Wednesday, 8 April 2020

On Coronavirus 5G Conspiracies

Here are my thoughts and analysis to address the rampant 5G conspiracies that are flooding social media. I do not claim to be an authority (Like a renowned professor) in the field of 5G propagation, neither am I at a senior level in this field. I have put my qualification in this field towards the end, so that you may judge for yourself, my level of understanding of the technology concerned.

Whilst some organisations or governments are generally understood to seek to weaponize technology, the theories peddled in this case show ignorance on what 5G is. 5G is NOT a single device, or a single piece of technology or system that a govt may clandestinely use. 5G is a collection of standards, protocols and technologies, which enables cross compatibility between devices and systems, making sure that anything that is certified to be 5G compliant, can communicate with another in an expected manner.The conspiracy theories seem to focus on the propagation. Delving into detail of the physics in this area will show you that the statements that are being said by the conspiracy theorists are factually WRONG!. In this case the only way one can weaponise 5G is to take advantage of its efficiencies and connectivity for something else. It’s like saying because cyber-crime and online identity theft is rife nowadays,  then we blame the Internet as a technology. Can we or should we blame the Internet for cybercrime? So there is no need to single out 5G when we indulge in our favourite conspiracies about the AntiChrist. We may as well include ALL the technological breakthroughs ever since our existence, because 5G depends on these previous breakthroughs, and builds upon them.

To cut it to the chase, for those who are particularly worried about the 5G radiation, you would more likely (if at all) be affected by the WiFi in your home, than 5G, and furthermore, you are 100 times more likely to be affected by an incandescent light bulb in your room, than 5G.

Contrary to popular belief, not all 5G is going to use high frequencies. Many concerned about radiation, are saying 5G uses high frequencies (eg over 40GHz). To elaborate on this, like I said, 5G is a collection of technologies and approaches, it has no stipulated frequency, so it depends on the technology that you are using, to achieve a 5G compatible service. Millimeter Wave (mmWave) is one such connectivity technology, which utilizes high gigahertz frequencies (over 24GHz)., but there is also Massive MIMO (MaMIMO) (which is implemented as Multiuser MIMO (MuMIMO) in 5G) which uses frequencies some which are lower than WiFi (WiFi uses up to 5.8GHz ). (I happened to have worked on the later for over 4 years, and was using 3.5GHz). Also note that 60GHz has already been used in a WiFi-esque technology called WiGig (alternatively known as 60GHz WiFi). Microwaves (used in microwave ovens, and in some existing communications infrastructure and satellites) also use frequencies greater than 5G mmWave. In any case, it is important to note that most of the current and on-going 5G installations are using sub-5GHz frequencies. The screenshot below, is taken from a response provided by Three (a UK Mobile Operator) to someone who raised the same 5G questions;

The basics of physics specify that Velocity = Frequency x Wavelength. mmWave signals, because of the high frequencies, have shorter wavelengths (hence called millimeter wave). Notice velocity in this case is the speed of Electromagnetic (EM) propagation, which is fixed, and generally taken to be the speed of light. This means mmWave propagation is severely limited (generally, a coverage radius of 200m expected). This is why there will be a need to deploy a large number of base stations (on lamp posts and buildings in the city centre etc), this is what is generally referred to as “Densification” by deploying “Pico base-stations”.

The two proponent 5G connectivity technologies leverage advances in computer processing, electronics and clever mathematics. It is these advances that make the technology possible. One key facet of this I am currently working with is exploitation of antenna diversity, spatial multiplexing and clever matrix inversion in MaMIMO. These technologies make the receivers much smarter. 5G utilises multiple antennas at the base station.

I happen to be among the pioneers in demonstrating the clever electronics, mathematics and computer processing that makes 5G possible (See links towards the end).

The engineering in the above technologies seeks to utilise either beamforming (in case of mmWave) or Spatial multiplexing (MaMIMO) meaning the propagation will be directed to a particular user. This means there is no need to transmit a lot of power hence in actual fact, each antenna will transit SIGNIFICANTLY less power than current mobile systems (in our case, power was reduced a factor of 10 compared to 3G - that’s a lot of power saving). Beamforming may actually be used to focus energy on a single object (which in theory may be weaponised), but the practical reality is that there is a limit on the power that you can transmit out of each antenna, governed by both the standard and the electronics (Digital-to-Analogue Conveters (DACs),  Power Amplifiers, etc). This means if someone flouts the standards, they will also need to “fry” the transceivers and yet magically transmit a power enough to harm a human being.

Without knowing what Frequency is, we cannot possibly dispel the "High Frequency" myth. In simplest terms, frequency refers to how often an occasion is repeated, over a fixed period of time. In RF terms, its the the radiating power that is pulsating (specified in decibel-milliwatts or dBm). This means you may have a very high frequency signal but with very low power which effectively diminishes the radiation energy in it. An example of 5G transmit power is 25dBm which equates to 0.3162Watts. If you could wrap your head around the 5G antenna, that's the power that you will receive, if you only place your cheek next to it, you receive a fraction of that ( By comparison, an incandescent light bulb radiates 60Watts). As the distance from the basestation increases, the power becomes minuscule. Original 1G (GSM) transmit powers were considerably higher (because they needed to cover large distances) than current technologies. There are stories of an engineer who climbed up a 1G tower with a chocolate in his pocket and it all melted :D. You were more likely to have been affected by 1G than 5G. So forget about frequency, the right question to ask is what transmit powers are being used in these technologies?

In any cellular communication, the power that you receive on your mobile is significantly smaller that what your mobile is transmitting back to the basestation. A critical thing to worry about is the quality of your handset. Those substandard  handsets that are sold cheap, most from unscrupulous manufacturers in China, are VERY dangerous, you do not know what its transmitter is doing. Best is to buy handsets that are certified to comply with published standards, like FCC (America) or CE (Europe). You can see those markings at the back of your handset or inside the cover.

Radio Frequency (RF) radiation is non-ionising (unlike say nuclear radiation, x-rays, gamma rays etc). This is an established fact. So the effect of RF radiation on biological tissue is only limited to heat, and insanely extreme transmit power is required inorder to deliver heat that can burn tissue. Its possible (outside of communication systems), but there is NO known communication system is capable of that. That would be downright illegal. To put it into perspective, the two images below shows the high end of 5G spectrum (range of frequencies available for 5G use).

Furthermore, there are very cheap devices that measure EM radiation. Anyone can buy these anytime from countless online shops or high street electronics shops. There is nothing that is stopping anyone to buy one and move around measuring radiation levels across any city. You can use them to compare radiation between a 5G base stations and a 4G base station. These are plausible approaches to take for anyone concerned, than propagating downright dumb conspiracies.

Now consider the power reduction and efficiencies in 5G, by sending energy only to the mobile you want (beam-forming in mmWave or even spatial multiplexing in MaMIMO) and combine that with the fact that the mmWave signal dies faster (inverse square law - 300m away from a 5G base station, you don’t get any signal), you then realise that the fears about 5G radiation are unfounded. 5G’s main goal, beside specified system improvements like lower latencies and larger bandwidths (which may have come without 5G) is to improve efficiencies, i.e. Power efficiency (transmit little power and still be able to communicate clearly) and Spectral efficiency (transmit more data to many mobiles using the same frequency resource within the same time slot). I happen to jointly hold world records in the this later area (

I have been involved in public 5G trials for both mmWave and MaMIMO:

I have been mainly researching MaMIMO, specifically tracking mobile users (which happens to be another field that is fanning the conspiracies). These trials were done in public places, with no known or reported health effects. 

I have also been to conferences where I met in person, the people who originally proposed some of the approaches that are used in 5G and also met the leaders of HUAWEI research on 5G, during one of these conferences (one was a keynote speaker) and we discussed both our research groups progress pertaining to 5G connectivity (of course at high level). All these are people like you and me, funded by national bodies like EPSRC in my case, and other regional bodies, with NO influence on the day-today research activities.