The French secretary of state for digital affairs, Cédric O, announced that national spectrum agency ANFR will implement 4,500 measurements in the vicinity of 5G cell sites during 2021, to assess radio frequency (RF) exposure and compare the results with data collected before the deployment of 5G networks. As part of this monitoring plan, 300 measurements will be carried out before the end of 2020, as the country’s four network operators start deploying their 5G services commercially.
Last month, the spectrum agency published a study simulating RF exposure from 4G/LTE and 5G mobile antennas area, saying that it planned to replicate this type of research and refine its simulation model by taking into account the deployment strategies of mobile operators. The government said that ANFR’s monitoring activities resulted in 3,066 checks in 2019, monitoring the power of antennas across all existing cell sites. The overall number of checks will increase to 6,500 by the end of 2020 and to 10,000 in 2021.
The ANFR will also intensify its efforts to verify that device makers are respecting the specific absorption rate (SAR) limits set by EU regulations. In particular, the French government said that the number of checks on smartphones will double to 140 models in 2021, compared to 70 models inspected in 2019. This year, over 80 percent of the best-selling handsets in France will undergo tests using SAR measurement systems.
With 5G coming on fast in developed markets, excitement levels are high but so are concerns among many consumers or potential consumers. While MNOs and technology developers insist that 5G is safe, not everyone is convinced, and with rumors and speculation rife on the internet and easily spread by social media, it is a very good idea for 5G providers, developers and government entities to reassure the public while the networks are still at a relatively early stage of deployment and development.
The French government’s approach of systematically testing RF exposure levels of antennas and handsets and comparing the results to those of 4G/LTE and earlier-generation networks makes sense. Since the public has already been using the older networks for a long time and has accepted whatever risk may inhere in them, rigorous tests that show that these levels are not significantly higher for 5G should have the effect of reassuring the public. Of course, the results of the current tests are not yet in, and there is still much testing to be done, but if the new numbers are not out of line with the old, concerns should be allayed.
This kind of testing, however, does not directly measure any possible effects of mobile-signal RF on the human body. For some members of the public, only that kind of information will be satisfactory, or possibly not even that. A recent study in the U.K., for example, showed that 43 percent of consumers are uncertain as to whether or not 5G is a public-health risk, and 14 percent are convinced that there is a risk. And in continental Europe, suspicion of 5G is even greater—an average of 21 percent of consumers in 12 European markets surveyed believe that 5G poses a health risk.
In addition, during the pandemic there have been numerous arson attacks against 5G masts by persons who apparently believe, with no scientific basis whatever, that the high-speed networks are somehow linked to the spread of Covid-19—about which Vodafone UK CEO Nick Jeffrey has said, “It beggars belief that some people should want to harm the very networks that are providing essential connectivity to the emergency services, the NHS and the rest of the country during this difficult lockdown period.”
In any case, it will be very beneficial not only for governments but for MNOs if consumers are given as much information as possible as to the safety of 5G during the present and upcoming phase of widespread rollout.