FCC Endorses 5G

by Katie Singer

Twenty years ago, during Bill Clinton’s presidency and Reid Hunt’s chairmanship of the FCC, the U.S. Congress passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (the TCA). Section 704 prohibits municipalities from denying a permit to install telecom equipment based on environmental and health concerns. Regardless the public’s awareness of this federal law, we all live downwind of it.

Most recently, on July 14, 2016, the FCC’s commissioners voted unanimously in favor of the Spectrum Frontiers Proceeding. This vote gives the FCC authority to allocate (rent) 5G (5th generation) mobile operations.

The FCC expects that 5G will be operational by 2020. Google plans to test 5G in 2016 in Mountain View, Palo Alto and San Jose, California.


What are the 5 generations of mobile devices?

The first generation of mobile devices could transmit voice. 2G allowed talk and text. 3G connected mobile devices to the Internet. 4G enables higher speeds and video downloads. 5G will allow for the Internet of Everything (IoE)–and much higher speeds.


What is the Internet of Everything?

FCC Chair Tom Wheeler explained that in a 5G world, “if something can be connected (to the Internet), it will be connected…. Autonomous vehicles will be controlled in the cloud. Smart-city energy grids, transportation networks and water systems will be controlled in the cloud. Immersive education and entertainment will come from the cloud.”

With a 5G Cloud-connected car, your windshield could tell you about an upcoming traffic jam and a better route.

Already, at 4G, pill bottles, refrigerators, chipped diapers, chipped clothing, heating and cooling systems can send a message to your smartphone that your pills or orange juice need replenishing; your baby’s diaper needs changing or your child has a fever.

Already, at 4G, you can send a signal from your phone to another person’s chipped shirt to give them a squeeze.

5G, Chair Wheeler says, will “unleash new waves of innovation and discovery that we are yet to imagine.”


What kind of speed will 5G provide?

Chair Wheeler expects speeds 10 to 100 times faster than what 4G provides.

With 4G, downloading a feature-length movie can take eight minutes. Meanwhile, with 4G, Verizon does not have enough bandwidth for its customers to download more than one DVD per day. With 5G, you could download a movie in less than five seconds.


How will 5G operate?

5G will operate by millimeter waves (mmW). These are very short microwaves.

According to Wheeler, mmW signals “tend to travel best in narrow and straight lines, and do not go through physical obstacles very well. This means that…5G buildout is going to be very infrastructure intensive, requiring a massive deployment of small cells.”

Dr. Gary Olhoeft, professor emeritus of geophysics at the Colorado School of Mines, explained mmWs another way: “Say you put a frozen chicken into a microwave oven, which operates at 2.45 GHz. You’ll cook the whole chicken. If you put a frozen chicken into an oven operating in the millimeter range, you’ll boil off its skin. The meat under the skin will not cook, because millimeter waves will not penetrate past the surface. Likewise, 5G bands will not penetrate buildings made of concrete and rebar or adobe and chicken wire. They could penetrate wood and windows. To access 5G effectively, we’ll need transmitters on every utility pole, possibly every building, possibly more than one transmitter per building.”


What do we know about millimeter wave signals?

MmW technology is used to treat some skin cancers–demonstrating that mmWs can affect human tissue.

Some current airport full body scanners operate with mmW imaging technology. The scanner highlights a person’s “generic outline” onto a monitor. The TSA claims that walking through these scanners causes minimal, if any, biological harm. Of course, most people might walk through an airport scanner a few times each year. In each walk-through, mmW exposure lasts only a few seconds. With the FCC’s plan for “intensive,” “massive deployment” of 5G infrastructure, every person and all wildlife will be exposed to millimeter waves 24/7.

Even with brief exposure to airport scanner’s mmWs, some medical implants could malfunction or shut off.


What is the motivation behind deploying 5G?

Asked this question after a lecture about 5G at a recent technical meeting of the IEEE Communications Society at the Univ. of Colorado/Boulder, Dr. H. Anthony Chan of Huawei Technologies replied, “If technology does not change, the company will die…. People must buy a new phone.”

Also, 5G will likely increase cell phone bills–and provide new revenue sources for mobile carriers.


How will 5G’s mmW technology affect human health?

There are very few studies about mmW frequencies. The Air Force’s Radio Frequency Radiation Dosimetry Handbook, 5th Ed., 2009, reported that a study of the millimeter frequency 94GHz found effects on the surface of the eye. These effects are “highly dependent on energy density and, because the effective stimulus is joule heating, exposure duration is very important” (emphasis added).

Of course, with ubiquitous, dense deployment of 5G transmitters, living creatures will not be able to control the duration of their exposure to mmWs. In a Comment to the FCC, applied physicist Dr. Ron Powell explained that 5G will “greatly extend FCC’s current policy of the mandatory irradiation of the public without adequate prior study of the potential health impact and assurance of safety.” Further, it will “(irradiate) all environments, including the insides of homes, whether single family homes, townhouses, or apartments, ending any remnant of the notion that ‘your home is your castle’ in which you are supposed to be safe and have a measure of control of your environment.”


Does the National Toxicology Program’s study have relevance to 5G? 

NIH released “Partial Findings” of this $28 million rodent study on May 25, 2016. They demonstrated that radiofrequency radiation emitted by 2G cell phones causes malignant brain cancer (glioma) and benign nerve tumors (schwanomas) of the heart. Rapidly growing international biomedical research demonstrates that in addition to cancer, exposure to radiofrequency radiation factors in to the explosive growth of autism, ADHD, Alzheimer’s, addiction and more.

Deploying 5G on the heels of the NTP study and other research dismisses concerns for the public health. Or, it clarifies that our society will risk the public health for mobility and speed.


Where do fiber optic cables (fios) fit into all of this?

Fiber optics are very thin cables that carry signals by pulsing light. Essentially a wired technology, delivered to a building like telephone wires, fios allow electronics users speed and security and to remain cabled. Fios also require less electrical power than antennas to transmit signals; they also provide greater safety to public health.

Installing fiber optics is often dismissed as “too expensive.”

Also, to protect security and health, devices that operate by fios should be kept hard-wired. Fios therefore limits mobility.

Applied physicist Ronald M. Powell, PhD says, “Fiber optic systems will always be able to carry data faster and more securely than any wireless system operating at microwave and millimeter wave frequencies.”

Dr. Powell also says, “The second you go wireless, you expose yourself to greater risk of interception.”


Won’t we always have landlines?

About a dozen states have passed legislation that allows the elimination of copper legacy landlines by January, 2020. Further, on July 14, 2016, FCC Commissioners also voted to support the transition toward “sunset” of landlines and replace these with cell phones and voice over Internet protocols such as Magic Jack or Skype. Commissioners seem to ignore the fact that during a power outage, only landlines work and that some people (pregnant women, children, people with medical implant) may use corded landlines, not cell phones or VoIPs, to protect their health.


What agency will regulate 5G for biological safety?

Spectrum Frontiers does not designate any agency to test or regulate 5G for biological safety. The FCC will allow the telecommunications industry to define 5G’s intensity, amplitude and duration, as well as its specific absorption rate.

While the FCC is responsible for overseeing the safety of radiofrequency emissions, Chair Wheeler has clarified that “we” will “stay out of the way of technological development, since “turning innovators loose is far preferable to expecting committees and regulators to define the future.”

It’s worth noting that the FCC has typically not enforced its emission standards on existing cellular antennas. See “Americans Beware,” a 2013 study conducted by the Electromagnetic Radiation Policy Institute of 600 cell tower sites around the U.S.


Did the FCC conduct a NEPA (National Environmental Protection Act) assessment before it voted to permit the Spectrum Frontiers?

No NEPA review has been conducted on 5G mmW technology, and there are no plans to do one.

Since a NEPA review has been required since 1970 before deploying significant infrastructure, this could be grounds for a lawsuit against the FCC. However, in the event that a court required a NEPA review, the FCC would conduct the review. We can predict that they’d find no environmental reasons to prevent 5G deployments. Further, scientists cannot study what does not exist. Before petitioning for a NEPA review, we might need to wait until the industry determines 5G emission standards.


How much electricity will 5G require and how will this usage impact climate change?

Chair Wheeler has called 5G a “national priority.” This might conflict with our global priority to reduce energy use and climate change impacts.

By 2040, computers will use more electricity than the entire world can generate.

Researchers from the School of Computing and Communications (SCC) at the University of Lancaster in UK say that the Internet of Things could cause unprecedented, almost unlimited rises in energy used by devices connected to the Internet. Rather than multiplying use of electronics and electricity (as 5G will do), these researchers warn that people need to limit the Internet’s data growth in order to reduce global carbon emissions.

In 2015, the single largest category on YouTube was cat videos. Perhaps, if the public learned this and committed to a moratorium on cat videos, we could begin to reduce our energy use…and open so much 4G bandwidth that we wouldn’t need 5G.

Or, people who want to keep watching cat videos could petition the FCC to nip 5G in the bud, eliminate mobile operations and go with fiber optics.


What other questions about 5G remain unanswered?

* Since insects, including bees, are tiny, might they be especially impacted by 5G’s millimeter waves?

* Could 5G mmWs affect bacteria and other building blocks of life?

* How will 5G mmWs affect sleep, sperm, pregnant women, infants, children, people with implants, rooftop workers?

* Will 5G antennas and devices affect rates of autism, ADHD, Alzheimer’s, depression, skin cancer, vision problems including cataracts, tech-addiction?


For more information about 5G, please see

* Applied physicist Dr. Ronald M. Powell’s Comments on Proceedings 14-177, 15-256, 10-112 and 97-95.

* Science writer B. Blake Levitt’s Comments on 5G.

* Also, please note: Some mobile devices are currently labeled and sold as “5G.” In this case, the “G” refers to gigahertz (GHz). These devices’ Wi-Fi and Bluetooth may operate at 5GHz, or five billion vibrations per second.