5G Cell Towers: how do they work?

An estimated 60% of global mobile network data traffic is expected to travel over 5G networks by 2027, according to Ericsson's new 2022 Mobility Report released in June 2022. This statistic confirms 5G’s status as the most rapidly adopted mobile technology in our history. With this rise in connectivity, our infrastructure will adapt accordingly.

Downloading a full HD movie onto a mobile device in less than seconds or running high resolution video with next-wave content like augmented and virtual reality: 5G networks perform more than 40 times faster compared to 4G and will enable users to handle data-intensive applications in applications in entertainment, industry, health and government far more smoothly. They will make the Internet of Things a reality.

According to Gartner, 5G will be the dominant mobile access technology making up 49% of all mobile subscriptions by the end of 2027. This will provide a huge impetus for the worldwide 5G infrastructure market. Generally, 5G infrastructure is defined as small and macro-cell base stations with edge computing capabilities - which requires significant amounts of fibre.

Mobile 5G towers are therefore becoming a familiar sight across our cities. But what is a 5G tower, and what is the impact it has on the environment?

What are 5G towers and how do they work?

A 5G tower is basically a mast with a radio transmitter on the top, and is owned or operated by the network owner. They are typically up to 200 feet tall, which is the same height as an airport control tower or a 20-story building. But in some parts of Europe, heights are limited to 50 feet.

As far as the towers go, they are similar to 3G and 4G and can often be on the same mast. The difference is that some of the most advanced 5G applications need very wide bandwidth and constant connectivity. Therefore, the towers need to be placed much more densely over an area in order to guarantee coverage. This requires operators to rethink how the towers are placed. The fact that the 5G towers need to be denser is raising questions about their potential impact on humans and the environment.

What is the health impact of 5G towers?

The greater density needed for 5G networks makes them different from 4G networks and has sparked concerns about their possible health impact. The construction of 5G towers has been opposed in the UK, US and Australia. Campaigners argue that the use of higher band frequencies, as well as the greater numbers of access points, mean 5G is harmful to residents. Cell phones and cell phone towers emit low levels of radio frequencies and electromagnetic radiation. Some groups are concerned about the electromagnetic characteristics of the technology, the 5G cancer risk, and whether it may contribute to dementia, infertility and autism.

In March 2020, the International Commission on Non‐Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), the Germany-based scientific body that assesses the health risks of radio broadcasts, said 5G is safe. It updated its advisory guidelines for the first time in 20 years.

In 2014, the World Health Organization said that mobile phone usage caused no adverse health effects were caused from the electromagnetic radiation involved with cellular phone use.

Other impacts of 5G towers

Residents in Palo Alto, California that live near 5G cell towers complain of 5G tower noise.

At the start of 2022, leading U.S. Airlines including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and Southwest Airlines warned that 5G cell towers near airports could become an aviation hazard. Wireless carriers and telecom regulators have replied that there are no safety risks involved for 5G and airplanes in the roll-out of the new high-speed network.

The impact of 5G and the environment is still being debated by academics. Supporters say that the speed of 5G will allow for digitized applications that help reduce greenhouse gases because it will reduce driving. Critics say that the production of technology needed to roll out the network will increase greenhouse gases. More research is needed.