Is 5G Tech Flawed? Why Placing Large Stations Outside Homes Might See Public Backlash

17-10-2022 | By Robin Mitchell

Despite the growing number of complaints, 5G towers continue to be erected in residential areas across the UK, and one has recently been burned down in a suspected case of arson. What challenges have 5G towers faced, why could the use of higher frequencies be the technologies’ downfall, and could future networks face challenges with installation?

What challenges has 5G faced?

Historically, the introduction of new cellular technologies has been met with praise and celebration. Moving from 2G to 3G suddenly allowed phones to readily access the internet, while the introduction of 4G allowed for video streaming and other data-heavy tasks. But while 5G is set to introduce significantly higher speeds, support more simultaneously connected devices, and reduce latency, it has faced a significant amount of backlash. 

In some cases, 5G has been met with a conspiracy theory that 5g is harmful to humans and the environment and it is spreading the COVID-19 virus via invisible radio waves that the virus rides on. The logical reasoning behind this is that COVID appeared around the same time the first 5G towers were erected, but this logic is as sound as the Monty Python logical reasoning used to determine if someone was a witch.

Another challenge 5G has faced (one that is far more reasonable) is that towers are being built in small residential areas, which is upsetting locals. The size of 5G towers is significantly greater than the homes surrounding them, making such towers an eyesore. At the same time, the presence of large imposing towers can also bring a sense of unease to those who have been used to a more scenic environment. 

Finally, some towers have been built despite being refused planning permission due to the fact that the local council has not adequately communicated the refusal to network companies, and once built, they can stay. Considering that councils will happily order residents to teardown annexes and issue hefty fines for breaching local planning law but doing nothing when unwanted 5G towers go up only aggravates local residents. 

If this anger is not soon addressed by councils and network operators, then 5G towers could expect to be attacked. In fact, only recently was a 5G tower in Devon burned in what is believed to be an act of arson. Not only does this kind of attack cost the network operator large sums of money, but it also poses a risk to those living nearby as damaged towers run the risk of collapse. 

Why could the use of higher frequencies be 5 G’s downfall?

In this era of 5G hate, we have to ask ourselves where this has come from and what can be done to work with residents to find appropriate solutions. When looking into the past, cellular towers were rarely targeted by individuals (if ever), and it would seem that only 5G towers upset individuals. So what makes 5G different to 4G?

The answer to this question is shockingly simple but virtually impossible to fix; higher operating frequencies. In order to provide improved services compared to 4G, 5G networks are turning to higher frequencies in the microwave region which can be more readily used for beam forming, higher device densities, and allow for higher data rates. 

But, the use of higher frequencies also reduces the ability for 5G signals to diffract around objects, travel great distances, and penetrate through walls. As such, the effective range of 5G can be as little as 2% offered by 4G (1000 feet for 5G compared to 10 miles for 4G). This means that more towers are needed to provide widespread coverage, and as such, towers need to be installed in residential areas.

Without these towers in residential areas, providing 5G to these areas will be outright impossible, and not providing such cover can hold areas back technologically. For comparison, not installing 5G towers would be the equivalent of refusing free fibre installation and opting for a dial-up connection. 

Furthermore, the cost of such towers is enormous, and network operators would not install 5G towers in locations where they would not be used. As such, local residents complaining about the installation of such towers are likely to be the largest consumers of network technologies.

Could future networks face installation challenges?

It is very likely that any new technologies looking to use even higher frequencies will undoubtedly face issues. Large masts being erected outside of a house will rarely go down well (unless the individual is tech-savvy and just grateful for the higher speeds), and network operators need to think about this carefully. 

While the cost of 5 smaller towers will be far greater than a single large tower, operators may need to start considering 5G installations into pre-existing infrastructure such as lamp posts so that local residents won’t feel threatened by large imposing towers. In fact, the use of lamp post installations could allow for even higher frequencies which would, in turn, allow for greater bandwidth. 

Overall, future networks need to consider the feelings of locals as well as the effects of dominating structures. Furthermore, just because 5G offers greater speeds doesn’t mean everyone wants or needs it. Sure, services are moving to the cloud, but the readily available fibre connections in homes already provide residents with excellent internet coverage. So unless residents are going to switch over entirely to 5G, maybe network operators should consider new design methods for when 6G comes out.


By Robin Mitchell

Robin Mitchell is an electronic engineer who has been involved in electronics since the age of 13. After completing a BEng at the University of Warwick, Robin moved into the field of online content creation, developing articles, news pieces, and projects aimed at professionals and makers alike. Currently, Robin runs a small electronics business, MitchElectronics, which produces educational kits and resources.