so it’s understandable to wonder whether 4G will join them soon. But in fact, 4G is likely to stick around for at least a decade after the 5G rollout, and quite possibly more. Remember, most carriers are just now getting around to a full sunset for their 3G networks, even if they haven’t actively supported them for some time.
This is where it’s especially important to understand how 5G and 4G differ as technologies. First, many carriers are still using primarily low-band 5G networks that rarely offer impressive speed. Furthermore, 4G itself is unlikely to be retired for at least 10 years due to the fact 5G networks still currently piggyback on 4G signals in most places and the limited availability of 5G signals outside dense urban areas.
Of course, most of these things will change as 5G networks get a more extensive rollout in 2021 and beyond. But the fact remains—4G won’t be obsolete any time soon, so don’t feel like you need to upgrade unless you want the benefits of 5G and have access to it in your area.
MYTH 4: 5G isn’t a big deal or a critical technology.
Finally, we want to deal with the flip side of the previous myth: The idea 5G is some kind of expensive toy that really isn’t worth all the fuss. The truth is the world’s data needs, and particularly its mobile data needs, are increasing so quickly a new network technology really is necessary.
Part of the reason some people don’t realize the importance of 5G is they only think about its consumer-side use cases. Downloading Fleetwood Mac’s entire discography in under a minute might not seem important, even if it is nice. But behind the scenes, many important technologies of the future will rely on the high-capacity, low-latency networks 5G creates—think self-driving cars, telemedicine appointments, and Internet of Things devices of all kinds.
That’s to say nothing of the technologies yet to be developed. Maybe the most exciting aspect of 5G is thinking of the many new ways for us to connect and create that it will unlock. After all, that’s been the case with every previous major technology, and we can’t wait to see what this one brings.