5G: What it is all about

5G: What it is all about

Sunday, April 5, 2020 10:25 am

By Abimbola Fisusi

There are several conspiracy theories going on about 5G lately. In an attempt to debunk the false claims about 5G, I have decided to give an overview of 5G in a manner that is as accessible as possible to everyone.

5G is the fifth generation of mobile communication systems. Every 10 years on average a new generation of Mobile Communication System is developed and deployed. Governments do not determine the generations. The requirements for the generations are decided by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The requirements largely arise from user demands.

The decisions and discussions that lead to the requirements and what constitutes a new generation are mainly determined by standard bodies like Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), comprising of mobile communication vendors (like Ericsson, Huawei, Nortel) and telecoms organisations. 5G components were mainly researched and decided on by the 3GPP.

The part government plays is to decide on the frequency bands to utilize among the acceptable ones and auction the frequencies. They also set some country specific rules including radiation level limits. Some countries have very strict radiation level limits than others.

Although, satellites will be used eventually in 5G, at the moment, most 5G deployments are based on base station transceivers. Base Stations are the nodes of the network that receives and sends information to the mobile phones. Now, 5G’s goal is to enable mobile networks to support various services aside from the usual phone calls, video streaming and chats. It will also support real time services like remote surgery, self-driven cars, manufacturing etc that requires immediate feedback so a super-fast network is needed. To make this possible higher frequency spectrum with larger bandwidths are being used to achieve latency of 1 ms. Frequencies as high as 60 GHz (actually 24 – 84 GHz, the so called millimetre wave band) are used. Although sub 6GHz frequency bands will also be utilised.

The millimetre wave frequencies can only propagate by line of sight and cannot cover large distances. So, significantly more base stations are needed to provide 5G coverage compared to older generations like 4G. 5G cells are typically smaller than 4G; bear in mind that 4G cells are smaller than 3G cells. The advantage of 5G is that the mobile phones and other devices will be closer to the base station than in the past and there is significantly higher bandwidth to exploit in the millimetre wave band. The proximity of mobile phones to base stations means that transmit power levels wouldn’t need to be as high as in 4G for millimetre wave band based 5G deployments.

Now, the claims that chips must be implanted into human beings to access 5G is absolutely false. Just as we switched to 4G from 3G by simply swapping sim cards and phones that is exactly what will happen with 5G.

Finally, regarding the safety of 5G – whether the high frequency utilised is potentially hazardous to human beings – the international body responsible for setting the limits on radiation, the International Commission on Non‐Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) says 5G is safe (see https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/mar/12/5g-safe-radiation-watchdog-health). 5G is not controlled by government and has been declared safe.

Dr Abimbola Fisusi
Communication Research Group
Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering
Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife


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