5G is the next generation of mobile technology designed to support a growing number of users, an increasing number of devices and the rising quantity of data they will generate and share. In technical terms, 5G networks are characterised by low-latency (near real-time responsiveness), wider bandwidth (for ultra-fast data sharing) and network slicing (to dedicate a part of the network to a particular purpose). It makes them the key building-block for the latest technology applications and services such as Internet of Thing (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Virtual reality, and Augmented reality.
The deployment of 5G networks depends closely upon access to radio spectrum, the range of frequencies that are the basis of wireless communication technologies. Initially, 5G will use similar radio frequencies as 4G to carry data.
In the future, to achieve higher capacity, 5G radio technology may also use different radio frequencies, which sit at a higher position on the electromagnetic frequencies spectrum (EMF) and operate on shorter (millimeter) wavelengths. However, the distance that millimeter waves can reach is a lot shorter, so instead of the cell towers that cover a bigger area, 5G will be using more smaller ones that will cover smaller areas.
As the rate of connected devices and their applications increases, spectrum resources and their uses have to be defined and harmonised across Europe. In this way, it will prevent different technologies from interfering with each other and infrastructure will be interoperable across borders.
For the deployment of 5G, the Commission works to harmonise the use of three pioneer frequencies across the EU:
* The 700 MHz band, assigned to mobile operators for wireless broadband use. It will allow for wide territorial coverage, including rural areas
* The 3.6 GHz band, for higher data capacity and moderate reach
* The 26 GHz band, for very high data capacity in dense areas, such as cities
The Member States will authorise the use of these three bands, or frequency intervals, by the end of 2020. This will ensure access to appropriate spectrum for providers of innovative 5G services.
The Commission and Member States continue to exchange best practices and discuss common elements, which are the fundamentals of national frameworks. Information about progress made in this regard and any major market developments are continually being reported by the EU 5G Observatory.
4. The Commission is in the process of adopting a new Implementing Regulation on small cells. Why do we need a new legislation specifying the characteristics of small-area wireless access points?
5G networks will use much smaller antennas compared to current systems. At the same time, the new antennas will achieve much better coverage and higher connection speeds. They will also be less visible and produce less electromagnetic emissions. In fact, they could be compared to Wi-Fi installations.
The current rules on small cells are burdensome, that is why the EU decided to ease these rules, so that bureaucratic procedures for this type of installations are simple, while ensuring that authorities keep oversight.
For this reason, the Commission will adopt by June an implementing regulation in accordance with new EU telecom rules (the European Electronic Communications Code).
Under the European Electronic Communications Code (Art 57) the Commission, by means of implementing acts, must specify the physical and technical characteristics of small cells, or small-access wireless points. The Commission must deliver this by June 2020.
The Commission draft Implementing Regulation defines the constraints on the physical and technical characteristics of small-area wireless access points: the volume, weight, visual impact and emission power. These characteristics are meant to ensure aesthetical visual impact and high levels of public health protection against electromagnetic fields (in line with Council Recommendation 1999/519/EC). In this context, the implementing regulation is not about setting new limits because we already have the strictest limits via the above Council Recommendation.
6. Some citizens are concerned about 5G and Electromagnetic field (EMF) exposure. Will 5G networks cause more exposure?
Some people are worried that more antennas means more exposure. 5G networks will use small cells with lower power levels and therefore lower EMF exposure levels than the existing large cells in 4G networks. A recent Commission study showed that in urban areas where 5G will be deployed and 4G antennas are still in use, the overall exposure levels will modestly increase, but this will still be a long way below safe limits – which are 50 times lower than levels at which health effects are possible. As the 4G antennas go out of use, exposure levels will go down.
Moreover, 4G and older generation antennas, which operate with higher emission powers, are expected to be used less and less in these areas while a larger network of the new small cells will develop and distribute sources of exposure to electromagnetic fields more evenly at lower power levels.
The European Union takes a precautionary approach by recommending maximum exposure limits with a wide safety margin. This means that EU exposure limits for the general public are set at 50 times lower than the emission levels at which health effects may start to be seen, according to World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates. The Council Recommendation 1999/519/EC sets out strict limits for exposure of the public to electromagnetic fields in line with the guidelines set by the 1998 International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP).
These limits are not binding for the EU Member States. However, the European Electronic Communications Code refers to them and calls on Member States to ensure consistent application.
EMF exposure from 5G networks, including through the use of new frequency bands, has to remain below the recommended limits, just like 2G, 3G and 4G networks.
New ICNIRP guidelines have been released in March 2020. ICNIRP announced that their 1998 guidelines are protective for current applications of Radio frequency EMFs, while their new guidelines incorporate also EMF exposure for frequencies above 6 GHz, where future 5G technologies will operate. This will result in reducing the maximum magnitude of localized exposure that a person can receive. Limits for the exposure to EMFs that are currently recommended at international and EU level were classified by the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) at the third level in a scale of five levels of risk as ‘possibly carcinogenic’. It puts such exposure in the same ‘possibly carcinogenic’ category as pickled vegetables. This means that it considers it less risky than eating red meat, night shift work or drinking hot coffee, which are at the second level andassessed as ‘probably carcinogenic’, and even less risky than air pollution, wood dust or alcoholic beverages, which, being at the first level, fall into the ‘carcinogenic’ category More information classifications is available on the International Agency for Cancer Research website.
9. ICNIRP published new guidelines on EMF in March 2020. What is the position of the Commission regarding the new guidelines?
ICNIRP announced that while their 1998 guidelines include current commercial applications of radio frequency EMFs, their new guidelines have incorporated a number of important additions and changes, particularly for EMF frequencies above 6 GHz. Future 5G technologies will operate on these frequencies, which have the result of reducing the maximum magnitude of localized exposure that a person can receive.
The European Commission will consider the new ICNIRP’s guidelines findings and re-examine the situation in relation to the 1999 Council Recommendation.
A few of the Member States have decided that the limits should be at a level lower than the maximum exposure limits set out in the ICNIRP guidelines or in the Council Recommendation. The health protection policy is a competence of the Member States, those are free to adopt stricter requirements. The Commission remains confident that the currently recommended limits are adequate to protect public health.
5G networks are the fifth generation of telecommunications networks and they are the crucial building block of our digital economy and society. Mobile traffic doubles every two years and new applications are emerging. 5G provides the capacities to meet growing connectivity needs: being able to accommodate more devices, more users and more data sharing at lightning speeds. As such, 5G will enable the Internet of Things (IoT) and the simultaneous connectivity of millions of objects.
On top of connectivity and fast data sharing, significant potentials of 5G technology come from improved network performance, that is its low-latency and near real-time responsiveness.
5G infrastructure will serve a wide range of applications, enabling us to apply available innovations across sectors. Identified 5G use cases are leading the way to consolidate 5G requirements and standardisations.
There is a wide range of health applications of 5G, which include remote monitoring, home care, addressing the needs of patients in remote areas, and robotic surgery.
There is high demand in rural areas for healthcare, as well as a rise in government initiatives. Telemedicine requires a network that can support real-time high-quality video, which often means wired networks. With 5G, healthcare systems can enable mobile networks to handle telemedicine appointments, which can greatly increase the reach of the program. When healthcare systems utilize this technology, patients can often get treated sooner and have access to specialists otherwise not available. It can also allow doctors and other staff members to collaborate more efficiently. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and other image machines are typically very large files, and often must be sent to a specialist for review. When the network is low on bandwidth, the transmission can take a long time or not send successfully. This means the patient waits even longer for treatment and providers can see fewer patients in the same amount of time. High-speed 5G networks can help quickly and reliably transport huge data files of medical imagery, which can improve both access to care and the quality of care.
Reliable, real-time remote monitoring
By using IoT devices, healthcare providers can monitor patients and gather data that can be used to improve personalized and preventive care. Wearables, which are a common type of remote monitoring, increase patient engagement with their own health. Additionally, wearables are predicted to decrease hospital costs. Despite the benefits, remote monitoring technology usage is limited by the capacity of the network to handle the data. Slow network speeds and unreliable connections could mean doctors are unable to get the real-time data they need to make quick healthcare decisions. With 5G technology, which has lower latency and higher capacity, healthcare systems can offer remote monitoring for more patients. Providers can then be confident that they will receive the data they need in real time and can provide the care their patients need and expect.
Many key healthcare functions are beginning to use artificial intelligence (AI) to determine potential diagnoses and decide on the best treatment plan for a specific patient. Additionally, AI can help predict which patients are more likely to have post-operative complications, allowing healthcare systems to provide early interventions when necessary. The large amounts of data needed for real-time rapid learning require ultra-reliable and high-bandwidth networks. Additionally, providers often need to access data from their mobile devices. By moving to 5G networks, healthcare organizations can use the AI tools they need to provide the best care possible – from wherever they are in the hospital or clinic. By enabling all these technologies through 5G networks, healthcare systems can improve the quality of care and patient experience, as well as reduce the cost of care. Instead of only reacting to patients' conditions, 5G networks can give providers the ability to provide more personalized and preventive care – which is the reason many healthcare employees became providers in the first place.
We can expect much faster and more reliable mobile internet, where the needed greater capacity will make internet traffic congestion a thing of the past and seamless connectivity a commonplace. With wider, improved connectivity, more people will have access to the internet, to digital education and digital skills.
5G will enable better energy management and lead to a more sustainable future. With more connected objects that are able to share real-time information, cities and families could turn to intelligent energy consumption based on real-time needs.
We can expect entertainment that is more engaging: immersive and integrated media, faster, easier cooperative media production, and collaborative gaming. 5G would support faster uploads, we can share more user-generated, high-quality content and faster downloads to enjoy more high-quality games & videos. 5G opens up new possibilities. Quick 3D imaging could put us into our favourite movie scenes, make esports more interactive and let us virtually try-on clothes.
The unprecedented speed, connectivity and high capacity of 5G can improve our road safety. With connected cars that are able to exchange information in real-time, it will mean drivers will be able to “see” the road ahead to avoid incidents and overtake more safely. 5G is also needed to make connected automated mobility, or self-driving cars, a reality.
5G will be the enabler of new applications that will be possible thanks to very high speeds and low latency, such as high definition video sharing. Faster, more stable connections can connect teams in multiple locations at once, supporting remote work and changing the workplace.
With high-capacity enabling IoT and low-latency supporting real-time control of devices, factories could be upgraded with automated processes and interconnected machines to improve efficiency and safety. Reliable and seamless connections can have workers monitor the safety of environments and remotely operate equipment. 5G can bring much needed safety to dangerous professions – construction work, mining, emergency services, etc.
The availability of great amounts of data and the possibility to quickly access and share it, will give businesses insights into their operations in order to improve and optimise them, expanding growth, increasing savings and improving customer experience.