RF Safety Study Aims to Address Public Concerns over 5G

Thursday, Jul 29, 2021

Wireless communications such as 5G bring a host of benefits to users, but, as with many new unfamiliar technologies, questions have been asked by the public regarding the safety of 5G.  Concerns regarding 5G stem from the lack of information or scientific data that might support or disprove possible health effects of 5G cell towers and devices.  In the past, most people didn’t notice the wireless sites in their environments.  Today, however, many more sites, such as small cells, are being built to support 5G communications (especially at millimeter wave frequencies). As the number of sites has proliferated, so too has the general public’s awareness of the presence of these new sites in their neighborhoods, near schools, or at their workplaces.  This increased awareness has resulted in a greater interest in, and concerns over, the impact of these sites, if any, on human health and safety.

To address the public health concerns and help answer some of these questions, CWC has partnered with Safe Dynamics and Keysight Technologies to conduct a 5G RF safety study, led by Xinyu Zhang and Sujit Dey, professors with the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. The goal of the study is to characterize and validate the RF emission levels from 5G base station antennas and the corresponding exposure levels. This information can then be used to assess compliance with FCC exposure limits and define operational parameters that ensure safe operation. 5G utilizes many more base stations and complex antenna configurations than previous technologies, and the established methods for assessing compliance in many cases no longer apply.  For example, the algorithm used to determine the near-field exposure from a simple 4G dipole antenna cannot be used to calculate the near-field exposure from a 5G massive MIMO antenna array employing beam forming.

The research team will perform the study using the 5G test bed at UCSD.  The initial phase will compare simulation (based on ray tracing) of the exposure levels to actual power density measurements.  The tests will be conducted using different base station form factors, multiple mmwave frequency bands, varying antenna array sizes and configurations, etc.  Future phases may include assessment of other wireless technologies, such as C-V2X, IoT, wearables, and 6G.  Industry partners interested in participating in this study should contact the CWC.