Get to know the 5G network, how it works and its dangers

The fifth generation of cellular technology, 5G, represents the next big leap in speed for wireless devices. These speeds include the rate at which mobile users can download data to their devices and the latency or lags they experience between sending and receiving information. The presence of 5G aims to provide data speeds of 10 to 100 times faster than the current 4G network. 5G users can expect download speeds at gigabits per second (Gb / s), much greater than the tens of megabits per second (Mb / s) of 4G speeds.

“That’s important because it will allow the use of new applications that are not possible today,” said Harish Krishnaswamy, a professor of electrical engineering at Columbia University in New York. “For example, with a gigabit per second data rate, you could potentially download a movie to your phone or tablet in seconds. That type of data rate could allow virtual reality applications or autonomous driving cars,” he continued.

Apart from requiring high data rates, emerging technologies that interact with the user’s environment such as augmented reality or self-driving cars will also require very low latency. For that reason, the goal of 5G is to achieve latency under the 1-millisecond mark. Mobile devices will be able to send and receive information in less than a thousandth of a second, appearing instantly to the user. To reach this speed, the rollout of 5G will require new technology and infrastructure.

New network

Since the early generations of cell phones, wireless networks have operated on the same radio frequency band of the electromagnetic spectrum. But as more and more users crowd the network and request more data than ever before, these radio wave highways are becoming increasingly congested with mobile traffic. To compensate, mobile providers want to expand to higher millimeter wave frequencies. Millimeter waves use a frequency of 30 to 300 gigahertz, which is 10 to 100 times higher than the radio waves used today for 4G and WiFi networks. They are called millimeters because their wavelength varies between 1 and 10 millimeters, while radio waves are on the order of centimeters.

A millimeter higher frequency of waves could create new lines on the communications highway, but there was one problem. That is, millimeter waves are easily absorbed by leaves and buildings, and will require many Base Transceiver Stations (BTS) that are closely spaced, called small cells. BTS is a telecommunication infrastructure that facilitates wireless communication between communication devices and operator networks. Fortunately, these types of base stations are much smaller and require less power than traditional cell towers and can be placed on top of buildings and lamp posts.

Miniaturization of BTS also allows another technological breakthrough for 5G, namely massive MIMO. MIMO stands for multiple-input multiple-output, and refers to a configuration that takes advantage of the smaller antennas required for millimeter waves by dramatically increasing the number of antenna ports on each BTS. “With a large number of antennas, tens to hundreds of antennas at each base station, you can serve many different users simultaneously, increasing data rates,” said Krishnaswamy.

At the IC laboratory (COSMIC) located in Columbia, United States, Krishnaswamy and his team designed a chip that enables millimeter wave and MIMO technology. “Millimeter waves and massive MIMO are two of the biggest technologies that 5G will use to deliver the higher data rates and lower latency we expect.” said Krishnaswamy.

Is 5G dangerous?

Although 5G can improve our daily lives, some users have raised concerns about potential health hazards. Much of this concern is the use of 5G of higher energy millimeter wave radiation. “There is often confusion between ionizing and non-ionizing radiation because the term radiation is used for both,” said Kenneth Foster, a professor of biotechnology at Pennsylvania State University.

“All light is radiation because it’s just energy moving through space. This ionizing radiation is dangerous because it can break chemical bonds,” he continued. Ionizing radiation is the reason we wear sunscreen outside because the shortwave ultraviolet rays from the sky have enough energy to knock electrons off of atoms, damaging skin cells and DNA. Millimeter waves, on the other hand, are not ionized because they have a longer wavelength and don’t have enough energy to damage cells directly.

“The only danger of non-ionizing radiation is too much heating,” said Foster, who has studied the health effects of radio waves for nearly 50 years. “At high levels of exposure, radio frequency (RF) energy can indeed be dangerous, producing burns or other thermal damage, but this exposure usually only occurs in work settings near high power radio frequency transmitters, or occasionally in medical procedures that go awry. , “he said again. In 2018, the National Toxicology Program released a decade-long study that found some evidence of increased brain and adrenal gland tumors in male mice exposed to RF radiation emitted by 2G and 3G cell phones, but not in female mice or mice.

The animals were exposed to radiation levels four times higher than the maximum levels permitted for human exposure. According to Foster, many opponents of the use of RF wave studies support their argument, and often ignore the quality of experimental methods or inconsistent results. While he disagrees with many of the skeptical conclusions about previous generations of cellular networks, Foster agrees that more research is needed on the potential health impacts of 5G networks. “Everyone I know, including myself, is recommending more research on 5G because there aren’t many toxicological studies with this technology,” said Foster.