5 Myths About 5G Technology

Key Takeaways

5G doesn’t pose health risks; it emits safe, non-ionizing radiation. It’s not just about speed, but also lower latency and larger device capacity, transformative for various industries. 5G won’t instantly obsolete 4G, nor will it completely replace Wi-Fi. Its use at airports is managed to avoid interference. You don’t need a 5G phone right now.

The arrival of 5G kicked up a storm of myths that still haven’t fully died down yet. Before you believe everything you read on social media or that a well-meaning neighbor tells you, take a look at why these common myths are nothing you should put stock in.

5G Causes Health Problems

Among the most pervasive myths surrounding 5G is the fear that it poses a serious health risk to humans. This belief stems from the fact that 5G operates on a higher frequency spectrum than its predecessors, leading to concerns about potential radiation-related issues.

Related: No, 5G Does Not Cause Coronavirus

In reality, 5G, like other wireless technologies, including the cellular tech that preceded it and Wi-Fi, emits non-ionizing radiation. This type of radiation lacks the energy to damage our DNA directly, unlike the ionizing radiation found in X-rays or nuclear material. Multiple health and scientific organizations, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), have reassured the public that 5G operates within safe frequency limits.

Related: How Worried Should You Be About the Health Risks of 5G?

The issue of ionizing radiation is separate from heat generated using radio waves. Your microwave, for example, uses high-frequency radio waves to excite water molecules, resulting in a hot meal (which is still somehow always ice-cold at the bottom), but still no ionizing radiation. So there is also a concern about heat. Is putting a 5G phone against your head like sticking it in a microwave? The crucial factor here is wattage.

Your microwave might use 1000W of power confined to a small box, but the energy from your 5G phone is measured in milliwatts. While I wouldn’t recommend standing right next to an active microwave radio antenna (it could melt the candy bar in your pocket), you’re in far more danger from sunlight than you are from the negligible microwave energy emanating from a smartphone.

Also, don’t forget that radio waves are subject to the inverse square law for electromagnetic radiation, where the intensity of that radiation is inversely proportional to the distance squared. In other words, you are definitely too far away from 5G radio towers for the amount of energy in the waves to have any plausible effect.

If you really want some solid assurances, a study published in Nature reviewed more than 100 papers testing for negative health effects from 5G, and found no scientific evidence of harm to humans. So ultimately, you don’t need to worry about the phone on your nightstand giving you brain cancer, but you might still want to put it away for a better night’s sleep anyway.

5G Is Only About Faster Internet Speeds

While 5G does promise faster download and upload speeds, it’s not just about that. Labeling 5G as simply “faster internet” oversimplifies its profound impact on many aspects of digital communication.

Related: Which iPhones Have 5G?

5G also offers lower latency, which means a shorter delay time between when data is sent from a device and when it’s received. This could revolutionize industries like gaming, where milliseconds count, and support real-time applications like remote surgeries. Moreover, 5G networks are designed to connect a lot more devices simultaneously, a critical need for the Internet of Things (IoT) era and for real-time applications such as drone flight control or self-driving cars. So while 5G deployment is great for people who just want faster connections to watch streaming video or even use 5G-based home internet, it’s more than just speed: it’s a significant jump forward in wireless tech.

5G Will Replace Wi-Fi

Android phone with Wi-Fi symbol.
Justin Duino / How-To Geek

Another popular myth is that 5G will completely replace Wi-Fi. While 5G may supplement or even replace home internet in some cases, it is unlikely to completely replace Wi-Fi.

Related: Wi-Fi 5 vs. Wi-Fi 6: What’s the Difference?

The primary reason is cost. While 5G data plans are becoming more affordable, they still cannot compete with the essentially free data usage of Wi-Fi once you’re connected to a network. We are still many years away from people having such great cellular plans that they don’t need to police their data usage and hope on Wi-Fi to keep costs down.

Moreover, Wi-Fi technology isn’t standing still; Wi-Fi 6 and 6E offer comparable speeds to 5G in small, dense areas. Wi-Fi 7 promises performance close to what wired networks offer today, so there’s plenty of competition from Wi-Fi technology to keep 5G technology on its toes. Until we reach a point where we have coast-to-coast 5G coverage and dirt-cheap cellular data plans, there will always be a place for Wi-Fi and we’ll all keep hopping on free airport and coffee shop hotspots.

Related: How 5G Could Transform Your Home Internet Connection

You Can’t Use 5G at the Airport

Speaking of airports, there’s a widespread misconception about 5G and airport terminals. This misconception arose from concerns about 5G interference with radio altimeters in aircraft, instruments that measure the height of the aircraft above the ground level during landing. Some believe that the frequencies used by 5G could interfere with these altimeters.

Related: Marques Brownlee Is Right: 5G Sucks Right Now

While it’s true that there have been concerns, regulatory bodies like the FCC and FAA in the U.S., as well as the aviation and wireless industry, are working together to ensure the safe coexistence of 5G networks and aviation services. In Europe, careful management meant that 5G could be rolled out without affecting aviation safety.

In the States, the road is a little more bumpy, but there is a plan. The FAA has determined that some planes may need special radio wave filters for their altimeters, and in a few cases, they’ll have to be replaced. It’s not going to be cheap, but as airplane and airport equipment is updated, you’ll see 5G coverage appearing at more and more airports. If you’d like to stay abreast of 5G developments and aviation in the U.S., the FAA has a dedicated 5G status page.

You Need to Get a 5G Phone Right Now

Finally, the idea that everyone needs to rush out and get a 5G phone doesn’t hold up when you think about it. Sure, if you’re in a city with strong 5G coverage and you can afford a new 5G-ready phone, it might be a good idea. However, while the take-up level of 5G is already quite robust and is expected to increase dramatically, it’s only expected to hit 411 million subscriptions by 2027. Remember that this doesn’t mean 411 million individual people, but subscriptions for individual devices, some of which will be autonomous, and others will be multiple devices used by the same person.

Related: Will 5G Make Me Use More Cellular Data?

Think about what applications you use (or would like to use) on your smartphone that would actually benefit from the speed and latency advantages 5G brings to the table. For most people, 4G still meets and exceeds their needs, so any FOMO your feeling about getting a new 5G phone should be tempered by a little rational introspection about how you’d actually benefit.

If you really want to get in on the 5G action, Apple has offered 5G iPhone models since the iPhone 12 in the US, even the latest iPhone SE sports 5G as a feature. Samsung’s Galaxy phones have likewise offered 5G for some time, and the recent Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra is no exception. By all means, don’t turn down a good phone for fear you won’t benefit from the 5G radio, but at the same time, don’t upgrade a perfectly serviceable phone to get a 5G radio when you won’t benefit from it because there’s no local 5G rollout underway.

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