5G is undeniably the talk of the moment, much more in the business corridors and governmental strategies, than in the telecom community. This does not come as a surprise since 5G with its promising capabilities paves the way to a myriad of new business use cases and digital transformation opportunities.
5G and the trend in wireless network evolution in general, have a dark side to it: HEALTH!! This is probably the least discussed topic in wireless networks. In all honesty, why would someone bring a topic to the limelight if it will affect the adoption of the associated technology and stir unnecessary controversy.
The short episoAde that associated 5G with coronavirus was theatrical, but rather illustrated what effect even a myth could have on the telecom industry. During the most stressful period of the pandemic when thousands of casualties were counted each day, a group of people started burning 5G cell towers linking radiation to the spread of coronavirus. According to the groups involved, 5G radiations would weaken the immunity system making it more prone to the effects of the virus. Other theories have link the 5G network to virus transmission.
Clearly “radiophobia” shouldn’t be taken to that extreme. 5G and the associated radio frequency radiations are far from being the biological weapons which will spread the virus and exterminate humanity. What this short episode teaches us though is that the effects of beyond 5G networks should be taken more seriously, and “objective” medical studies should be conducted in “full transparency” and communicated to the public.
Back to Basics: What Are Telecom Tower Radiations?
The connectivity provided by wireless networks is mainly due to electromagnetic waves emanating from antennas distributed over transmission towers and other cell sites. The frequency at which the energy is radiating from these antennas is known as the radio frequency. Radio frequencies used for communication systems go all the way to 300 GHz, just below the infrared/visible light spectrum. As the frequency of usage is higher, it will become more difficult for the signal to reach the user without increasing the power with which it is transmitted. The reason is that it can be easily blocked by obstacles and attenuated by the environment. As a consequence, more transmission stations are to be used or a much larger transmission power from existing ones.
The capabilities of the 5G and next generation wireless networks come from improvements on different fronts, mainly from a technical nature. One prominent feature however is the increasing use of higher frequencies. To put it in simple terms, accommodating a higher number of mobile users while satisfying their needs in terms of extremely high data rates and low delays requires a higher bandwidth; and this bandwidth is not possible without going to higher frequencies. It is in fact this simple equation that reinvigorated the discussion on the harmful effects of electromagnetic radiations.
Are Telecom Tower Radiations Dangerous?
Radio frequencies in general belong to the class of non-ionizing radiations. This type of radiation does not cause changes at the atom level, that is, the energy is not enough to remove electrons from atoms, thus producing charged ions. On the other hand, ionizing radiations including far ultraviolet light and X-rays have the capabilities of ionizing existing molecules. The common consensus is that non-ionizing radiation has mild effects such as increasing skin temperature which may induce sunburn at most. Some other radiations such as ultraviolet A (UV-A) may cause melanoma. Ionizing radiation is mostly carcinogenic, that is, it may cause several types of cancer after a relatively long exposure. Most health groups and commissions have deemed that radiations from telecom towers as not dangerous mainly because the thermal effects do not cause any harm to the human body (at least a scientifically confirmed harm). However, little attention is given to the non-thermal potential effects of these radiations such as DNA, protein, or cell damage.
So What is the Problem with 5G?
The dilemma regarding harmful effects of non-ionizing radiation is not new. It dates back to the 2G era, the fabled GSM system. However, the network was largely made of dispersed cell towers covering large areas. Subscribers were not even close to transmission entities as antennas were usually mounted on building rooftops. As standards evolved, cell sites have been getting closer to the subscribers to ensure proper capacity and coverage. 5G is the pinnacle of wireless standards with an expected relatively dense deployment of street-level cell sites at close proximity of mobile users. The projected addition of higher frequencies to the 5G palette makes things even worse.
The divergence of opinions in the medical circles regarding 5G radiation have even emerged to the public. The conclusions that non-ionizing radiation is in general not harmful have been contested by many scientists worldwide. These scientists claim that this type of radiation is carcinogenic, although not to the extent of ionizing one. Several cases of glioma, the typical form of brain cancer, have been attributed to non-ionizing radiation. In a report dating back to 2011, the international agency for research on cancer (IARC) has called to classify radio frequencies as potentially carcinogenic (a class denoted as 2B). A “5G Appeal” was even established in Europe in 2017 calling countries to halt the roll-out of 5G networks until a scientific confirmation of its harmless effects. An increasing number of scientists have been joining the appeal since then, calling for the moratorium of 5G.
Even if temporary exposure to non-ionizing radiation is not harmful, our constant presence in the electrosmog would certainly have more dangerous effects that need to be studied closely. The debate does not even end with 5G as future generations are already considering much higher frequencies for their operation.
Another factor is the increased power used for transmission. Cost-saving is one of top goals of operators around the world. To avoid the capital and operational expenditures resulting from the erection of new cell sites, some operators crank up the power on existing sites to extend their coverage range. This has an adverse effect on mobile subscribers who are unaware of this invisible threat.
Several researchers are studying the health effects of 5G deployment. Notably, a paper published in 2020demonstrates the effects of 5G deployment in significantly increasing the power density (power in watts per square meters) for an area in Texas, USA.
Telecom Politics, Outdated Standards, and Conflicts of Interest
To make matters worse, the dark alleys of the telecom industry largely contribute to this ongoing controversy. After all, the telecom sector is among the most profitable around the world. Any obstacle hindering the roll-out of new wireless technologies should be eliminated as soon as possible the limit the financial loss, notably for entities who invested in these technologies.
The main issue concerns institutions that define safe exposure limits to electromagnetic radiations. These include health organizations, in addition to specialized entities such as the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). Such commissions and organizations have made use of safety guidelines that date back to the 1990s, ignoring new research results that contradict their conclusions. Among others, they have maintained their stance regarding the thermal effects of non-ionizing radiations and have consequently kept their prescribed exposure limits loose. They have even resisted recognizing the adverse non-thermal effects of radio frequency radiation.
These loose thresholds would normally make most wireless networks which are deployed around the world, compliant with international standards. Surprisingly, the ICNIRP even increased the safe exposure power density from 10 Watts per square meters to 40 Watts per square meters. This gives additional flexibility for telecom operators to design their network at a lower cost. However, higher exposure limits are allowed and more subjects would probably fall victims of the technology evolution.
An article analyzing the performance of heath commissions, outlines several conflicts of interest among scientists responsible for the evaluation of the effects of non-ionizing radiation. For instance, several members of the ICNIRP, were also members of the EU Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) and a dedicated group of the World Health Organization (WHO). The same article mentions the relation between Swiss scientists and governmental groups responsible for assessing the effects of 5G in addition to mobile operators. When political and economic considerations affect health-related assessments, the outcome normally lacks credibility. The guidelines of standardization bodies therefore cannot be trusted to have the clear picture regarding radiation-associated risks.
Radiations from telecom towers are essential for the operation of wireless communication systems. No technology such as 5G or Wi-Fi can even exist without these distributed cell sites equipped with transmitting antennas. However, from a health perspective, the telco domain looks pretty much unregulated. Non-ionizing radiations usually have limited implications on the user’s health, but open questions remain largely open: What is the safe exposure time to these radiations? What is the safe distance between a person and a transmitting antenna? What are safe transmission power levels? Why haven’t safety guidelines been updated for some time? Why are the opinions of some scientists been disregarded? Can telecom tower radiations clearly cause cancer or other devastating effects?
While there is no clear answer for these questions, there is one significant problem which is controversy and lack of transparency. People have the right to have a definitive answer regarding the effects of wireless technologies on their health, and they have the right to know that before the mass rollout of such technologies.
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5G vs. Wi-Fi: Harmony or Competition?
The evolution of wireless technologies has been going at a steady pace. Two technologies have been dominating the market for more than two decades. The advent of GSM or 2G as it is widely known, has allowed true mobile communications that culminated with the latest 5G evolution, while the Wireless Fidelity (Wi-Fi) standard has brought mobile internet connectivity to the premises. In the technical circles, 2G and its subsequent evolutions are classified as a wide area network (WAN) technologies while Wi-Fi is a wireless local area network (WLAN) technology. The differentiation comes from the coverage range of each. The latest 5G standard has brought versatility to cellular technologies. People have been asking whether Wi-Fi should still exist with the increasing 5G availability. In the battle of 5G vs. Wi-Fi, are these technologies considered as friends or foes?
What are the Differences Between 5G and Wi-Fi?
Although they share many similarities, notably in terms of performance, 5G and Wi-Fi are basically two separate worlds. The philosophy surrounding their implementation and deployment is largely different.
5G vs. Wi-Fi: Installation and Ease of Use
The difficulty in deploying these two technologies is where the difference is actually the largest in the 5G vs. Wi-Fi battle. Akin to other previous cellular technologies, the deployment of 5G networks goes through a meticulous process including the optimized planning of the network, and deployment of the planned cell-sites and other associated components. The resulting capital expenditures are significant due to the cost of purchasing the components and erecting the different cell-sites. The subsequent maintenance and upgrade costs add to the existing bill. To compensate for the costs, operators work on paid subscriptions, and other attractive services to keep their profits on the positive side.
On the other hand, Wi-Fi requires a much lower cost to deploy. All what is needed is to decide where access points are to be installed and how many of those are needed. Once acquired, the Wi-Fi network can be connected to the Internet backbone to establish end-to-end connectivity. It is worth noting that the cost of wireless access point is significantly cheaper than that an erected cell-site.
5G vs. Wi-Fi: Frequency of Operation
This is another large difference between the two technologies. 5G networks normally operate on licensed spectrum, with the exception of the CBRS band which has been recently used in the USA for private networks. This means that network operators need to go through auctions to acquire expensive licenses to run their network. The licenses fees also depend on the band of operation for the 5G network.
Wi-Fi however uses unlicensed spectrum for operation, namely in the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands. From a wireless propagation perspective, the 2.4 GHz allows a wider range of operation at the expense of much lower speeds. The new Wi-Fi 6E standard should allow additional bandwidth in the 6 GHz band which should boost the perceived performance from Wi-Fi transmission.
5G vs. Wi-Fi: Range and Performance
5G clearly stand out in terms of the range of operation. The use of hundreds of geographically distributed cell-sites and the flexibility in selecting several bands of operations allow 5G networks to be accurately dimensioned for certain coverage targets. Wi-Fi networks on another side are limited to several hundreds of meters in range, depending on the frequency of operation (lower band) and transmission power (higher).
With the latest Wi-Fi 6/6E release and the nearing Wi-Fi 7 announcement, the performance of Wi-Fi is on par with 5G networks, if not better in some cases. The fact that the Wi-Fi network is connected through fiber optics to the backbone with the users normally very close to the access point, allows consistently high-performance guarantees. 5G networks from the other side suffer from the classical cellular connectivity problems. As the subscribers get farther from the cell-site, the performance drops due to the signal attenuation resulting from the increasing distance and user mobility.
Wi-Fi 6 vs. Private 5G Networks
The emerging topic of private 5G networks has pushed many to question the need for Wi-Fi networks. With private networks, enterprises and other small institutions can have a secure environment where high quality connectivity is guaranteed, and several additional use cases can even be created. The cheaper Wi-Fi network can theoretically be used to achieve the same task, expect for the lack of a seamless connection to the external networks.
In a sense, private networks have been a competitor in Wi-Fi’s territory as it was the first 5G local area network (LAN) solution, invading a category where Wi-Fi has long been the undisputable leader.
Towards Tighter Cooperation?
5G and Wi-Fi shouldn’t be seen as enemies or foes, but rather as complementary technologies. The benefits of employing both technologies at the same time are numerous. Traffic offloading is one important application for a concurrent technology use. As data services are pricey on cellular 5G networks, offloading tasks when a Wi-Fi connection is available could save the subscriber a lot of money. The existence of a Wi-Fi network provides load balancing opportunities as the processing can be shared between the 5G and Wi-Fi networks. For instance, in the context of private LANs, local processing could be done through the Wi-Fi network while the 5G link can be used to connect different entities within the premises and maintain a connection with the external public 5G network.
Remember the Samsung Galaxy S5 from 2014? It featured a download booster feature that combines LTE connections with the local Wi-Fi connection to boost the download speed. The impressive 5G and Wi-Fi performance guarantees can even make the user experience even better.
5G and Wi-Fi are two technologies that are so different than each other, yet they complement one another perfectly well. Looking at them as competitors is undermining to their inherent properties as each has been conceived to achieve specific goals which do not necessarily align. The controversy stirred by the emergence of private networks is certainly not enough to question the role played by Wi-Fi network. The prospective advent of Wi-Fi 7 will foster the role played by the LAN technology in synergy with the wider range 5G networks.
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5G Use Cases in Education: Breaking the Barriers in Online Leaning
The recent coronavirus pandemic has been a big challenge for different sectors worldwide. The health industry has been put to the limelight due the large number of casualties and the inability of healthcare systems to ramp up their resources to face the rapidly escalating situation. In the background, the pandemic tested the readiness of various sectors in facing a sudden event. The evident answer was that no one was even close to being prepared for the unforeseen disastrous results of the sanitary events. Instead, the period has been governed by experimenting, learning, upgrading, and innovating, a cycle that has been ongoing, even when the repercussions of the pandemic subsided.
The pandemic was in particular severely testing for the educational sector. Millions of students suddenly found themselves away from the classroom, with no proper plan on how to proceed with their curricula. The first and obvious resort was technology and over the top (OTT) applications such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, WebEx, and Google Meet. Online learning platforms alleviated the burden on the educational system but at the same time highlighted the inadequacy of the existing telecom infrastructure to support a large surge in the number of users while satisfying minimum quality of service requirements. While operators worked heavily on upgrading their infrastructure, even in the middle of the pandemic, 5G use cases have emerged as lifesavers for the education sector. Not only this, but the pandemic also coincided with a worldly drive to deploy the latest technology on top of the existing 4G network.
Why 5G Can Be the Difference-Maker in Education?
Three main keywords favor the ranking of 5G as a difference-maker in the education sector: bandwidth, latency, and security. The new wireless standard has been conceived for flexibility in terms of the deployment strategy (non-standalone vs. standalone), bands of operations, and customization in terms of the implemented virtualized functions. On top of that, security policies have been notably enforced with the latest generation in mobile communications. As the role of telecommunications is primordial in education, 5G can be the solution to iron out some of the hiccups in educational content delivery. As a simple example, low 5G bands can be used to ensure proper coverage and guarantee education for most students, higher bands can be used in some places to enrich the digital experience bringing education as close as possible to the physical one.
What Are Applications Of 5G Technology in Education?
While 5G could secure the proper infrastructure for an adequate education experience, the applications of 5G in education go beyond communication service provision. The combination of advanced transmission capabilities, improved security and increasing edge computing availability unlocks different possibilities to enrich the learning experience.
Probably the most thought of feature is the inclusion of artificial intelligence (AI) and extended reality in the learning process. AI in education brings schools to the digital age enabling smart content, tailored learning experiences, and improved class management. The use of speech recognition can further enrich the learning process.
The incorporation of extended reality, including virtual and augmented reality is key to address of the main limitations of distant learning, practical work. While most of the learning outcomes can be met through appropriate content delivery, practical work such a laboratory experiments and in-class projects is hard to deliver as the needed equipment and resources are only available in the school premises. Augmented reality can help the student manipulate equipment and interact with elements of the class in a way they could not achieve with traditional online learning platforms.
Extended reality also provides the student with an immersive learning experience. Instead of suffering from the psychological effects of sitting alone for long hours behind a computer screen, the student can be submerged in a real classroom experience where he can interact with his classmates, school/university instructor, and other elements in the classroom.
Challenges And Warnings for The Use Of 5G In Education
The typical cybersecurity threats that jeopardize any online service apply as well to 5G-based educational systems. During the latest pandemic, a large number of attacks, notably ransomware have been reported on different institutions around the world. These attacks are certainly not inherent to 5G systems but are important factors that should be catered for. The emergent usage of 5G private networking could be one solution where institutions can deploy their networks with customized reliability and security policies.
The proliferation of 5G-based education can also have an adverse effect in deepening the inequalities between countries. The quality of the education would then depend on the availability or not of 5G services in a given country.
Finally, educational methods relying on 5G shouldn’t be considered as the norm. What applies to a country and to an educational institution therein does not necessarily apply in another context?
The pandemic taught use the hard way that disruptions in any sector can be very costly, and even harder to fix. The educational sector suffered considerably from the effects of the pandemic, notably in terms of the availability and quality of education. At the same time, 5G networks were slowly expanding throughput the world. What has been damaged by the pandemic can partly be fixed using 5G systems. The technologies accompanying 5G systems provide several use cases for education, notably through the use of extended reality to provide an immersive educational experience. As with any technology, new learning paradigms shouldn’t be considered as a standard, thus emphasizing inequalities among countries.
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What Does 5G UC Mean on Android?
5G is the hype of the moment, not only among operators but also among big tech companies, industries, and governmental organizations. The sign displayed on any device lets users know that they are on T-Mobile’s 5G UC network instead of the regular 5G network.
Last year, T-Mobile rolled out its 5G UC network aiming to cover more than 200 million people in the U.S. as part of its plans to deliver faster cellular connectivity to more Americans. 5G UC android is available to iPhone and Android users on the T-Mobile network and can be determined by a ‘5G UC’ sign in the status bar on smartphones.
Earlier this year, T-Mobile USA announced a 5G milestone as they’ve reached 200 million people with their “5G Ultra Capacity” service.
This is T-Mobile’s fastest-available 5G coverage, and it’s effectively unique to this carrier.
A few years back, the fifth-generation technology was deployed in the U.S. With some of the biggest carriers in the market with 5G networks covering most of the country’s population. While it was limited to select metropolitan areas in the initial phase, it mostly covers various parts of the country.
A few months after its appearance on iPhones early 2021, the 5G UC icon appears on many Android phones.
5G UC Android Meaning
5G UC refers to customers connected to a 5G network, which is only shown on Android phones with 5G support with smartphones or iPhones, like iPhones 12 and 13. This means that 5G UC users are connected to mid-band or millimeter wave (mmWave) 5G; for T-Mobile, it is more likely related to mid-band, as this drives up the majority of telecom operators’ faster 5G network.
When it comes to the network’s mmWave, it is perceived as the fastest 5G band commercially available, but it’s found in a few locations, and uses a higher frequency than prior cellular networks and allows blazing-fast connections.
This new network will only appear if you are a T-Mobile customer and notice a new “5G UC” icon in people’s Androids phones status bar. The 5G UC icon is shown when a customer is connected to T-Mobile’s Ultra Capacity 5G network. The president of technology at T-Mobile, Neville Ray, said the carrier’s customers will sometimes see “5G UC,” which means they are in an area with fast speeds with “Ultra Capacity 5G.”
As telcos roll out more extensive improvements that bring meaningful speed and latency increases, they’re caught in a crossfire: regular “5G” is too weak of a brand to impact. Nowadays, telecom operators are competing to get the best fifth generation technology on their phones to serve clients as efficiently as possible.
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