What Is 5G and Why Should You Care?
by Leslie Shankman
Maybe you know, maybe you don’t. Somewhat quietly, the next generation of wireless technology called 5G, for 5th Generation, is sprouting up in cities around the globe.
The lineage of technology generations started in the early 1980s when 1G was released, supporting cell phones with the analog transmission of voice-only calls. These first phones had poor battery life and voice quality, little security, and were prone to dropped calls. 2G was released in the early 1990s, evolving from analog to digital operation, which introduced call and text encryption, along with data services that created the capacity for different kinds of picture and text messaging.
The introduction of 3G networks in 1998 ushered in faster data-transmission speeds allowing cell phones to be used in more data-demanding ways, such as for video calling and mobile internet access. The term “mobile broadband” came about with 3G cellular technology. The fourth generation, 4G, was released in 2008. Going beyond the mobile web access of 3G, 4G also supports gaming services, HD mobile TV, video conferencing, 3D TV, and other features that demand high speeds. Most current cell phone models support both 4G and 3G technologies. (1)
The applications supported by 4G have evolved to offer connected cars, cheaper monitors and TVs, digital heath devices that can report data directly to doctors, laptop/tablet combinations, curved TVs, 3-D printers, smart homes allowing a wide range of remote functions from afar, and wearables such as smart watches. In the tech world, these creative applications have spawned the vision of connecting all kinds of things through the internet. (2)
In a January 13, 2014, Time magazine article, Tim Bajarin reported on the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show: (3)
“The Internet of Everything (IOE) has become a catch-all phrase to describe adding connectivity and intelligence to just about every device in order to give them special functions.” He went on to describe the advent of everything “Smart,” that we are now so familiar with — “… All end up with the ‘smart’ moniker in front of them when they become tied to the Internet and interconnect to ecosystems of devices, software and services.” Note: Now, these years hence, this is more commonly referred to as the Internet of Things — IoT).
Bajarin pointed out that developing this market would yield an enormous financial impact as well:
“… during a meeting I had with the CEO of Cisco, John Chambers, he outlined Cisco’s thinking on IOE. The financial numbers he predicts for the impact of IOE in the public sector alone: $4.6 trillion. He believes it will have a dramatic impact on everything from city planning, first responders, military, health and dozens of other environments.”
Fast forward to the 2018 rollout of 5G in parts of Asia, Europe and the United States (4), which surfs in on the vision that the vast potential of this new iteration will allow us to design our way into the future. The telecom literature is heavy on how we have to bite the bullet and lay in the infrastructure now to open and support the possibilities for a flourishing connected future.
With 5G, they are no longer selling just the promise of faster connectivity speed, but the broader notion of offering the technology that will support a whole new way of thinking, playing and working. At the top of the page, for example is a chart of usage scenarios from a pro-5G article. (5)
At this juncture, communities would ideally be given the opportunity to weigh in on some fundamental questions. Do people want this kind of future? What impacts will this technology have on health, the environment, culture, values and innate human perception? Unfortunately, categorizing the global rollout of 5G as a “stealth” operation is not unduly dramatic. Communities are starting to weigh in, but many are only able to do so during or after installation of 5G infrastructure — as they come to realize what is happening.
The Character of 5G
Arthur Firstenberg, author and activist who founded the Cellular Phone Task Force, is a leading voice in matters related to electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs). The task force was formed in 1996 in response to the health and environmental threats posed by the launch of the wireless revolution in the United States. It serves as a global clearinghouse for information about wireless technology’s injurious effects, and provides a national support network for people injured or disabled by electromagnetic fields.
Firstenberg equates going from 4G to 5G to going from “blankets to bullets.” And this does not mean that he thinks 4G is a safe fuzzy blanket. Rather, he is graphically pointing out how different in character and consequence the 5G frequency is compared to the longer wave form of 4G that travels from a distant cell phone tower.
Firstenberg explains that the most important fact to understand about 5G is called “phased array.” In order to connect so many things to the internet to make them “Smart” and do what we want them to do, a much greater bandwidth is needed. However, the greater the bandwidth, the shorter the waves. Put very simply, many small antennas are required to produce these short waves, which are then focused into a beam that can be directed at a specific target.
Firstenberg says this “will totally change the way cell towers and cell phones are constructed and will transform the blanket of radiation which has enveloped our world for two decades into a million powerful beams whizzing by us at all times.” Hence, his characterization of 5G frequencies as “bullets.”
To support and direct these short waves, there need to be cellular base stations placed very closely together, about 500 feet apart along every street. Since the boxes must blast their signals in order to get them inside homes and buildings, the only way to do this economically is with phased arrays and focused beams that are aimed directly at their targets. Think — there will be transmitting cellular base stations everywhere; on utility poles, on bus stops, on buildings including hospitals and schools, to achieve the needed close proximity.
But the proliferation of closely spaced cellular boxes does not complete the connection of everything. To achieve the connection of everything, it is necessary to launch 20,000 satellites that will send their highly focused beams of microwave radiation to 5G devices on the ground. And in turn, each device will send a beam of radiation back to the satellite.
Now extrapolate — since the telecom vision is to connect everything, many more things than cell phones will be communicating by shooting beams through our atmosphere, our walls and our bodies (and the bodies of all living things — plants, animals, insects, microbes) as they travel between base stations, satellites and devices. Hence, radiation levels and exposure become exponential.
Firstenberg also informs us that “another important fact about radiation from phased array antennas is this: it penetrates much deeper into the human body and the assumptions that the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) exposure limits are based on do not apply. When an ordinary electromagnetic field enters the body, it causes charges to move and currents to flow. But when extremely short electromagnetic pulses enter the body, something else happens: the moving charges themselves become little antennas that re-radiate the electromagnetic field and send it deeper into the body.” (6)
EMFs in the Body
Martin Pall, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Biochemistry and Basic Medical Sciences, Washington State University, offers a 90-page, seven-chapter document discussing the effects of 5G EMFs in the body, and also the corruption of international science investigating this. Pall feels that the effects we now see from lower frequency EMFs will be much more severe with 5G EMFs.
Particularly concerning are the effects of these EMFs on the eye. Given the cellular reactions caused by these frequencies, we may encounter a “gigantic epidemic of each of the four types of blindness: cataracts, detached retinas, glaucoma and macular degeneration.” Pall also cites a concern for kidney dysfunction. Since the kidneys have so much fluid in the form of blood and what will become urine, 5G EMFs “may be expected to impact both the glomerular filtration and reabsorption, both essential to kidney function.” (7)
Pall has said that installing essentially millions of 5G antennae without having done any biological testing is the “stupidest idea anyone has had in the history of the world.” (8)
But now back to the 20,000 necessary satellites — two 5G test satellites were launched by SpaceX in February 2018. On March 29, 2018, the FCC gave approval to SpaceX to launch 4,425 satellites into low orbit around the Earth, and it is expected that hundreds of satellites will be launched into low and midrange orbit in 2019. All 20,000 satellites could be put into orbit over the next two years. The companies with the biggest plans to launch satellites include:
• SpaceX: 12,000 satellites
• OneWeb: 4,560 satellites
• Boeing: 2,956 satellites
• Spire Global: 972 satellites
There are several ways to fuel a rocket launch and none of them are friendly to the environment. Rockets that use solid fuel create massive ozone depletion. Liquid kerosene can also be used and while this fuel destroys less ozone, it releases massive amounts of black carbon soot into the air, especially at high altitudes.
Computer models suggest that if the number of annual rocket launches increases by 10 or more times, the combination of ozone depletion and the black soot could produce a 3-degree warming effect over the Antarctic and reduce the ozone in the world’s atmosphere by 4 percent. And, since 5G satellites have a life span of about five years, there will need to be ongoing launches. (9)
A third mercury-based rocket propulsion system is currently being developed by Apollo Fusion. This works on the basis of ion propulsion and uses powerful magnets to push away small charged particles at high speeds, thereby generating thrust. But, if there was ever a malfunction causing this type of engine to explode, the environmental consequences would be enormous as mercury, an extremely strong neurotoxin, would spread throughout the atmosphere and over the Earth. (10)
In addition, these satellites, which are each the size of a small refrigerator and weigh about 880 pounds, will contribute to an enormous amount of space junk over time as they complete their life span and are no longer operational. (11) Eventually they will fall back to the Earth burning upon re-entry, with the hazardous materials in these satellites releasing into the atmosphere and floating to the ground as dust or in raindrops. (12)
Citizens Raise Alarm
Knowing just this is enough to elicit a request for a halt, or at least a pause, until more studies are done. (And there is much more to know; think — security, privacy, property values, military use of phased array for radar and weapons, potential interference with weather tracking, as well as much broader environmental and health issues for all living things.) We in the Pacific Northwest can especially take note that 5G waves do not always effectively travel through trees, especially after heavy rain or snow. (13)
However, in the United States, the FCC has structured regulations to prohibit local municipalities from stopping 5G installation. This is also what citizens of other countries are finding as they try to halt 5G installations. There is an overriding force of political and corporate will working towards the creation of a 5G grid around the globe. In Switzerland, for example, ordinances against 5G installation were passed in four regions (representing 1.5 million people). Despite that, Swisscom, a majority state-owned company, ignored these laws on April 17, 2019, when they activated 5G stations in 102 locations. (14)
Thanks to longtime U.N. staff member and whistle-blower Claire Edwards, disclosure about 5G and its considerable risk for humanity is occurring within the United Nations. She submitted “The International Appeal to Stop 5G on Earth and in Space” which is a fully referenced document, citing over a hundred scientific papers among the tens of thousands published over the last 80 years on the biological effects of electromagnetic radiation. (15) Edwards’ appeal can be found at www.5gspaceappeal.org.
A related petition is available to sign which is directed to the United Nations, World Health Organization, European Union, Council of Europe and governments of all nations. As of April 27, 2019, there were 83,032 signatories on the appeal from at least 168 countries. The petition reads:
We the undersigned scientists, doctors, environmental organizations and citizens from (__) countries, urgently call for a halt to the deployment of the 5G (fifth generation) wireless network, including 5G from space satellites. 5G will massively increase exposure to radio frequency (RF) radiation on top of the 2G, 3G and 4G networks for telecommunications already in place. RF radiation has been proven harmful for humans and the environment. The deployment of 5G constitutes an experiment on humanity and the environment that is defined as a crime under international law. (16)
Local Governments in a Bind
Since becoming the chairman of the FCC in January, 2017, Ajat Pai, who was associate general counsel at Verizon from 2001-2003 (17), has been working steadily to deregulate the FCC. As early as May 5, 2017, in a review of Pai’s first 100 days, The Washington Post reported:
“… Pai is establishing himself as the vanguard for a wave of deregulation that could set the tone for the industry for years …
… Allowing telecom and cable companies to act more easily in their own interests has been a consistent theme of Pai’s early tenure …
… Pai has resisted using the FCC’s rulemaking powers to regulate the broadband industry, preferring instead an after-the-fact approach that investigates and penalizes allegations of consumer abuse by companies.” (18)
A press conference on April 12, 2019, with Trump and Pai laid out several initiatives designed to accelerate the U.S. role in the “5G race” and illustrates the thinking that gives the coming of 5G the quality of a tsunami. “It’s all about 5G now,” Trump told the audience. … “The race to 5G is on and America must win, it’s a race our great companies are now involved in.” Trump said that a secure 5G network will transform how everyone communicates and will create astonishing new opportunities in America, and, “We cannot allow any other country to out-compete the United States in this power industry of the future.”
Further remarks noted that China and the United States are fiercely competing in 5G. Also noted was the fact that, in recent months, the administration and the FCC have been discussing ways to make America more competitive in the race — and the FCC announced plans to hold the largest spectrum auction in U.S. history, offering up new bandwidths to wireless carriers. The planned auction is set to commence on December 10, 2019. In addition, the FCC also proposed a $20 billion fund to expand broadband in rural America over the coming decade. (19) (Although the necessary placing of 5G cellular bases at every 500 feet presents quite a challenge in rural areas.)
Local governments are in a bind. Using the rational that the “race to 5G” justifies removing costly regulatory obstacles, in 2018 the FCC adopted regulations limiting the abilities of cities and states to regulate 5G considerations. (20) The FCC deregulation and changes made to-date effectively do not allow a city to say no to 5G. These regulations began taking effect on January 14, 2019, and include:
• Localities cannot block the use of small cell sites (e.g., pole attachments) needed for the deployment of 5G,
• Limits on the type and amount of fees cities and states may charge,
• Limited time periods, known as “shot clocks,” to as low as 60 days for cities and states to authorize proposals. If the locality does not respond within the time period, authorization is automatic,
• Limits on non-fee requirements cities and states may charge. (21)
It would not be an overstatement to say that 5G-related lawsuits from the different sides are flying like bullets. Some cities, such as Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose and Bellevue (Wash.) have filed lawsuits against the FCC, primarily challenging the FCC overreach. These suits ask the 9th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals to review FCC rule changes. (22)
In addition to various other state, city and county suits, a citizen’s suit was filed in Santa Fe, N.M., against the city of Santa Fe and the U.S. government for violating due process and the U.S. Constitution. AT&T is suing the FCC for not adopting a remedy for instances when a state or local government fails to act on a request for small cell installation within a reasonable time. The NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) has also challenged the FCC ruling in court. (23)
Portland, Oregon, Mayor Ted Wheeler and his city administration have gone further, electing to say “No” to 5G installation, citing health concerns as well as the overreach by the FCC. Articles outlining Portland’s stance explain that the franchise fees that cities can charge on each cellular installation are capped at $270 per year under the new FCC rules. Some cities currently charge as much as $3,000 to cover necessary costs.
For example, if multiple cell installations from different telecoms (yes, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, etc. might each have a cellular base using phased array frequencies on each pole) require that a larger pole be installed, the city will incur costs of well over $270 per installation. Wheeler said the FCC caps could cost Portland $9.5 million a year in lost revenue and characterized the FCC rules as “something of a land grab against local infrastructure … .” (24)
Some congressional action has been taken to try to counter the fast pace of the 5G rollout. In a letter of December 3, 2018, Senator Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) and Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (Calif.) asked the FCC to provide scientific documentation about the safety of 5G.
At a press conference also convened on that date, Blumenthal and Eshoo had Blake Levitt, a highly respected medical and science journalist and communications director with The Berkshire-Litchfield Environmental Council summarize the issues. She has looked at the environmental effects of radiofrequency technology for many decades and her book, “Electromagnetic Fields,” is considered a bible of EMF information. In her presentation, she also noted that Norm Alster, who wrote a paper for Harvard’s Center for Ethics, described the FCC as acting more like “an industry cheerleader than a regulator.” Norm Alster’s paper is titled “FCC Captured Agency.” (25)
On January 15, 2019, Congresswoman Eshoo introduced H.R. 530, the Accelerating Wireless Broadband Development by Empowering Local Communities Act of 2019. This legislation addresses overturning the new limiting FCC regulations which constrict local authority. (26) On April 15, 2019, Oregon Congressman Peter Defazio sent a letter to Ajit Pai asking the FCC to answer three specific questions regarding 5G safety and also requesting that the agency be transparent with the American public. (27)
Social media platforms are lighting up around the globe sharing information and news about local actions and struggles. To become more informed and connect with others, one can join the Facebook groups Stop 5G Bellingham and Stop 5G International. And there are many more Facebook groups from other locales that serve to cross-pollinate with on-the-ground feedback. Americans for Responsible Technology and EMFactsConsultancy also put out informative posts that you can sign up to receive. The Cellular Phone Task Force and Physicians for Safe Technology are good sites to check.
In 2018, the Bellingham City Council voted yes to granting the necessary franchise to telecoms for 5G installation. While 5G installation in Bellingham has not actively started, to date our elected officials have not expressed concern about installation going forward. Each telecom has a different schedule for installation in U.S. cities, and, while a number of cities have already been equipped with 5G cellular bases, the complete 5G rollout is expected to take until 2022 and possibly beyond. (28).
Unfortunately, the conclusion of WSU Professor Emeritus Martin Pall, Ph.D., regarding the 5G roll out is all too relevant:
“There have been certain points in our history where people have stood up to strong destructive forces against what often appeared to be insurmountable odds. Those people are THE most honored people in our history. The people who failed to do so are among the most despised people in our history. I am not at all sure we will have historians to record us 100 years from now or even 30 years from now, given the direction in which we are heading. But if we do, rest assured that these are the standards by which we will all be judged.” (29)
It is time for all of us, both citizens and elected officials, to come together as David facing Goliath. Locally, as we enter an election season, we must ask our candidates and our currently seated representatives — “Are you willing to be David with us?”
9. “WiFi in the Sky,” Arthur Firstenberg, Cellular Phone Task Force
10. Space Startup Apollo Fusion Wants To Use Mercury as a Fuel,” Avery Thompson, Popular Mechanics, 11/20/2018.
11. 5G from Space,” Arthur Firstenberg, Cellular Phone Task Force
12. “WiFi in the Sky,” Arthur Firstenberg, Cellular Phone Task Force
21. FCC Wireless Preemption Order: https://docs.fcc.gov/public/attachments/FCC-18-133A1.pdf
Leslie Shankman has lived in Bellingham since 1993. She has worked in business, lived and worked at a yoga institute and assisted seniors with living and dying. Currently, she edits and writes. She became aware of 5G in February when a friend in Taos became debilitatingly ill from a 5G cell box placed on her property, forcing a move.