This year has seen a wealth of new 5G technology rolled out across Buckinghamshire, but what is behind the new infrastructure?

5G is the fifth generation of wireless technology, which allows people to access the internet on smartphones, computers and other devices.

Bucks Free Press:

Launched in 2019, it is faster than previous mobile networks, has reduced latency – or delay – and has greater capacity for multiple devices to connect in one area at the same time.

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5G masts and antennas have been approved across Buckinghamshire this year from High Wycombe to Aylesbury, while new infrastructure is also planned for other towns and villages.

Buckinghamshire Council has also unveiled plans for new 5G technology as part of a £4million plan with neighbouring counties.

Experts explain why the county needs new 5G infrastructure, how it works and whether there are any health risks.

Why are so many 5G masts, towers or base stations being built?

University College London’s Professor Izzat Darwazeh said this is because the areas that 5G antennas cover, known as ‘cells’, are smaller.

The academic is the UCL Professor of Communications Engineering and Director of UCL Institute of Communication and connected systems.

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS), he said the large number of cells and antennas required for 5G need “lots of base stations” to host them, due to 5G having a shorter wavelength than its predecessor 4G.

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The academic said this may explain the recent proliferation of 5G infrastructure in Buckinghamshire, adding that another reason could be a need for more servers for specific purposes in a certain area.

He said: “Sometimes you might need servers for BBC iPlayer or Amazon. These servers, in many of these 5G cases, are decentralised, so they sit not far from the base station.”

Professor Rahim Tafazolli, Regius Professor and director of ICS, 5/6GIC at the University of Surrey told the LDRS that another reason for a greater need for 5G technology may be the increased number of users in particular areas as Buckinghamshire’s population continues to grow.

He said: “With higher broadband speeds, you can support greater number of users and if the infrastructure cannot meet the demand, you may need to add more sites.”

How does 5G work?

5G base stations carry multiple antennas, which transmit and receive signals carried by radio waves and can look like small boxes.

Professor Tafazolli said the antennas, often made by Ericsson and Nokia, “provide good coverage and good capacity” to users in the local area on one of the UK’s core networks – EE, O2, Vodafone and Three.

He said: “Each of these antennas are covering a segment of the area. For example, if you have four of them, each one will cover 90 degrees.

“The law of physics says that with the same amount of power you put into two frequency bands, the one with the higher frequency band will travel a shorter distance.

“4G is lower frequency than 5G, so for the same amount of power, it will go a longer distance. That’s why we still need 4G because it gives capacity.”

Are there any health risks?

Both academics were unequivocal that 5G does not pose health risks, and carries even lower risks than its predecessor technologies, which were already very low risk.

Professor Tafazolli said: “There is a limit and regulation for how much power you can submit from the base station or the mast.

“There is no scientific proof whatsoever that it causes any health problems. Of course, you cannot stop people from spreading rumours. They are not scientists.”