More research is needed into the potential health effects of new 5G mobile phone technology before it is rolled out in Australia, an international expert says.
The high-speed mobile phone network could be operational in Australia from 2020, offering up to 50 times the bandwidth currently available on 4G networks, allowing users to download the equivalent of three television episodes in a second.
Telstra announced last year it would run a world-first test of the technology for visitors to the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.
International radio frequency expert Professor Dariusz Leszczynski, from the University of Helsinki, told a public lecture at Griffith University in Brisbane on Thursday night there was a concerning lack of understanding about the health effects.
“We know only that this radiation penetrates skin deep,” Professor Leszczynski said.
“We don’t have the faintest idea how normal-functioning skin will be affected.”
Australia’s radiation safety government body, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA), has backed calls to examine whether the country’s current radiation safety standards need to be changed for the 5G rollout.
Research published on the agency’s website said 5G technology could penetrate skin to a depth of 8 millimetres.
ARPANSA assistant director Dr Ken Karipidis said more research was needed.
“At the frequencies where 5G will be operating, the RF electromagnetic energy does not penetrate much further than the surface of the skin,” Dr Karapidis said.
“Adverse health effects are not expected, and the current Australian Standard accounts for these.
“Nevertheless, further research in this area is required, particularly on effects on the skin and the eyes.”
Radio frequency emissions a possible carcinogen
Professor Leszczynski was one of the 30 experts on an international World Health Organisation research team in 2011 that classified all radio frequency emissions as a possible carcinogen.
But ARPANSA said the Australian Radiofrequency Standard, based on international guidelines, protected the community from harm.
Professor Leszczynski said examining the health impacts after the technology was rolled out was not good enough.
“It appears we are having deja vu because in the early 1980s we thought that low-power emitting technology would be safe, no problems,” he said.
“Thirty years later it appears it is possibly carcinogenic.”
ARPANSA said it would be up to individual university research labs to pick up the agency’s recommendations for more research into 5G frequencies.
A Telstra spokesman said the company ensured its wireless networks comply with Australian electromagnetic energy (EME) safety standards.
“We rely on the expert advice of a number of national and international health authorities, including ARPANSA and the World Health Organisation,” the spokesman said.
“Research into EME, mobile phones and health has been going on for many years.
“The frequencies used by 5G have been used by other radio frequency applications such as satellite and radar for decades … 5G wireless networks are designed to be very efficient and minimise EME.”