5G wireless will provide faster cellular service. But how safe is it?

Reporter: Sara Girard Producer: Katie Cribbs
Published: Updated:
5G – Mobile World Congress 2016. Credit: Kārlis Dambrāns via Flickr. License https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

From cell phones to laptops to even vacuums, nowadays the world runs on WiFi. And people on the streets of Fort Myers told WINK News they can hardly live without it.

“All the time,” Alesha Watchowski told WINK News on her way to grab coffee. “I’m addicted.”

Soon, fifth generation wireless technology (5G) will offer internet speeds faster than anything we’ve seen before.

“Even simple everyday users to people in the medical field who want to do remote surgeries, autonomous-driving vehicles, all of these will be a lot easier to use with 5G technologies and those speeds,” said Kendahl Voelker, an asset manager for Vertical Bridge, company that owns and manages communication infrastructure like cell towers.

She said along with speeds ten times faster than 4G LTE, 5G will bring in more cell sites.

“There will be additional base stations that are necessary,” Voelker explained.

The reason? 5G’s higher-frequency waves don’t travel as far as current wireless frequencies. But instead of giant cell towers, 5G uses “small cell sites” that can be placed on light or utility poles.

Despite their ability to blend in, Charlotte County mom Michelle Dunder is concerned about more cell sites popping up in her neighborhood.

“They want to put them at schools, they want to put them closer and closer to dense children areas,” Dunder said. “And it makes me nervous.”

As of 2017, more than 300,000 cell sites are already in use around the country – and 5G could bring hundreds of thousands (maybe millions) more.

During a recent Charlotte County Commission debate about a cell site going up near a school, Dunder spoke out about health issues.

“Fear is real. And you have scared parents,” Dunder said to the commission during the meeting in September. Dunder believes radiation emitted by cell phones and cell towers played a part in making her son ill.

However, major health organizations, like the Federal Drug Administration, World Health Organization, National Cancer Institute, etc. show there’s not enough evidence to show current technology is harmful.

Dunder disagrees, and she said she is not sure what the new 5G technology will mean for their health.

“I think double checking safety factors and, ‘how could we do this better?’ would be a better thing to invest in,” she said. “Rather than having your Facebook upload in point-two seconds.”

WINK News spoke to a neuroscientist at the University of South Florida, Professor Chuanihai Cao, about potential health concerns. He said there’s not enough research on the effects.

“We couldn’t just say this technology is good or bad,” Cao said. “Until we really can generate repeatable data consistently, then we can draw a conclusion.”

Academics and health experts around the world agree. Last year, they sent out letters to regulatory agencies urging a slowdown in rollout, until more tests are done.

In the U.S., 5G has already taken off. CTIA, a trade association for wireless companies, told WINK News in an email that all four major providers plan some kind of 5G rollout by the end of this year or early 2019 around the country, including right here in Florida.

“5G is totally different. Because it’s new,” Professor Cao said. “The frequency is totally different.”

That difference is enough to make people like Dunder want to disconnect.

“Long-term effects, short-term, immediate, all these things nobody really wants to look into them,” Dunder said.

All wireless devices must meet the FCC standards, and a representative told WINK News in an email that the agency bases those standards on scientific research, which at this time shows no evidence linking wireless devices to illnesses.

Regardless, if you are someone concerned about radiation exposure, the FDA recommends trying to keep a distance from your wireless devices, like charging your phone across the room instead of right next to your bed, or using speaker or headphones during phone calls.

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