Sudeepto Roy | Klish Way
With rapid advances in communication technologies such as cellular 5G, WiFi-6 and Bluetooth-5, the sheer volume of radio frequency (RF) radiating devices will increase manifold in the coming decades. There are more wireless devices than people in the world, and never before have humans experienced such an increase in sustained exposure to RF, albeit of the low-energy type. This leads to a legitimate question: Are these pervasive wireless technologies safe? While I’m no expert in the vast field of radiation hazards, I will share my perspective both as a dad and an engineer on responsible ways to co-exist with wireless devices.
Radiation is a scary word. The physics definition refers to transmission of energy through means, including electromagnetic (e.g. microwave, sunlight and X-Rays), particle (e.g. nuclear), acoustic and gravitational. For health matters, we concern ourselves with two forms of radiation, ionizing or non-ionizing, the former being powerful enough to break chemical bonds (e.g. the sun’s UV light capable of altering DNA) and the latter, being too weak to detach electrons (hence non-ionizing) yet potentially able to cause thermal effects (e.g. microwave heating). RF in microwave frequencies used for cellphones are a form of non-ionizing radiation.
Several Federal agencies in the US, such as the FCC and FDA, establish RF safety standards and also regulate wireless devices for compliance. All cellular devices (phones or base stations) have to comply with FCC’s strict emissions standards, which have remained unchanged for 3G, 4G and now 5G. In other words, 5G technology by itself does not result in an increase in transmitted power beyond the levels of previous generations. Radio signals transmitted in mmWave frequencies get easily blocked by obstacles such as structures, trees, and rain (hence requiring more base stations). Another aspect of 5G in higher frequencies is its impenetrability beyond top skin layers, thereby shielding internal organs. Furthermore, 5G in mmWave uses narrower and directional beams that allow the phone to steer its uplink transmissions away from body tissue.
Though no conclusive scientific evidence establishes a definite link between wireless use and health risks, many are skeptical of the science or the analysis that underlies RF regulatory guidelines. Given this uncertainty, consumers may find it prudent to utilize the “least amount of most-effective wireless” by maintaining safe operational distance from radio transmitting devices and reducing the duration of radio exposure. What are some practical steps we can take? Minimize prolonged contact of cellular devices with the body and use a wired headset for music and conversations, or use the speakerphone, or if you have to hold the phone near your head, keep a separation of at least 5mm (about 1/4 inch). Turn off the WiFi router at night or when not in use. Connect to IoT devices (such as alarms, security cameras, solar micro-inverters) using power-line ethernet or other wired connections. Buy cell phones from reputable brands, utilizing chipsets and technology from industry leaders, who have to adhere to strict, US and international emissions regulations. For our daughter, we limit her exposure to radiating devices (e.g. by using tablets in airplane mode), relocate WiFi and other transmitting devices from her bedroom, and generally shoo her away from the kitchen when the microwave oven is in operation. And, while on this topic, we are devotees of sun-safety measures – after all, the UV component of sunlight probably remains as the number one radiation hazard.