Is 5G Dangerous?


Dave Schafer
Jan 02, 2024
bullet7 min read

Since 5G first started to roll out, there have been concerns about potential health and environmental impacts, as well as security and privacy. These have ranged from normal cautions about a new technology to conspiracy theories that are downright mind-boggling.

However, 5G is both safe and an excellent connectivity option, especially for rural customers who can benefit from having 5G home internet when other service providers can’t reach them. It’s also great for camping, and of course, it’s made our smartphones faster than ever.

So, what’s the deal with 5G? Let’s find out.

5G and health concerns

There have been a number of health concerns around 5G technology since it was first announced. It’s important to note that, from the perspective of potential health concerns, there’s nothing particularly special about 5G compared to previous forms of cellular tech.

5G uses a higher frequency, sure, but it’s still transmitted using radio waves, the same as 4G LTE and 3G before that.

Radiation exposure

This one isn’t exactly new—people have been concerned about the effects of radiation from cell phones and accompanying tech for a long time. Fortunately, since this is such an old concern, it’s been addressed in fairly good detail.

Yes, you’re technically being exposed to radiation from your 5G devices (and most other cellular or wireless networking tech). However, the type of radiation involved here has not been shown to be harmful to humans.

Basically, there are two types of electromagnetic radiation: ionizing and non-ionizing. Ionizing radiation comes from three sources: high-frequency ultraviolet rays, x-rays, and gamma rays. 5G (and other cellular tech) uses radio waves, which are non-ionizing. These don’t cause the cellular interactions that make the other types of radiation harmful—they’re too low-energy1. This is good, because we’re surrounded by radio waves nearly all day—Wi-Fi, car radios, 4G LTE and older cell networks, and more all use radio waves to transmit data.

Increased cancer risk

Another related concern is that the use of cell phones—particularly 5G phones and networks—may increase the risk of developing cancer. On the surface, this assumption makes sense—radiation exposure is often associated with cancer development, cell phones put out radiation, and we hold them in our hands (and sometimes against our heads!).

This fear reached a fever pitch when 5G was announced, particularly in areas where Ultra Wideband and other powerful forms of the technology were being deployed. However, for the reasons stated above, 5G (and cell phones in general) don’t seem to increase your risk of developing cancer.

There have been a handful of studies done on electromagnetic fields from phones and in general to determine if they increase the risk of brain cancer. The results have been mixed—some have shown an increase in risk2, and some have not3. The overall results are inconclusive.

Tissue heating

Along with ionization, the other main health concern around electromagnetic radiation, such as 5G, is tissue heating. This is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: the radiation heats up, and eventually burns, tissue. This is actually the process that microwaves use to heat food.

Again, though, radio waves don’t really pose a risk here. Tissue heating is based on the total intensity of the radiation, and radio waves need a very high total intensity to cause damage. The amount used in cell phones, FM radio, and Wi-Fi is too low to pose a real risk—this includes 5G. The needed energy just isn’t there. In fact, radio waves in general very rarely have the energy to cause significant heating, much less actual tissue damage.

5G privacy and data security

Beyond health concerns, there have also been security and privacy concerns raised with 5G and associated technology. These are generally more valid than the health concerns, but many of them have less to do with 5G specifically and more to do with the broader direction that technology and the internet has taken.

Location tracking

The strongest 5G signals have relatively short range. Because of this, more antennas and broadcast nodes are required to achieve widespread coverage compared to LTE. The concern here is that the greater number of network nodes will make it easier to narrow down the specific location of an individual user4.

This is a valid concern, primarily from the angle of corporate tracking of individuals’ locations and movements. Many people are already wary of location tracking, since it’s often used for advertising purposes. Additionally, a data breach at a company with a lot of location data could pose yet another privacy risk.

If you don’t want your location tracked, you can turn off the feature on your phone, although ultimately it’ll be up to your wireless company and other involved parties to respect that decision.

Foreign espionage fears

There has been a persistent concern that the antennas and other broadcast equipment involved in 5G networks may pose a national security risk by exposing data to foreign agents. This fear mostly stemmed from concerns about Huawei’s equipment and relationship to the Chinese government5.

These concerns are actually valid, which is part of the reason that equipment from Huawei and several other Chinese companies was banned from sale in the US6. This isn’t a concern unique to 5G, however. There’s frankly not much the consumer can do here—it’s mainly up to wireless companies and regulatory bodies to ensure that compromised equipment doesn't make it into American networks.

5G’s environmental impact

Many of the environment concerns around 5G focus on the increased energy use and emissions involved in manufacturing equipment and powering the various 5G networks. Some people are also of the opinion that the radiation itself poses an environmental risk.

Increased emissions and energy consumption

The largest environmental concern around 5G at its launch was increased energy consumption and emissions as a result of powering the networks (and the vast number of connected devices that these networks were expected to bring about)7.

Fortunately, it looks like these fears were mostly unfounded. Thanks to organizations raising the alarm, providers have taken steps to mitigate these effects, and 5G appears to actually be more environmentally friendly than previous mobile network generations8.

Radiation risks

As mentioned above, 5G is based on radio waves. This is nonionizing radiation, and it’s also relatively low-energy. As such, there don’t appear to be any real risks to plant or animal life associated with 5G signals—at least, nothing greater than FM radio or basic Wi-Fi.

5G’s advantages and disadvantages

From our perspective, 5G primarily competes with satellite internet for rural and travel connectivity. In that regard, it has some distinct advantages.

Lower latency than satellite

One of satellite internet’s biggest weaknesses is latency. This is a measure of how long it takes a signal to travel from its source to its destination and back. High latency can cause delays in response, which can be especially noticeable in video calls or online games.

Due to the immense distances and amount of air satellite signals have to travel through, it suffers from naturally high latency. On the other hand, lower latency was one of the main selling points of 5G, and it really improves day-to-day performance.

Faster speeds than satellite

Similarly, satellite internet suffers from generally slower speeds than many other internet types. This is partly technical—again, the signal has to travel a long way, so some loss is inevitable. 5G doesn’t suffer from this same issue, largely due to the smaller distances involved. Additionally, in areas with mmWave access, you can (theoretically) get speeds up to 1,000Mbps—much faster than anything satellite currently offers. Verizon 5G home internet advertises speeds up to 1,000Mbps (although actual speeds are likely to be lower).

Unlimited data

Every 5G home internet plan we’re aware of offers unlimited high-speed data, including T-Mobile Home Internet, Verizon 5G home internet, and AT&T Internet Air. This is a much bigger benefit than you may realize—it frees you up to simply use your connection, rather than worrying about going over your limit. Most satellite plans have some sort of limit on high-speed data. The only real exception is Starlink, which has its own issues (expensive, for one).

Lower cost

Finally, 5G home internet is more affordable than almost any other type of internet, especially satellite. Plans are generally around $50.00 per month, and if you have a cell phone plan with the provider, prices can drop to just $30.00 per month—that’s a steal for home internet. A comparable satellite plan from Starlink would cost at least $120.00 per month, and likely still wouldn’t be as fast.

The downsides of 5G

From a purely mobile perspective, 5G doesn’t really have a lot of downsides. It has the potential to be significantly faster than 4G LTE. It also brings significantly more bandwidth and capacity to networks—particularly where mmWave or Ultra Wideband is available. There were some initial concerns about impacts to battery life on phones and other devices, but those have largely been resolved as new modems have come out.

The main issues with 5G really become apparent when you start trying to use it for home internet service. In recent years, major cell providers have all released their own versions of 5G home internet for rural customers. And it’s fantastic—often much faster and more affordable than satellite and more widely available than cable or fiber. However, cable and fiber remain much more powerful for users that need really fast and consistent speeds—with fiber, you can often get 500–1,000Mbps for only a little more money than 5G plans.

The verdict

At the end of the day, 5G appears to be safe—or at least, as safe as any other wireless technology. It’s not been conclusively shown to increase risk of cancer or any other major health concerns, nor have the environmental fears played out. There may be some legitimate security concerns, but they’re not necessarily specific to 5G.

We feel that the benefits of 5G as wireless technology and especially as a rural internet option outweigh any potential downsides, but everyone will ultimately have to decide for themselves whether they want to risk it.

If you’re looking for a great rural internet option, we highly recommend T-Mobile Home Internet. It’s a 5G-based internet service that brings fast speeds at an extremely affordable price.

If you’re still not sure, but need to get online, satellite internet remains a solid option. We recommend HughesNet for its affordable pricing.

Methodology

We delved into trusted scientific sources for days to get a comprehensive look at what dangers people generally fear 5G poses, what scientific data and case studies say, what news and political relations imply, and combined it all here for your review.

Sources

  1. Dr. Christopher S. Baird, “How do 5G cell phone signals harm humans?” August 2022. Accessed December 2023.
  2. Michael Carlberg and Lennart Hardell, “Evaluation of Mobile Phone and Cordless Phone Use and Glioma Risk Using the Bradford Hill Viewpoints from 1965 on Association or Causation,” March 2017. Accessed December 2023.
  3. Vila et al. “Occupational exposure to high-frequency electromagnetic fields and brain tumor risk in the INTEROCC study: An individualized assessment approach,” July 2018. Accessed December 2023.
  4. Catherine Udell, “5G Security Concerns & Privacy Risks,” July 2023. Accessed December 2023.
  5. U.S. Department of State, “Fact vs. Myth: Huawei,” accessed December 2023.
  6. Diane Bartz and Alexandra Alper, “U.S. bans new Huawei, ZTE equipment sales, citing national security risk,” November 2022. Accessed December 2023.
  7. Renee Cho, “The Coming 5G Revolution: How Will It Affect the Environment?" August 2020. Accessed December 2023.
  8. CTIA, “5G Connectivity: A Key Enabling Technology To Meet America’s Climate Change Goals,” January 2022. Accessed December 2023.
Dave Schafer
Written by
Dave Schafer
Dave has written professionally for tech companies and consumer technology sites for nearly five years, with a special focus on TV and internet. He uses his industry expertise to help readers at HighSpeedInternet.com get the most out of their services. No matter the project, he prefers his coffee black (the stronger, the better).