You probably will have noticed new mobile phone transmitters being installed around our neighbourhood. But what are they for, and what impacts will they have?

To answer these questions, The Westender recently spoke with Mr Chris Althaus, the CEO of the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA)[1] to learn more about the new technology that these transmitters will be supporting.

What is 5G?

5G stands for the fifth generation of wireless networking technology.

Mr Althaus told The Westender that there are several differences between the current 4G network and 5G.

While in the early stages of its roll-out 5G will be an enhancement of 4G with improved speeds and download capacity, it will ultimately enable greater connectivity that will, for example, support technologies that rely on large amounts of data, such as remote surgery, the ability to control your home via a smart phone, driver-less cars, and smarter cities and towns.

“It will have profound impacts in terms of productivity for agriculture, transport logistics, and for health in an industrial context. We might not feel that initially from a personal point of view, but ultimately the efficiencies will impact us all,” Mr Althaus said.

This sort of connectivity is often referred to as the Industry 4.0 evolution, or intelligent connectivity, providing a link between industrial technologies and the internet. It is also sometimes referred to as ‘the internet of things’ (IoT).

5G, Mr Althaus says, is in the centre of this evolution.[2]


Illustration from AMTA Fact Sheet: What is 5G?

How does 5G work?

Two things are different with 5G, Mr Althaus said.

  1. 5G uses more small cells to make the network more contiguous. Small cells are mini base stations designed for very localised coverage, typically from 10 metres to a few hundred metres providing in-fill for the larger macro network. Small cells are essential for 5G networks.  That’s why we are seeing more transmitters on posts on streets.
  2. 5G uses higher frequencies of radio-waves.

“People often think this equates to higher power, but its exactly the opposite in many respects – the radio-waves are shorter, so good at carrying lots of data – but they don’t go very far, so they need to be assisted with more cells. None of that means higher power,” Mr Althaus said.

The sort of power levels going into a 5G network are not dissimilar to the power levels that support Wi-Fi in your home, Mr Althaus said.

What’s the time-frame for 5G in Australia?

Australia is an earlier adopter of 5G and the general time-frame for its roll out is 2020, and in some areas, Mr Althaus says, it could be earlier.

In these early stages of the roll-out, 5G will work in tandem with 4G. Services available to you will depend on where you live, whether the carrier has 5G phones yet, and whether you want mobile 5G.

Vodafone is promising 5G by 2020, while Optus and Telstra have already rolled out 5G in parts of Brisbane. Telstra has an online map on its website detailing 5G availability – see HERE.

To access 5G you will need a 5G phone. If you already have a 5G phone and you’re not sure if or when you are connected to 5G, just look at the information at the very top of your screen and it will tell you which network you are linked to.

Is 5G bad for human health?

The short answer is “No” Mr Althaus told The Westender.

In Australia we have 34 million active subscriptions to mobile phones, which is well beyond 100% saturation, and 90% of adults in Australia have a smart phone. That large number of users provides a very good data set for health research.

The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) reports that in its 2018 study of three and a half decades of mobile use in Australia, it found,

“.. no link between the use of mobile phones in Australia and the incidence of brain cancers. It showed that although mobile phone use has risen rapidly since 2003, there has been no increase in any brain tumour types since then.”

Mr Althaus says that there have been decades of research from global health agencies that have looked for a link between mobile technology of any kind and adverse health impacts.

“These agencies assess impacts across an enormous frequency band within which sit the 5G frequencies,” Mr Althaus told The Westender.

“The power levels involved with 5G look like being less than with 4G, and that’s because the networks are getting smarter, the devices are getting smarter, and the ability to operate at lower power levels, is a feature of all of that”.

Further, Mr Althaus said, “5G is just a brand”, that is, it is just another example of how we use radio frequency. Radio frequencies have been in use in our environment since well before mobile phones came onto the market, for example through radio, TV, cordless phones, baby monitors, Wi-Fi routers and microwave ovens.

Illustration from AMTA Fact Sheet: What is 5G?

There are a lot of claims on social media and other sources about 5G and health, so what sources can you rely on?

Mr Althaus says if you read something contrary to what ARPANSA is telling us about the health impacts of 5G, it is a good idea to go back to the primary sources and ask, “who has done this research?'”, “has it been peer reviewed?” and “does it hold up against the advice of global agencies such as The United Nations’, World Health Organisation?”

More information

If you want more information about the roll out of 5G in your location, you can talk with your provider or your mobile network operator.

For more general information on 5G and on 5G and health see the links below:

EMF Explained

Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA)

Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA)

Mobile Carriers Forum


[1] AMTA is the peak industry body representing Australia’s mobile telecommunications industry.

[2] This article has not ventured into issues concerning the potential uses of 5G in surveillance and cyber security and other potential social costs. To date, much of that discussion has concerned issues surrounding the potential entry of China’s Huawei into 5G networks in countries such as Australia. There are also questions about the increased capacity 5G may give to governments to surveil their own citizens. These issues should be part of the public discussion about 5G and other new technologies.