News Phones 5G Doesn’t Cause COVID-19 Symptoms A toxic mix of fear and ignorance won’t help end the pandemic by Editor-in-Chief, Lifewire.com Lance Ulanoff is Lifewire's EIC and a veteran technology journalist (formerly EIC of Mashable and PC Magazine). He's on TV a lot, too. our editorial process Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Lance Ulanoff Published April 8, 2020 Phones Phones Internet & Security Computers Smart & Connected Life Home Theater Software & Apps Social Media Streaming Gaming View More Tweet Share Email I don’t know why I need to tell you this, but on the off chance you’ve been giving some sideways glances to the new 5G cell tower outside your home, office, or school, you can just stop. Lifewire / Lara Antal 5G is not the enemy. The enemy is COVID-19, a rampaging, somewhat unpredictable virus responsible for the first pandemic of the 21st Century. It’s a message I’d send to those who set fire to a handful of cell towers in the United Kingdom after spurious reports that 5G technology was somehow connected to the COVID-19 pandemic. UK carriers have politely asked citizens to cease burning their cell towers. Torching 5G cell towers because you believe they are sucking up the oxygen and causing respiratory symptoms common with COVID-19 infections is an obvious act of ignorance and fear. I get it, we live in scary, unpredictable times, but blaming new technology is not the answer, especially when it could be part of the solution. Thank goodness 5G waves aren't visible like this. Periscope Film The Promise 5G, which is like a rare, better movie sequel to LTE 4G, is supposed to transform communication between phones, smart cars, smart homes, and more prosaic objects like smart stop lights. It’s supposed to be a low latency, more powerful, but generally somewhat shorter throw network than our existing mobile broadband. In a time where millions around the world are being asked to stay home and away from each other, that kind of connectivity could be invaluable. Most people cannot wait for 5G. In fact, the roll-out has ramped up considerably in 2019 and even into 2020, until the pandemic derailed much of daily life. Socially distant people need connectivity more than ever. That's one reason why Verizon 5G cells are popping up everywhere. Verizon The Concern The cell tower arsonists who couldn’t even properly identify 5G towers and, it appears, burned 3G and 4G ones, instead, are almost laughable in their ignorance. Levity, though, is the lazy response. What people need is a 5G and technology education, especially when their ignorance is mixing with warranted fears over what officials have labeled an “invisible enemy.” As a communication technology, 5G is riding that razor-thin line between exciting new innovation and black magic. Electricity, the horseless buggy, film, radio, television: For each, there was a moment when fear mixed equally with excitement, when the seeming impossibility of what each innovation could do battled with our desire to experience them. It seems to me that the irrational concerns about 5G and COVID-19 have their germination in somewhat less contestable concerns about possible health-risks connected to EMF signals. Safe for Us 5G is, like 4G, 3G and 2G before it, an Electro Magnetic Field with insufficient power to break molecular bonds, meaning it cannot harm/alter DNA. This is known as “non-ionizing radiation.” It is also considerably different that what’s come before it. The fastest 5G uses millimeter wave technology (still non-ionizing radiation) which has much lower latency and higher throughput capacity than 4G (think Gbps versus Mbps). It also tends to have shorter range, some difficulty going though walls and needs far more, albeit smaller, cell towers to provide the kind of ubiquitous coverage we’ve come to expect from 4G. Some of those differences have magnified concerns people already had about wireless technologies. Last year, Dr. Joel M. Moskowitz, Ph.D. wrote a provocative opinion post on Scientific American entitled, We Have No Reason to Believe 5G Is Safe. “Since 5G is a new technology, there is no research on health effects, so we are ‘flying blind’ to quote a U.S. senator. However, we have considerable evidence about the harmful effects of 2G and 3G,” wrote Dr. Moskowitz who runs the Center for Family and Community Health for the School of Public Health at University of California, Berkeley. He also runs an Electromagnetic Radiation Safety portal, a sort of clearing house for dozens of EMF-related studies. 'It’s irresponsible to try and link it to 5G at this point in time.' Moskowitz is right. There is still much we do not know about the effects of 5G (and 4G for that matter), but his assertion that we already know 2G and 3G (and, by relation, 5G) have harmful effects is misleading. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), decades of EMF research have produced no major health risk warnings. On the other hand, there are still significant questions revolving around increased EMF exposure. And when I spoke to Moskowitz (who is not a medical doctor or scientist), he discounts the WHO’s assertion. “We have a paper under review looking at tumor risk …for heavy cellphone use,” he told me. However, when I asked Moskowitz about a connection between 5G and COVID-19 even he said he would “Pretty much rule out that hypothesis. It’s irresponsible to try and link it to 5G at this point in time.” What We Don’t Know What we have right now is a powder keg of uncertainty between the valid questions about long-term EMF exposure and the misleading claims from those who have vaulted ahead of research and science and seized upon some for the most terrifying 5G effects guesswork. Alongside the news of people torching cell towers was a video of a woman confronting cell service workers installing new 5G lines and telling them how it was basically killing us. It’s not hard to find people in all corners of the web who believe, as this woman does, that 5G could harm us. And it’s not just online cranks. RT TV (yes, it’s the off-brand Russian TV network now employing former network news anchor cast-offs), ran a report last year (since widely shared) in which the anchor detailed the tremendous promise of 5G and then turned to a young reporter and asked if there was “a catch.” She smiled knowingly and said, “Just a small one. It might kill you.” Her assertion was based on a “new study from scientists, doctors, and environmental citizens” that found 5G was “proven harmful to human bodies.” She then added that they called it an “experiment on humanity and that this should be called a crime under international law.” The reporter was actually quoting from The International Appeal to Stop 5G on Earth and in Space. While the appeal claims over 212,000 signatories from 211 countries, it comes from Arthur Firstenberg, the founder of the Cellular Phone Task Force. According to Firstenberg’s resume, he studied medicine in the late 1970s until 1978 when he suffered what could best be characterized as a Bruce Banner moment: “Summer 1980. Injured by overdose of X-rays. Became hypersensitive to electromagnetic radiation.” However, instead of becoming The Hulk, Firstenberg produced a paper on The effects of radiant energy on living organisms, was forced out of medical school in 1982, and founded the Task Force in 1996. His appeal and the scrutiny-free coverage it received across the web and from some news outlets has helped foster the notion that 5G is a free-floating danger. Dr. Firstenberg, I presume?. ABC Studios Making the Leap I won’t argue that we fully understand the impact of 5G on soft-tissue organisms like us. But research revolving around the effects of current EMF technology appear to show that we are not in imminent danger and 5G (which is of lower energy at higher bit rates than 4G) is unlikely to be, despite its potential ubiquity, more harmful. But with enough misinformation, ignorance, and fear, you can almost understand how someone could take existing 5G health concerns and spin them into something even more terrifying. That, I believe, is how we got to connecting 5G with COVID-19. So What We live in truly scary times and there is no map to guide us safely out of this dense, black forest. You can’t light a path by burning what you don’t understand. Demonizing 5G only invites in darkness and sends us circling back into the forest. Like this column? Get more like it delivered directly to your inbox. Sign-up for Untangled, a more sensible approach to technology.