26/01/2020 3 min

5G deployment in France: ANSES takes action to assess the health risks

The deployment of "5th generation" communication technology promises innovative services based on new infrastructure. These technological developments will change the ways in which the population is exposed and require the adaptation of measurement and assessment methods. As part of the deployment of 5G in France planned for the end of this year, ANSES undertook an expert appraisal to assess the health risks associated with population exposure to this technology. In this regard, ANSES stresses the need for data describing the technologies developed and their installations, in order to characterise the associated exposure levels and assess the possible health effects.

As part of the deployment of 5G and the national roadmap launched by the Government in July 2018, ANSES was asked by the Ministries of Health, the Environment and the Economy to conduct an expert appraisal on population exposure to electromagnetic fields resulting from this technology and the possible associated health effects. In this context, ANSES has published a preliminary report that determines the basis of its expert appraisal work, whose results will be available in the first quarter of 2021. Among other things, it presents an inventory of the available scientific studies and identifies the main areas for risk assessment.

5G technology: new frequency bands to investigate

The deployment of 5G technology aims to develop innovative services in multiple areas such as health, media, transport and the industries of the future. It will rely on a greater mobile data transfer capacity, in terms of quantity and speed, to offer a broader range of wireless services and facilitate the development of interconnected objects.

In France, the first 5G offers will be launched in late 2020. They will exploit the frequencies already used by previous mobile telephone generations (2G, 3G, 4G), as well as two new frequency bands:

  • initially, the 3.5 GHz band for 5G mobile telephone coverage in large geographical areas;

  • then in subsequent years, the 26 GHz band for communication between connected objects or for mobile telephony within limited areas.

Exposure data essential for risk assessment

ANSES stresses the need to obtain as much technical information as possible from the companies involved, in order to be able to define population exposure scenarios together with the French Frequency Agency (ANFR) and assess any impact on health.

Mobile telephone operators have already carried out pilot experiments in several French cities to test operation of the new infrastructure. This has given the ANFR the opportunity since late 2018 to conduct exploratory tests to measure exposure in the 3.5 GHz band, as part of its missions to control public exposure to waves. These measurements will be one of the sources of data taken into account in ANSES's expert appraisal.

Two areas of expertise identified

The Agency identified two separate risk assessment fields corresponding to the two new 5G frequency bands (around 3.5 GHz and 26 GHz), which involve different modes of exposure.

It highlighted a lack of scientific data on the potential biological and health effects associated with exposure to frequencies around 3.5 GHz. The experts will therefore assess the possibility of extrapolating the results of the Agency's previous expert appraisal on the health impacts of the various existing communications technologies (3G, 4G, Wi-Fi, etc.), which use frequencies close to the 3.5 GHz band, from 0.8 to 2.45 GHz. For the higher frequencies, between 20 and 60 GHz, there are more data available in the literature, so the expert appraisal work will focus on analysing them to assess the possible health impacts associated with exposure in the 26 GHz band.