Gentlemen of the Press, the Nigerian Institute of Physics (NIP) is the professional association of physicists and other scientists practicing in the Academia, the Telecommunications, Oil and Gas Industries, the Military and in Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of both State and the Federal government. The NIP has followed with keen interest, the ongoing debate in different media, particularly the social media, on possible health hazards posed by wireless communication networks. Mostly attracting our attention is the link of the Fifth-Generation Communication Network (5G) to the Corona Virus Disease (COVID-19). We will like to start this address by stating clearly that NIP as a body, shares the global anxiety over the novel and virulent COVID-19 pandemic ravaging human health and disrupting world economy at the moment. It is quite natural for people to express all manner of opinions for as long as the origin, nature and cure of COVID-19 are presently unknown. However, the quanta of energy and the propagation characteristics of the Electromagnetic Wave Spectrum, to which all communication frequency bands and other bands belong, are well understood. The Nigerian Institute of Physics therefore feels obliged to explain some basic facts about the Electromagnetic Spectrum vis-à-vis the potential of each band to produce health effects in man. We hope this will make our position on the raging debate very clear.
Radiation generally means propagation of energy from a source into space. In the case of electromagnetic radiation, the energy E of each photon in the radiation is proportional to the frequency f of the radiation and inversely proportional to the wavelength. The legendary Planck-Einstein relation allows us to treat the radiation
as a stream of energy packets or quanta, each of energy E = hf. This energy can be absorbed by any material medium in which radiation propagates and produce some effects in the medium. The concern of the Health Physicist is the effects which radiation absorption will produce in living human cells.
It is well established that when its energy is about 14 electron volts (eV) and above, radiation can dissociate water molecules that make up most of the human cells, which may eventually lead to undesirable health effects. Radiations in this energy range are called ionizing radiations and they include x-and g-rays which are at the high energy end of the spectrum. Both are used extensively in medical and industrial sectors under strict international and national regulations. The Nigerian Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NNRA) has the responsibility to ensure safe application of ionising radiations in Nigeria. Absolutely no communication network can work in this very high radiation energy range. Electromagnetic radiations used for communications are in the very low energy end of the spectrum. We observed in the ongoing debate that many people are not aware of this fundamental fact.
Starting with the First Generation (1G) network at a frequency of about 150 MHz around 1980, 2G (GSM) at 1.9 GHz in 1991 and on to 3G and 4G years later, with increasing frequencies for each generation, wireless communication technology has witnessed a tremendous growth in the last 40 years. Today, 5G technologies is emerging at two frequency bands; one in the existing LTE frequency range (600 MHz – 6 GHz) and another in the millimeter wave band (24–86 GHz), which is many times higher than the frequency of 4G. With capacities for faster browsing, streaming, and download speeds, as well as better connectivity, 5G is a natural evolution in our increasingly technology dependent society. Our history from stone age to date does not show mankind as being static at any point in its technological evolution.
To address the safety or otherwise of communication networks, including 5G, we must note that they all operate in frequencies of Giga Hertz (GHz or 109 Hz) and below, which corresponds to energy packets which are thousands of times smaller than what can dissociate water molecules and cause health issues in humans. Radiations in this category are referred to as non-ionising radiations, which dissipate their energy as heat in the skin and the tissues directly beneath the skin when absorbed. They include radio waves used in radio and TV broadcasting, infrared radiation used in remote control sets for home and office appliances, visible radiation which stimulates human organ of vision and ultra violet (UV) radiation, which is a major component of solar radiation. While X-rays used in medical diagnostics has energy packets in thousands of electron volts (KeV), 90 GHz in 5G technology corresponds to energy less than 0.0004 eV.
Solar radiation under which we live has energy up to 8 eV. The heat resulting from their absorption in a medium depends on their intensity (or power per unit area) during an application. The intensity of microwave radiation in the microwave oven is quite high and hence will warm your food in minutes. Are we dealing with intensity near that in 5G? NO.
A comparison with some familiar radiant exposures will illustrate what we are dealing with in 5G. Visible light radiation intensity in a room from a 60 W bulb is about 0.6 W/m2 in the room whereas what we have from a typical Base Transceiver Station (BTS) communication antenna at the point of maximum radiation intensity is generally below 0.2 W/m2. Solar radiation intensity on the earth surface is about 1,300 W/m² and we can actually feel the heat produced in our body tissues. The Nigerian Institute of Physics therefore does not believe that wireless communication of whatever generation now or in the nearest future, is exposing mankind to any more radiation energy than we are already used to in our different environments. It is therefore not substantiated that such wireless communication has any potential for health effects on humans at their present transmission intensity. We do not in particular, believe that the low energy packets and intensity from 5G antennas will transform to an organised aggregate of DNA molecules that constitute the corona virus, as being peddled currently. There was a pandemic in 1919, hundred years before 5G.
The Institute i.e NIP is fully aware that any technological innovation is a product of rigorous scientific research and that before any technology is deployed for public consumption, adequate studies on its short- and long-term health and environmental implications must have been conducted by relevant competent authorities. While we believe that no research outcome is conclusive, we are aware that the scientific community is always ever ready to accept new findings based on accepted norm in research methodology. We are abreast of the research activities and guidelines issued by competent international bodies. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the oldest existing international organization founded in 1865, is an agency of the United Nations (UN) with the mandate to coordinate telecommunication operations and services throughout the world. The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) is very active in setting engineering control standards for communication networks while the International Committee on Non-Ionization Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) has the responsibility to issue guidelines for the health protection in both occupational and public exposure to non-ionizing radiation. We have also the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is an agency of the World Health Organization (WHO),the Health Protection Agency (HPA),the American Cancer Society (ACS), the Committee on Man and Radiation (COMAR), etc. all of which budget huge investments annually on studies on radiation and cancer. Their respective positions are consistent with the view and position of NIP as detailed above, which in summary is that a link between 5G communication technology and COVID-19 pandemic is not substantiated.
A tour national level, the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC), established in 2003, is an independent national regulatory authority for the telecommunications industry in Nigeria. The Commission receives information and guidelines on international best practices from the above international bodies and implement the same in Nigeria. The Nigerian Institute of Physics has confidence in their competence to regulate the industry and ensure occupational and public health protection. The Commission recently assured Nigerians that it has not licenced any service provider on 5G Network in Nigeria and that it will follow due process in licensing procedure and eventual deployment of 5G technology. At this point, it may be instructive to remind NCC that high frequency (24–86 GHz) signals get attenuated faster than low frequency signals, which may require more booster antennas at closer ranges for 5G than we have for 3G and 4G presently. This requirement calls for stringent engineering supervision in order to avoid high density clusters of BTS masts all over our cities. Also, as a result of the public anxiety created already by the 5G network, we wish to recommend a robust enlightenment programme by the NCC to ensure a total acceptance of the technology. We have no doubts that the commission is well positioned for this challenge.
Gentlemen of the press, I thank you for your attention.
Professor Hycienth Ogbu Aboh, FNIP, FIMC, CMC
President, Nigerian Institute of Physics (NIP)
Tuesday, 21st April, 2020