Measuring human exposure to 5G

IEC is sharing best practices to ensure accurate assessments of electromagnetic fields for 5G network and device testing

5G is the latest generation of mobile network technology. It promises greater capacity, as well as significantly faster download speeds than the current 4G networks. It will mean loading the HD version of a three-hour movie like Avengers: Endgame in seconds, rather than the minutes it currently takes. More significantly, it opens up exciting new possibilities for a range of technologies, including the Internet of Things (IoT) and augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR).

5G antenna EME test (Photo: Telstra Labs)

“5G is set to revolutionize wireless communications and play a major role in our future connected society and facilitate the road towards a more advanced Internet of Things,” says Mike Wood, who chairs IEC Technical Committee 106, which prepares international standards on measurement and calculation methods to assess human exposure to electric, magnetic and electromagnetic fields. The members of TC 106 include global experts from mobile operators, mobile manufacturers, academia, government regulators and testing laboratories.

Huge potential benefits

“Knowing the importance of 5G and wireless communications on a global scale is what drives our experts, who dedicate many hours including significant personal time to work on international standardization,” Wood told e-tech.

When fully deployed, the technology will not only increase downloading and uploading speeds over the mobile network, but also provide the connection for billions of IoT devices, as well as reducing latency, which is the time that networks take to respond. This opens a wide range of new possibilities in robotics, vehicle and automotive safety systems, and remote medical applications.

In a practical sense, it will drastically lessen the annoyance of time spent buffering on your mobile device and provide a far better customer experience. More importantly, trials carried out around the world have already highlighted the massive potential benefits for industrial and medical applications.  Earlier this year, the Chinese media reported on 5G assisting remote brain surgery on a patient 3 000 kilometres away. Surgical operations using robot arms in remote locations would be impossible on conventional 4G networks because of the delays.

5G field trials are well underway and a number of operators are launching networks this year.  5G initially supported by 4G will serve as the much-needed communications backbone for the ever continuing growth in data and connectivity, from the billions of connected IoT devices, to self-driving cars and smart cities. Human safety and device compliance are obviously essential and this is an area where IEC work is well advanced. TC 106 is playing a key role with the recent publication of a new IEC Technical Report on evaluating human exposure to radio frequency fields in the vicinity of base stations. It follows the publication of a new standard (IEC 62232) in 2017.

Safety relies on accurate data

IEC 62232 provides methods for determining the radio-frequency field strength near radio-communication base stations with the intention of evaluating human exposure. It takes into account the mmWave frequencies to be used for 5G networks. TC 106 has also established three joint working groups with IEEE to develop international standards for 5G device testing in the near future:

  • JWG 11 is studying computational methods to assess the power density in close proximity to the head and body. The aim is to develop a dual IEC/IEEE standard for computing the power density from wireless communication devices from 6 GHz to 300 GHz.
  • JWG 12 deals with measurement methods to assess the power density in close proximity to the head and body. This should lead to a dual IEC/IEEE standard for measuring the power density of wireless communication devices from 6 GHz to 300 GHz
  • JWG 13 is working on a dual IEC/IEEE standard for measurement procedures to determine the specific absorption rate, which calculates the rate at which energy is absorbed by the human body when exposed to a radio frequency electromagnetic field (frequency range of 4 MHz to 10 GHz).

The 2019 technical report covers both 5G base stations and small cells. It provides a vital resource for network operators deploying 5G by illustrating test methods and worked examples on 5G trial sites. The report helps stakeholders — including facility managers, building owners and governments and local communities — to ensure that they are testing their networks and base stations correctly. The benefits are threefold. It demonstrates new testing methods for 5G, improves global consistency and accuracy for base station and small cell tests, and simplifies the implementation of site RF safety assessments through worked examples.

“As 5G advances at a rapid rate and networks are deployed, testing base stations to ensure they meet the radio frequency (RF) exposure standards is an essential step for operators, regulators and the community, providing a reassurance on safety,” said Wood.