What is 5G?
5G is the latest generation mobile phone technology, the successor to 4G. In addition to providing much more capacity for data and video, it will support a wide range of new applications such as remote health services and driverless cars. 5G is not yet commercially available in the UK, however the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) are trialling the technology and preparing launch plans.
How is 5G different?
5G technology is different to previous generations in many ways. It has a range of additional technical capabilities designed to provide more bandwidth and enable applications to respond faster. It will also operate at different radio frequencies. Current UK networks operate at frequencies of around 900Mhz, and between 1.8GHz and 2.1GHz. 5G will operate at lower frequencies (such as 700MHz) and at higher frequencies (such as 3.5Ghz).
What are small cells?
A small cell is a mobile phone base station that is much smaller in size and lower in power than traditional base stations fitted on towers or rooftops. They provide an improved mobile phone service by providing a connection in localised areas where there may otherwise be a poor signal or limited data capacity. Small cells can be fitted to walls, lamp posts, telephone kiosks or other items of street furniture. During the 3G rollout, MNOs installed small cells in volume, often mounted on the outside of high street shops. The MNOs are in the initial stages of rolling out 4G small cells in major cities.
What is the impact of 5G on small cells?
Small cells are already used for 3G and 4G networks. When 5G is rolled out it is likely to be fitted to cell sites on traditional (or ‘macro’) rooftops and towers first. MNOs are likely to supplement 5G macro cells with 5G small cells in selected locations where there is a need to improve capacity or coverage.
How is Connecting Cambridgeshire involved in 5G small cell planning and deployment?
Several government departments are running various programmes for national investment in 5G solutions. However Connecting Cambridgeshire currently has no 5G funding or programme in place.
In terms of future deployment, it is likely that Mobile Network Operators (O2, Vodafone etc.) are planning to add 5G to their existing cellular network services and should be contacted for timescales.
To date there have been no specific planning discussions around the deployment of 5G. Any future 5G specific requirements will be considered and planning requirements assessed as they arise.
Is 5G likely to have a negative effect on public health?
A considerable amount of research has been carried out on radio waves and we anticipate no negative effects on public health.
Public Health England’s (PHE’s) Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards (CRCE) takes the lead on public health matters associated with radiofrequency electromagnetic fields, or radio waves, used in telecommunications.
Central to PHE advice is that exposures to radio waves should comply with the guidelines published by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). ICNIRP is formally recognised by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Some 5G technology will use similar frequencies to existing communications systems. Other 5G technology will work at higher frequencies, where the main change would be less penetration of radio waves through materials, for example walls.
While a small increase in overall exposure to radio waves is possible when 5G is added to the existing network, the overall exposure is expected to remain low and well within the ICNIRP guidelines.
ICNIRP guidelines apply up to 300 GHz, well beyond the maximum (few tens of GHz) frequencies under discussion for 5G.
A summary of PHE advice on radio waves can be accessed in the following link: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/electromagnetic-fields#radio-waves
PHE is committed to monitoring the evidence applicable to this and other radio technologies, and to revising its advice, should that be necessary.
Do small cells installations cause a health risk?
No, small cells are subject to the same guidelines and regulations as other mobile phone masts. Small cell sites comply with all current health and safety guidelines, including the guidelines of the International Commission for Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) in all areas legitimately accessible to the public. The ICNIRP guidelines are accepted as the appropriate safeguard to public health by the UK Government on the advice of Public Health England, by the European Union and by the World Health Organisation.
Where can I get further information?
The ICNIRP guidelines, can be found here: www.icnirp.org
Radio spectrum in the UK is regulated by Ofcom: www.ofcom.org
The Health and Safety Executive website describes the responsibilities of mobile communications network operators in relation to radio transmissions: www.hse.gov.uk/radiation/nonionising/
The UK MNOs publish their policies in relation to mobile phones, masts and public health on their websites.