DR. MOHAMMED SALIM ENGINEER, an IIT-Kanpur alumnus and Professor in the Department of Electronics & Communications Engineering at the Malaviya National Institute of Technology, Jaipur, who has done a Ph.D. on 4G mobile communication technology, is presently national Vice President of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind. In an interview with MUSHARRAF ALI*, he rejects the argument that 5G Mobile Communication Technology and its radiation are injurious to human health.
Q: The chief aspect of your personality is that you have done your Ph.D. in 5G. Please tell us what 5G is all about?
A: I have to make it clear that 5G is indeed my area of research. Some students are doing research thereon under my supervision; two of my students are doing research even on 6G. However, my research was in 4G Mobile Communication Technology; in 2012, I completed my doctoral thesis. At that time, India did not have 4G(Fourth Generation) telecommunication technology.
These 4G, 5G, 6G, etc., are mobile technology generations, viz. developed forms of the technology. As technology advances, the new generation replaces the old one. There was initially 1G, then 2G, 3G and, 4G and, now we are preparing for using 5G Technology. One significant factor in post-3G technology is Data Rate. Data Rate affects internet connection speed. If Data Rate is good, it will keep the connection speed fast; big files also can be opened easily. To play a video requires a fast Data Rate. While playing a video, you would have encountered waiting with something moving on the screen. This downloading of data before the video begins playing is known as buffering. Buffering means data is heavy and the connection speed slow, so it stores some data as a result of buffering and then releases it, and this process of storing and releasing data continues. If Data Rate is fast, there would be no buffering, viz. you would not have to wait.
In earliest generations, Data Rate was very slow. First, it was a few Kilobits per second (Kbps), viz. one thousand bits per second. Then it was upgraded in the range of a few Megabits per second (Mbps), viz. ten lakh bits per second. The preparation now is to introduce Gigabits per second (Gbps), which would be one thousand times faster than Mbps. Technical details of 5G have now been finalized that would support Data Rate up to 100 Gbps. An international institution ascertains its criteria and sets Global Standards of Technology such as its transmission frequency and Channel bandwidth. At present, this technology is in testing but, soon, it would be available commercially for public use.
Q: Which international institution ascertains the criteria of new technology?
A: Several agencies and institutions play a vital role in Frequency band allocations for various applications and technologies and technology standardization. The most important of them are (i) Federal Communication Commission (FCC), the USA, (ii) European Telecommunication Standards Institute (ETSI), and (iii) International Telecommunication Union- Radio Communication Sector (ITU-R).
The 5G Mobile Communication Technology is part of the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP).
Q: So, 5G is the developed form of 4G. What are the fundamental differences between the two? Further, what was the need felt to shift from 4G to 5G?
A: To shift from the present technology to its developed generation is a natural process. It is the human disposition that man always thinks of progress and advancement. First, he gets something great and then strives to achieve greater. That is, man is always in search of betterment. This search for improvement leads him to research. The age of one generation is about ten years. During this period, new requirements come to the fore and, research begins. This process continues. Thus, one significant factor of shifting to 5G is Data Rate. It will increase internet connection speed and enhance its quality.
In the beginning, we had the technology which provided the SMS facility. After some progress, we started using MMS, and now files are transferred. Earlier we could transfer only audio files; now, we can transfer video files. The size of a file depends on its resolution. If the file is of good quality, we have to enhance its resolution. With this, that file’s data will increase and require a faster Data Rate. We shifted from 3G to 4G to improve quality, and now we are moving from 4G to 5G.
Some new facilities have been introduced in 5G. Some facilities were introduced in 4G also. Now they have been made more advance. For example, Internet of Things (IoT) and Telemedicine, etc.
One more thing increases with generation and, that is frequency. The frequency with which transmission is measured is of great importance. Frequency varies from one generation to another. First, it was 400-500 Megahertz (MHz) in 1G, 800-900 MHz in 2G, 1500-1800 MHz in 3G, over 2000 MHz in 4G; and now it is being further increased in 5G in the range of 28 GHz (Gigahertz) and 39 GHz.
Fast internet is the need of everyone; everyone wants the file to open as he taps on the screen. In addition, higher frequency provides more channel bandwidth and, it supports higher Data Rate.
Q: Experts say that 5G requires a large number of cells to be functional. These cells are harmful to health. It is also stated that 5G radiation has caused death to birds and that now it is killing humans in large numbers attributed to Covid. How far is it true?
A: Mobile tower range is an essential component of technology. The area covered by the Mobile tower is called cell and, the range it covers is called cell radius. With advanced technology, we have a small cell radius. Earlier, one tower was used to cover a large area. 2G and 3G towers used to cover 1-2 kilometres. In 4G, it was reduced to 300-400 metres. And in 5G it is further reduced to 20-30 metres only. The technology of small towers is good from every angle. As it costs a lot, mobile phone companies want to cover a large area by installing giant towers so that they might have to install the minimum number of towers. But in doing so, they have to increase power. And this is not proper.
You said that the greater number of cells is harmful to health, but the reality is contrary to it. More and more cell towers with reduced radius and power are beneficial to people. The issue of tower-induced radiation and the harm caused by it has often been raised. In 2012, when 4G was launched, a plea filed in Rajasthan High Court, Jaipur claimed that 4G towers were causing diseases, including cancer. At that time, my doctoral research on 4G was about to be completed. Hearing this petition, the High Court formed a 4-member committee, in which I was included as a member and technical expert. Other members on the committee were the Principal of Jaipur Medical College, a cancer specialist and, a Physics professor. We had to submit the report in two months. We surveyed Jaipur and submitted the report in time. The gist of the report is that the increasing number of towers is not harmful; rather it is good to increase the number of towers. The report recommended increasing the number of towers and reduce their radius and power. This recommendation has been taken into consideration in the new technology. Governments should ensure that the recommendation is implemented in letter and spirit. Contractors install antennas of different companies on one single tower. This causes increase in radiation at a particular place. This should be avoided. If companies do not act upon these instructions, it can cause harm. However, the rumour being spread that this technology would cause this and that harm is scientifically baseless. I think some purpose is being served behind it.
As for the claim that 5G radiation kills birds, there is no proof and no technological argument. Birds are so sensitive that they would not go near a mobile tower if ever it starts emitting more heat or radiation; in that case, they would sense it and eventually change their direction from afar. Therefore, the claim is baseless. I wonder how such baseless things are spread on social media and, people quite unwittingly become part of this propaganda campaign. Another point is that the installation of 5G towers is yet to be done.
Radiation indeed causes harm if someone is exposed to it for a considerably long time. Still, when some technology is researched, it is tested from every angle. Its impact on human body is also taken into consideration. Before finalising a new technology, it is subjected to every kind of experiment. There was radiation in 3G and is in 4G; it will be there in 5G. If one is exposed to radiation for quite a long time, it will be harmful. As power is reduced on accelerated frequency, the harm from radiation also lessens. Therefore, it is considered in technology and, the standard is maintained not to prove harmful to humans. In design, too, its power is not allowed to cross a certain level.
In every technology, specific instructions are given. If they are violated and misused, it would be harmful, and it can earn a penalty. For example, these days, the eyes and ears of children get damaged. This harm happens due to misuse of technology. They remain glued to mobile phones, keep the device clung to the ears or keep their eyes concentrated on the screen for hours together. If radiation exposure is allowed for a considerably long time, it would be harmful. But there is no proof of radiation-induced cancer or any other disease.
There is no doubt that too much use of a mobile phone is harmful. But owing to it, the progress of technology cannot be stopped. In my report (to the Rajasthan High Court), I wrote that a mobile phone must not be used in a particular position for more than six minutes. The user should change his position within six minutes, change his hand and ear (from right to left or left to right) or put the phone on speaker or make any other change because, after six minutes, the inner cells of the body part stuck to the phone get heated. It happens as we see it happening in a microwave oven. However, in comparison to a microwave oven, there is much less power in a mobile device. But if this much less power continues to heat a particular body part for quite some time, it can cause harm.
Q: What is your take on some considerable impact of 5G on the economy?
A: If good vehicles consuming less fuel start running on a well-constructed road at some place and are also fast running, it would definitely yield commercial benefits. Likewise, when you make advancements in internet facility, more work can be done in less time as you won’t have to wait while sending and receiving files; it would ensure commercial benefits. So technology does aim to provide facilities for people and accelerate industrial growth.
Q: Will a 5G smartphone support 10 Gbps?
A: Technology generation is advanced as per Data Rate and other advanced features. You have talked of only 10 Gbps, while 5G can go up to 100 Gbps. It means Data Rate at some place would be 10 Gbps, and at another site, it might provide more Data Rate, which can increase up to 100 Gbps. This technology is being updated to increase Data Rates also.
Q: 5G will increase dependence on the internet and work from home culture. What positive and negative impacts would it leave on man’s social life?
A: Fast internet service will undoubtedly change lifestyle. But it is not that it would make any significant change in social life. The change will come unconsciously; it will hardly be noticed when we came from 4G to 5G. But one thing is sure that we are gradually marching towards a digital life. Dependence on the internet is lessening our other activities and, thus, our lifestyle is changing. It has its social aspects as well. Even today, if you make too much use of a mobile phone, you would fall prey to loneliness. We should benefit from beneficial aspects of new technology and keep from the elements bound to weaken us socially.
Q: How would 5G impact IoT, in which we can embed several household appliances with the internet, so much so that one smart city can be embedded with other smart cities? Does it not increase the danger of Hacking?
A: One application of 5G is Internet of Things or IoT. It can embed many household appliances with mobile. Wherever a person may be, he can operate them with the internet’s help and know what is happening at home. For example, if he likes to turn the AC or geyser on well before entering his house, he can do so. He can get the door opened without touching it as soon as he comes to the door. There are also other facilities like this.
As for the danger of Hacking, we can say any system can be hacked. It is because codes are created by humans and they can also break them. But there is a solution to it. Ethical Hacking has now become a full-fledged technology. There is formal training on how to protect the system from being hacked. Besides, when we march from one generation to another, its security is enhanced and other things.
Q: How can this new technology advance virtual reality, telemedicine, etc.?
A: Some 4G applications take a lot of time to transmit large data files, now with the increase in Data Rate in 5G, they would become real-time, viz. the issue of buffering will come to an end and, the file would open at the click of a finger. Whether it is virtual reality or telemedicine, it requires Data Rate as it transfers big files.
Telemedicine is another significant application of 5G. It enables you to get connected with an expert while you are at home, a report can be sent and, expert opinion be sought. A surgeon doing surgery here can take help from specialised doctors sitting in any part of the world. Such an operation will be live and, doctors sitting there will watch it on the screen, send directions, and solve problems, if any. In 5G, this process will become faster, and hopefully, in 6G, it would be further enhanced. There are dreams ahead in this regard-For example, vehicles without drivers. One experiment thereof has been done in the form of drone technology. The use of 5G at present is minimal, but efforts are on introducing it on a large scale. It is not necessary that all this will be completed in 5G. But people are eyeing its future applications.
Q: Won’t 5G facilitate the transmission of obscene material? It would undoubtedly tell poorly upon the general health of society. Then is there any facility in 5G technology to protect people, especially youth and kids?
A: This issue is not related to 5G or any other generation technology, but instead, it is related to social mentality. Technology can be used for good purposes or bad purposes. Technology does not know for what purpose it is being used. Whether you transfer Qurānic verses or obscene material, it is the same for technology as it reads only bits.
How to control the transmission of obscene material is quite another issue. Where there are innumerable benefits of technology, there are also its disadvantages. We should certainly take measures to protect ourselves from these disadvantages and harmful effects. For this, technological progress cannot be hampered. We will have to make use of technology with due protection.
(The author of the article is a sub-editor with the Kanti Hindi weekly.)