to the European Commission, the “fifth generation” of
telecommunication systems, or 5G, will be a critical building block for our
digital economy and society in the next decade. Mobile traffic is doubling
every two years, and new areas of use are emerging. The 5G network will provide
the capacity and efficiency to meet these connectivity needs.
technology is faithfully accompanied by sinister connotations and some
questions about the security of its implementation. So, let’s look at what 5G
technology actually is, how it works, and how it will benefit us, and at the
same time, let’s try to resolve some of the notorious security issues.
What is 5G
The European Commission states on its website that 5G technology provides virtually universal connectivity with extremely high bandwidth and low latency (delay), not only for individual users but also for related objects. It is expected to serve several applications and sectors, such as connected and automated mobility, eHealth, energy management, possibly security applications and the like.
bandwidth means that the user can achieve higher data transfer speeds, which
means shorter transfer times. This is especially important when transferring
large files. Latency or delay is the time required to transfer data between a
data source to a target database. Therefore, lower latency means shorter data
transfer times and consequently higher responsiveness or more minor delays.
to the European Commission, 5G will also be a key promoter for Artificial
Intelligence (AI) systems. These networks will support millions of simultaneous
connections in crowded places, perform transmissions of high-quality video
feeds, collect and analyse real-time data, and enable remote operations.
At the same
time, 5G will bring a new dimension for the cloud, enabling the distribution of
computing and storage across the entire infrastructure. The cloud is an
Internet service where users can store their data and access it from any place with
a web connection.
As we have
already indicated, 5G technology will not only serve smartphones, but entire
industries, from automated cars to wireless robots, offering opportunities for
sustainable growth and jobs across Europe. 5G’s highest impact is expected in such
critical sectors as transport, health, and manufacturing. According to some
estimates, the EU’s gross domestic product (GDP) is expected to increase by € 1
trillion between 2021 and 2025 due to 5G networks, and up to 20 million jobs
could be created.
will have faster and more stable connections that will allow them to connect
teams in multiple locations at once. This opens more opportunities to adopt
remote working and enable employees to work from home. Sharing heavy data files
will be much faster and easier, enhancing data sharing and facilitating
Internet of Things (IoT), a topic we will look at more closely in a future
article, will allow objects to exchange information in real-time. 5G will
support real-time control of devices, which means that factories will be able
to upgrade their automated processes and interconnected machines to improve
efficiency and employee safety. This will positively impact the growth of
companies’ savings and enhance customer experience.
reliable and seamless connections, workers can monitor hard-to-reach or
dangerous environments and remotely operate the equipment. 5G can bring much-needed
safety to hazardous professions such as construction, mining, emergency
services, etc. Similarly, the real-time high-reliability response of 5G will
enable the operational use of medical applications such as remote consultation
But I have heard that 5G
technology is harmful to our health…
“Some people are worried that more antennas mean more EMF exposure. The European Commission takes the protection of public health very seriously and ensures that any emissions are subject to high precautionary measures,” reassures the European Commission on its website. They explain that 5G networks will use small cells with lower power levels and therefore lower EMF exposure levels than the existing large cells in 4G networks.
Commission study showed that the overall exposure levels would modestly
increase in urban areas where 5G will be deployed and 4G antennas are still in
use. However, there will still be a long way below safe limits, 50 times lower
than the levels at which negative health effects are possible, explains the
World Health Organization (WHO). Exposure levels will decrease as the 4G
antennas go out of use.
addition, 4G and older generation antennas, which operate with higher emission
powers, are expected to be used less and less in these areas. The new, small
cell networks will develop and distribute sources of electromagnetic fields
more evenly at lower power levels. The limit values for the exposure to
electromagnetic fields that are currently recommended at the international and
EU level were classified at the third level on a scale of five levels of risk
by the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer
(IARC), which puts them in the group with other ‘possibly carcinogenic’
elements, such as pickled vegetables.
This means that radio electromagnetic fields are less risky than eating red meat, working night shifts, or drinking hot coffee, which is at the second level on a scale and is assessed as “probably carcinogenic”. They are also less risky than air pollution, wood dust or alcoholic beverages, which are at the first level on a scale and falls into the “carcinogenic” category. More information on classifications is available on the IARC website.
European Commission identified 5G opportunities early and set up the 5G
Infrastructure Public-Private Partnership (5G-PPP) in 2013 to boost research
and innovation in this area. The Horizon 2020 Research Programme has allocated
more than €700 million in public funding to support this activity. This is
accompanied by an international plan to ensure a global consensus on 5G.
Commission then adopted a 5G Action Plan for Europe in 2016 to ensure the
deployment of 5G infrastructure across Europe as soon as possible. The action
plan aimed to introduce these services in all EU Member States by the end of
2020 at the latest and by 2025 to ensure uninterrupted 5G coverage in urban
areas and along major transport routes. However, there have been significant
delays in this area.
January, the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) reported on the European Court of
Auditors (ECA) call for new impetus to boost the roll-out of 5G in the EU. The
European Court of Auditors is the EU’s fifth institution and, despite its name,
has no judicial functions; instead, it could be described as a professional
external investigative audit agency. The Court considers that only 11 EU Member
States will achieve uninterrupted coverage with 5G networks by 2025, while it believes
Slovenia is moderately likely of achieving the target.
Members of the Court of Auditors are also
concerned that European users could be subject to foreign law if the software
control centres were outside the EU. Six of the eight largest suppliers that
can build and operate 5G networks are not based in the EU, such as China’s
Huawei and South Korea’s Samsung. The Court recommends that the European
Commission promote the smooth and timely deployment of 5G networks in the EU,
promote and monitor Member States’ coordinated approaches towards 5G security,
and assess the impact of different policies on the successful functioning of
the single market.
Finally, we should mention that sixth generation (6G) Research and Innovation initiatives are already being launched worldwide. The Commission notes that the first 6G products and infrastructures are expected at the end of this decade.
Author: Rok Žontar
Keywords: 5G, European Commission, exposure, technology, connectivity
This article is part of joint project of the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies and the Anton Korošec Institute (INAK) Following the path of digitalization in Slovenia and Europe. This project receives funding from the European Parliament.
The information and views set out in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Union institutions/Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies/ Anton Korošec Institute. Organizations mentioned above assume no responsibility for facts or opinions expressed in this article or any subsequent use of the information contained therein.