5G frequencies are governed by existing international and national exposure guidelines and regulations for radio-frequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF). These international guidelines are based on extensive reviews of published, peer-reviewed scientific research spanning many decades. The guidelines apply to 5G in the same way that they apply to existing 2G, 3G and 4G technologies and other radio frequencies such as commercial radio stations and TV transmissions.

In March 2020, following an extensive review of the latest scientific studies available, the independent body ICNIRP (International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection) updated the international safety guidelines that govern protection from exposure to EMF from mobile devices and networks. Although ICNIRP made several minor adjustments to its 1998 guidelines, the review confirmed that there are no adverse effects on human health from radiofrequencies used by mobile technologies, including 5G, if exposure is below the levels outlined in the report. Furthermore, the World Health Organization released a statement noting that, “A large number of studies have been performed over the last two decades to assess whether mobile phones pose a potential health risk. To date, no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use.”

Electromagnetic fields and cell phones

Electromagnetic fields and cell phones

Are mobile phones bad for your health? What should we be worried about?

According to the Italian Ministry of Health, thousands of studies have been carried on this topic and there is no scientific evidence that emissions from mobile phones are dangerous.

Do we need to worry about 5G antennas?

No, the Italian Ministry of Health clarified multiple times that radio infrastructures like antennas cause an exposure to electromagnetic fields that is even smaller to the one provided by mobile phones.

What are the effects of radio-frequency electromagnetic fields on humans?

The only scientifically proven effect is warming, but within the regulatory limits, this effect is imperceptible, temporary and reversable. The perceived thermic effect could be increased by the heating of the batteries, but this has nothing to do with electromagnetic fields.

What does the Istituto Superiore di Sanita’ (ISS) say about it today?

According to the ISS, the official Italian organization for public heatlh, given our current understanding of radio-frequency electromagnetic fields, no problems are foreseen for any mobile technologies, including 5G.

Which is the long-term evidence of radio-frequency electromagnetic effect on human?

In July 2019, ISS published a report based on studies of the exposure to radio-frequency electromagnetic fields. These findings reiterated that there are no new elements that could raise concerns regarding the long-term effects of 5G exposure and that the guidelines used to protect the population are still valid. There are studies of historical data of mobile phones use and oncologic diseases, and there appears to be no correlation.

What does IARC’s study says? (International Agency for Research on Cancer)

According to the Ministry of Public Health, the IARC classifies radio-frequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B) in 2011. This could generate suspicions of possible carcinogenicity that subsequent studies will have to confirm or deny. However, it is important to note that some substances commonly used such as alcoholic beverages, cigarettes or red processed meat are officially declared as “carcinogenic to humans” (Group 1). According to the Ministry, the scientific evidence currently available, which includes numerous studies carried out after 2011, tends to testify against the hypothesis that the use of cell phones generates an increase in the risk of intracranial tumors.

Why did IARC classify electromagnetic fields as "possible carcinogenic"? What are other elements classified in the same group?

In 2011, the IARC classified the epidemiological evidence relating to glioma and acoustic neuroma as "limited" based on the results of some, albeit minor, studies, and therefore included radiofrequency fields in Group 2b among the "possibly carcinogenic" agents for humans. This classification is the lowest of the three categories for which the role of the agent under study is considered plausible, but unproven. The same category - which is also the broadest - includes elements such as dyes, talc and pickles. According with the Istituto Superiore di Sanità, recent reviews of studies published after that evaluation have concluded that the evidence for glioma has become even weaker.


Is 5G dangerous for human health?

The effects on human health do not depend on the 5G, 4G or 3G radio transmission technology, but rather depend on the level of exposure to the radio-frequency electromagnetic fields, which is bound by law, so the effects of modern 5G exposure are not dangerous, nor are those of radio technologies of previous generations. The power limits are established by ICNIRP at an international level, 50 times below the risk threshold and in Italy by the law, 5,000 times below the risk threshold, or in all cases with margins well above those established at the European level. In the face of many thousands of studies carried out worldwide in the last 30 years, international and Italian scientific institutions have not ascertained any cause-and-effect relationships between the radio-frequency electromagnetic fields of mobile telephones and human health.

Do current emission control modalities apply to 5G networks as well?

The institutional controls for 5G networks do not change from prior network generations and include a central role for the environmental protection agency (ARPA), which keeps a register of all the systems installed by network operators with all the project parameters on which the measurements are then carried out during periodic independent checks. The measurement and forecasting evaluation techniques are defined in Italy by specific guidelines published by the CEI (Italian Electrotechnical Committee) and are subject to continuous revision and updating to take into account the transmission techniques introduced by new technologies.

Are the frequencies used with 5G technology unexplored and unknown?

No. The scientific literature on the effects of radio-frequency electromagnetic fields on health is vast and thorough, thanks to several thousand studies, most of which have valid results for 5G as well. All the frequencies used by 5G, including millimeter waves, are already used today in other applications, such as airport security systems, and fall largely within those already studied and considered by international guidelines.

Which frequencies are used for 5G deployment?

5G can use spectrum within three key frequency ranges:

  • - Below 1 GHz: to support widespread coverage across urban, suburban and rural areas.
  • 1-10 GHz: for a mixture of coverage and capacity. New spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band will be used for 5G services.
  • - Above 10 GHz: For ultra-high speed 5G services, typically using ‘small cells’.

Some of these bands are at similar frequencies to existing mobile technologies already in use today, such as 4G. This also means that with a small antenna upgrade, or addition where required, mobile operators will be able to use the same masts currently providing 4G services for 5G as well.

What is ‘millimeter wave’ and will this be used for 5G?

Millimeter wave (mmWave) frequencies are typically in the 24-86 GHz range, and today are used for satellite and point-to-point radio links. They could in the future also be used for providing very fast links as part of the network deployments in specific locations such as busy urban areas, stadiums and airports. At these frequencies, radio frequency energy is absorbed superficially by the body, mostly by the skin. The biological effects of these frequencies have been the subject of several studies and more are underway using millimetre wave exposures. The international guidelines extend to 300 GHz and in a recent statement the European Commission said ‘The strict and safe exposure limits for electromagnetic fields recommended at EU level apply for all frequency bands currently envisaged for 5G’.

Do the ICNIRP standards cover 5G frequencies and mmWave?

Yes. ICNIRP’s current international guidelines are applicable to 5G frequencies. ICNIRP’s exposure guidelines cover frequencies from 100 kHz – 300 GHz. There are also international standards for the compliance assessment of 5G networks antennas and devices, which include new approaches for smart antennas and the use of new frequency ranges.

Have millimeter waves been studied on a large scale in the past?

The most complete and accurate database available today (that of EMF-Portal of the University of Aachen) in response to the search for "millimeter waves" (a term which generally indicates the frequency range within which 5G operates) reports over 1,109 publications as of today.

Do 5G antennas or masts expose me to more RF compared with 2G, 3G or 4G?

With the addition of 5G transmitters, the total exposure to radio waves will remain very low relative to the international exposure limits. There may be a small localized increase when 5G is added to an existing site or when coverage is provided in a new area, however, all mobile technologies, including 5G, are designed to minimize power and with it exposure to radio waves.

Will 5G handsets need more power and put me at increased risk?

5G handsets, as they become available, comply with stringent testing standards that cover all the frequencies they can operate at, and at their maximum power.

What are ‘small cells’?

Small cells are a type of base station with very low power antennas designed to service a small coverage area with high network traffic, such as bus shelters, train stations and shopping malls. Measurements on 4G small cells by the French spectrum agency found that levels in nearby areas remained well below the international safety guidelines

Will 5G need a mast every 20 meters because of the higher frequencies?

No. We are always looking to make the most efficient use of masts and infrastructure, so wherever possible we look to upgrade existing sites with new antennas first.

Are 5G antennas or masts bigger than those used for 2G, 3G or 4G?

No, they are approximately the same size as existing antennas. Where possible, we will add 5G antennas to existing 2G, 3G or4G sites.

Are there any health risks associated with radio-frequency electromagnetic fields generated by 5G antennas?

5G, like the current second, third and fourth generation mobile phone technologies (2G, 3G and 4G), does not require electromagnetic signals of such intensity as to induce significant increases in the body temperature of exposed subjects, so no problems related to the only known effect of electromagnetic fields is foreseen. Also, unlike previous technologies, 5G uses Massive MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output) antenna systems. This means that the electromagnetic power is radiated only where necessary, that is to say it is only radiated in the presence of devices in conversation or that are downloading data. This generates a strong spatial and temporal selectivity of electromagnetic energy.

To know more:
Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Rischi per la salute connessi ai campi elettromagnetici generati dalle antenne 5G:


What is ICNIRP? Where is it based? Who finances it? How long has it been operating and what are its components?

The International Commission for Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) is an independent international commission created in 1992 based in Germany. It inherited the duties of the IRPA / INIRC committee (1973-1992).

What is the ICNIRP guideline regarding the power density of electromagnetic fields? And what are the existing constraints in Italy?

The basic ICNIRP limit, defined by the "Guidelines for limiting exposure to time-varying electric and magnetic fields and electromagnetic fields (up to 300 GHz)" and implemented by the EU recommendation (1999/519 / EC), varies as the considered frequency band varies. For example, for the 700 MHz band the limit expressed in power density is 3.8 W / m² (37.8 V / m); the limit in force in Italy is 0.1 W / m² (6V / m), fixed for any frequency band.

How did ICNIRP define the threshold value of the power density of the electromagnetic fields not to be exceeded?

The exposure limits are defined with reference to the critical effect. The critical effect is the first potentially significant biological effect for health that occurs with increasing exposure. This criterion guarantees adequate protection for any subject and any mode of exposure. The level of exposure of the population related to the critical effect was reduced by 50 times and the international exposure limit was set at this value. Italy has decided to set a value even up to 5,000 times lower than the threshold value identified at ICNIRP.

What do the new ICNIRP guidelines establish?

The ICNIRP defines guidelines to protect against all harmful health effects, regardless of whether they occur immediately after exposure or develop after a long time. The new ICNIRP guidelines were published in March 2020 and confirmed, for telecommunications systems, the same limit values that had been established by the previous ICNIRP guidelines of 1998. The new guidelines protect against all potential harmful health effects related to exposure due to 5G technologies.

What relationship does the Italian limit have with respect to the guideline defined by ICNIRP and with respect to the thermal risk threshold for health?

In the frequency range used for cellular telephony, the Italian limits in terms of power density (the magnitude directly related to the absorption of energy in the body) for the general population are between 20 and 100 times lower than those of ICNIRP. The gap grows as the frequency increases and is greatest at the new frequencies used for 5G technology. For example, the Italian limit for 700 MHz frequencies of 0.1W / m² is 38 times lower than that of ICNIRP, therefore it is 1,900 times lower than the critical threshold. The Italian limit was arbitrarily set, in the sense that it is not justified by scientific data but by a generic attitude of caution towards international limits, even if based on the precautionary principle.

Which European countries have adopted and apply the ICNIRP guidelines?

At EU level, all countries apply the limits defined by the ICNIRP guidelines except: Italy (0.1 W / m²), Belgium (0.21 W / m²), Greece (6.0 W / m²),, Croatia (1.7 W / m²), Bulgaria (0.1 W / m²),. Poland and Lithuania have recently aligned their exposure limits to those defined by ICNRP.

To learn more: Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Traduzione italiana delle “Frequently Asked Questions related to the ICNIRP RF Guidelines 2020” pubblicate sul sito della Commissione Internazionale per la Protezione dalle Radiazioni Non Ionizzanti (ICNIRP)

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