The 5G debate in five questions

Posted on Sep 16, 2020 at 11:01 AMUpdated Sep 17, 2020 at 0:12

“Innovators” against “Amish”: the reservations of the environmental left towards 5G turn to political confrontation with Emmanuel Macron, the Greens accusing the executive of a forced passage, the president accusing them of obscurantism. Worried about the possible harmful effects of 5G on health and environmental impacts, nearly 70 left-wing elected officials and environmentalists are calling for a “moratorium” on its development, while the auction for the allocation of the first frequencies begins on September 29 .

What are we talking about ? Are the health risks proven? What would be the environmental impact of 5G? Explanations in CQFD.

1. What is 5G?

From 3G to 4G and soon to 5G. As the name suggests, 5G is the fifth generation of mobile networks. It is designed to meet the tremendous growth in data and connectivity of modern society.

“5G has a name problem,” explained Thierry Boisnon, the boss of Nokia France. It is not a simple evolution of 4G. It is in fact a real breakthrough technology that will open up prospects for the development of digital uses. It could thus benefit most of our connected objects, from autonomous cars to telemedicine.

“It’s a brand new mobile network with an internet speed up to 10 times faster and more efficient than 4G”, indicates SFR. The promise is great: not only will the speed be increased tenfold, but above all the network will be extremely responsive. Latency times, namely the transit times of a data item between the time it is sent and the time it is received, will be reduced to 1 millisecond.

Finally, 5G should also be able to support a multitude of connected objects simultaneously, without risk of saturation. Its development in France is just a matter of months away. The auction for the allocation of the first frequencies will begin on September 29. The first commercial offers available to the general public should hit the market by the end of the year.

2. Is 5G dangerous for health?

In recent months, criticism has been mounting regarding 5G. Nearly 70 left-wing elected officials and environmentalists, signatories to a JDD platform, are asking for a moratorium. The left is not alone in wondering. Thirty LR deputies called in May for a commission of inquiry into the potential impacts on health.

To switch to ultra high speed, the network will rely on a very high frequency band: 26 GHz. But the higher the frequency, the shorter the range of the waves. This therefore requires multiplying the antennas. Hence the fears of some.

In reality, whether the frequency is higher or the antennas more numerous does not change anything: all radio equipment is subject to exposure limits. Behind the debate, it is the use of devices emitting electromagnetic waves that is called into question.

An increased risk of brain tumor has thus been observed for people calling more than thirty minutes per day over a ten-year period. But the main biological effect of electromagnetic fields is thermal in nature: it heats up. This is precisely why a regulatory framework is set.

3. Is 5G bad for the environment?

The second fear is environmental. It was recently expressed by the Citizen’s Climate Convention. Its 150 members had proposed a moratorium on the deployment of this technology. The doubts also emanate from politicians and associations.

At the RN, MEP Hervé Juvin asks “what are the real advantages for users, beyond total control of existence by connected objects?” A message also relayed by several environmental NGOs, like Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth or Attac.

Opponents worry about an increase in energy consumption induced by the development of 5G. Because if in constant use the latter is more economical than its previous version, its detractors point to a possible rebound effect. Faster access to data would boost consumption and offset the energy savings achieved.

4. What answers are given to these fears?

Emmanuel Macron swept aside on Monday the moratorium request from left-wing elected officials and environmentalists. “France will take the turn of 5G because it is the turning point of innovation”, he reaffirmed, ironically on those who would prefer “the Amish model” and the “return to the oil lamp” .

Regarding the request for a moratorium expressed by the Citizens’ Convention, the government ordered a report at the beginning of the summer from the General Council for the Environment and Sustainable Development, the General Inspectorate of Social Affairs, the General Inspectorate of Finance and the General Council of the Economy.

The latter, submitted Tuesday, underlines that “there is no such thing as the consensus of national and international health agencies, [sur la santé] proven in the short term, below the recommended exposure limit values ​​”. “The possible long-term effects, carcinogenic or not, difficult to demonstrate, are at this stage, for the most part, unproven according to the same national and international agencies”, they add.

But for some, this report is not enough. Stéphane Richard, the boss of Orange in person said he was ready in July await the results of ANSES to launch the physical deployment of 5G. The National Health Security Agency, which noted in January the lack of scientific data on the subject, must submit its final report in March 2021.

As for the environmental impact of 5G, it is more complicated to measure. Its supporters, for example, highlight the drop in CO2 emissions caused by the rise of teleworking which would be facilitated by 5G. The Senate nevertheless took up the issue and made 25 proposals on Wednesday June 24 to reduce the environmental impact of digital technology. Among the flagship measures, the ban on unlimited mobile plans.

5. Why push the development of 5G in France?

It is above all a question of competitiveness, insofar as 5G has major industrial applications, such as for the connected car. If French companies wish to keep pace with international competition, the development of 5G is essential. The Secretary of State for Digital, Cédric O, considers 5G “essential to the economic competitiveness of France”, while the Minister of the Economy, Bruno Le Maire, believes that “it would be a dramatic error to deprive ”.

All the more so since France is not ahead. The report submitted to the government thus points to France’s “relative delay” both for the allocation of frequencies and for the commercial launch of the operators’ 5G network. He also specifies that “no country has organized a national citizen consultation specifically dedicated to 5G”.

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