Tackling public concerns about 5G health risks

You might want to think twice before typing “5G” into your search engine. Add the word “health” and you should definitely be wary about what pops up. As with every iteration of wireless technology that has preceded it, 5G’s pending introduction has generated a flurry of concerns over 5G health risks. So how should the telecoms industry respond?

Step one is not to keep quiet and hope the concerns will go away. They won’t. Public fears about 5G health risks may be misplaced but, like a viral disease, they have a habit of spreading when left unaddressed.

“The big risk we’re looking at today has to do with radiofrequency radiation; this has to be dealt with responsibly, openly, transparently,” says Jürgen Maier, chief executive of Siemens UK.

Gareth Elliott agrees. As head of policy and communications at Mobile UK, he speaks on behalf of the UK’s four main mobile network operators O2, Vodafone, EE and Three. All four have taken steps to ensure consumers can use 5G with absolute confidence and trust, he asserts.

What third parties say about 5G health risks

Such reassurances may wash with some, but not all. Even Mr Elliott acknowledges this, which is why he would point sceptical consumers to independent third parties and not just to industry sources.

Top of his list is the World Health Organization (WHO). Scientifically empirical and technologically agnostic, WHO has been tracking the safety of radio signals for half a century. In 1996, it extended its focus to electromagnetic fields. As yet, no proven 5G health risks have been identified.

The public might also turn to the sector’s global regulator, the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), Mr Elliott advises. Governments typically defer to ICNIRP exposure level guidelines when setting their own domestic limits around 5G technology.

Realistically, however, few people have the time or gumption to wade through the findings of these bureaucratic organisations. That places an onus on mobile operators, as the party most closely linked to consumers, to do it for them.

Information about harmful effects must be communicated clearly

For the most part, this entails making sure the basic facts about 5G health risks are made widely available and presented in an understandable, non-technical way, says Howard Jones, head of network communications for EE. Keeping journalists and opinion-formers up-to-date with the latest information is critical in this respect.

For those with very specific fears or local concerns, it may well be necessary to adopt a more direct form of engagement. With Villages Against Masts, for example, a vocal campaign group in the UK, Mr Jones has offered to meet them personally.

Whether it is hardened critics or an everyday consumer, keeping the public continually aware and informed is essential. He concludes: “It is just part of the day-to-day rollout of this new technology.”