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What is 5G?

5G stands for the 5th generation of wireless cellular technology, following on 1G, 2G, 3G and 4G.  Each generation has brought new advances in cell phone technology, starting with phone call capabilities only (1G) and moving to mobile internet access, video viewing, and apps, such as social media, scheduling, and gaming apps (4G).  

5th generation technology goes beyond advances in cell phone capabilities.  As advertised, it aims to increase the speed and connectivity of cell phones so people can use them whenever and where ever they desire.  But it also intends to facilitate the Internet of Things (IoT), in which hundreds of thousands of devices of many kinds are connected to one another wirelessly in order to transmit, collect, and share data via the internet. The vision is that things like pill bottles, infants’ diapers, and refrigerators will contain antennas that connect them to the internet, giving us (and others) instant, sharable information about them.  5G is the basis for smart cars and the idea of “smart cities,” in which wireless devices connect homes and businesses to public safety services and utilities, and facilitate health care, and education.  

Timeline of the Gs

Mobile wireless “Generations” in the U.S.A.

1G  1983.   Voice-only mobile telephone

2G  1993.   Text and picture messaging

3G  1998.   Video calling, mobile internet access

4G  2011.   Higher speeds, mobile video, apps

5G  2019.   Even higher speeds, better connectivity,

                   Internet of Things (IOT)

The technologies of all of the generations use EMFs in the radio frequency range of the EMF spectrum and require access to wireless antennas in the local area, mostly on cell towers.  5G itself uses a mix of frequencies, including 4G frequencies (700 to 2,600 MHz) and higher. It is expected to add some "ultra-high band" frequencies in what is called the millimeter range (24 to 100 GHz).  Very high frequency, short-wave EMFs like these have only been used for military weaponry and surveillance activities.  Apart from these, humans, plants, and animals have never before been exposed to them.

As for previous generations, 5G wireless service in the U.S. is provided by private companies in the telecommunications industry (for example, T-Mobile, Verizon and AT&T). The government agency tasked with regulating the industry, including keeping the public safe, is the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

  Another view of 5G

A shifting conglomeration

of new wireless technologies

—beyond cell phones—grouped together under the title"5G" by the telecommunications industry to facilitate acceptance and adopt-

ion by governments

and consumers.

Private companies like the telecoms are driven to continually innovate and to convince consumers to accept and buy new products—this is how they survive and profit.  But do we consumers really want and need all of these products?  And at what cost to our health and the health of the planet?   With appropriate government regulation, could the brilliant minds and resources behind the 1G to 5G advances be put to developing innovative and useful products that also safeguard our health … and privacy?  Read on…

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5G infrastructure: More towers closer to people

For 5G speeds and connectivity to be so impressive, and the IOT to work, the telecoms must install thousands of new wireless antennas on what are known as “small-cell” towers.  Millimeter wave transmissions are not as capable of piercing walls and can be blocked by foliage and rain.  So, to overcome these limitations, the new towers (also known as small cell poles) will provide coverage to a smaller area than traditional “macro” cell towers, which can extend coverage over miles of terrain.

Most 5G antennas are being mounted on existing public utility poles and lamp posts or on new utility poles, typically 35 feet tall, on public rights-of-ways.  For a well-functioning system, one tower per block is needed in downtown areas and one every few homes (or 300 feet) in residential areas.  This densification means 5G towers will be very close to homes, businesses and schools—the places where we spend the majority of our time.   5G means more people exposed to the higher levels of radiation found close to cell towers.

5G small cell tower installed in 2020 in front of home in  Midtown Tucson.  Quote from nearby resident: "I thought maybe it was a loud speaker?" 

Macro cell tower installed in 2010 behind a home in Midtown Tucson.

While the part of 5G infrastructure that reaches our devices (and our bodies) is wireless, the foundation is a wired network of fiber optic cable connecting small cell towers to the internet.  Fiber optic cable, which is itself EMF-safe, transmits data with pulses of light.  It is the fastest element of the 5G network, transmitting data even faster than the wireless radiation from tower antennas.

The 5G towers will add to—not replace—current towers, bringing an entirely new layer of wireless radiation into the environment.  It is projected that 800,000 small-cell towers will be needed in the US in the next 20 years, adding to the roughly 300,000 macro towers that we are used to seeing around town. 

5G wireless radiation is also being transmitted from low-orbit satellites placed in the earth’s ionosphere.  The plan is for a total of 80,000 5G-transmitting satellites to be placed in orbit by SpaceX, Amazon and others, with FCC authorization. The stated purpose of this space rollout is to extend internet access to  everyone across the globe, including people living in remote rural areas. The satellites will add yet an another layer of radiation into the atmosphere. Learn more about them on the "Surprising EMF Factoids" page.


A little known fact:  NASA and NOAA are raising concerns that 5G satellites will disrupt land-based telescopic research into deep space and compromise the accuracy of weather forecasting.  For the latter, see this Scientific American article.  

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5G safety testing 

The 5G rollout is expected to greatly increase peoples’, plants’ and animals’ exposure to wireless radiation.  It will operate with much more energy than 4G. The densification of cell towers means that more people will be exposed 24/7 to the higher levels of radiation close to cell towers.  Further, the Internet of Things spawned by 5G is expected to bring with it a plethora of new wireless devices emitting radiation at frequencies never used before in consumer applications.  

An additional safety issue is that 5G electromagnetic waves are especially artificial.  For example, in order to achieve improvements in speed and “resiliency” of the signals, electrical engineers have formulated 5G waves to be modulated and polarized, i.e., beam forming. The use of Massive MIMO (Multiple Input and Multiple Output) is seen to be critical for high-speed data transmissions.  Because of these added elements, 5G waves will be more disruptive to our bodies’ electrical rhythms and disturbing biologically. 

Typically, when a new product emitting substances that touch or enter people’s bodies comes onto the market (for example a food, drug or vaccine) extensive safety testing and a rigorous review process by the Food and Drug Administration or other government agency must take place.  

For more information on 5G safety see Professor Joel Moskowitz’s October 2019 Scientific American Observations article “We Have No Reason to Believe 5G Is Safe.








        Dr. Moskowitz is the Director of the Center for Family                 and Community Health in the School of Public Health at            the University of California, Berkeley. 

However, no pre-rollout testing to ensure 5G’s safety has taken place.  Further, there is no monitoring of radiation levels after installation of 5G antennas. When safety concerns are raised, the FCC and telecommunications companies continue to refer to radio frequency radiation exposure limits adopted by the FCC in 1996.  As we will see in the next section, these limits do not protect our health. 

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5G regulation in Arizona and beyond 

Three areas of regulation are relevant to 5G technology: safety, infrastructure, and privacy.

Safety Regulation 

The United States government currently has no regulation that protects the public from the known negative health effects of wireless radiation from 5G and previous generations of wireless cellular technology.    

In 1996 the FCC adopted radio frequency Maximum Permissible Exposure limits developed by the telecommunications industry.  These limits, still in place today—and among the most lenient globally—are based on the assumption that the only adverse biological effect of wireless radiation is tissue heating.  They are designed to protect us from short-term heating risks due to the radiation.

The exposure limits fail to protect our health because:

  • They are not science-based: they do not take into account the peer-reviewed research of the last three decades—more than 3,000 studies—finding harmful health effects of wireless radiation far below the limits and without tissue heating.   

  • They apply to only 30 minutes of radiation exposure per day, far from the typical current situation (exposure for hours daily from multiple devices simultaneously over many years). 

  • They do not take into account the higher radiation absorption in fetuses, children, and women. 

  • Specifically related to 5G, they do not take into account the unique electromagnetic wave properties, mentioned above, that make it more biologically harmful.

2019 review of the FCC's Radio Frequency Exposure Limits

In November 2019 a review of the Federal Communication Commission's radio frequency exposure limits was undertaken by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  The outcome: the FDA reaffirmed the existing limits without undertaking a formal risk assessment or systematic review of the research. In a letter to the FCC it stated that “no changes to the current standards are warranted at this time.” 


Subsequently, a joint lawsuit of the Environmental Health Trust and Children’s Defense Fund was filed against the FCC for “failing to reevaluate 5G and wireless safety.” (on July 30, 2020).  The Petitioners are challenging the FCC’s refusal to reevaluate and update their 24-year-old safety standards. 


Click here for more information.

Another important development in wireless radiation safety regulations was the signing into law, after a major lobbying effort by the telecommunications industry, of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.  This act states that, in the United States, no state or local government can deny a permit to site an antenna based on “environmental concerns,” which the courts have interpreted to mean “human health concerns”, as long as the radiation is below the FCC exposure limits.  In short, a wireless antenna permit cannot be denied just because the installation of the antenna can harm people's health.   

Infrastructure Regulation 

The four pillars of 5G infrastructure regulation are:

  • Tower placement

  • Tower construction

  • Tower modification

  • Tower operations.


In 2017, the Arizona legislature passed HB 2365, a bill that fast-tracked implementation of the 5G rollout in Tucson by limiting local control of the placement, construction, and modification (the first 3 pillars)  of small cell towers in public rights-of-ways.  It also removed normal zoning requirements, such as neighborhood notification and public hearings.  The bill expedited times for processing applications and greatly reduced fees for tower maintenance (from over $3,000 to $100 per year), thereby increasing profits for the wireless providers.

  A Tucson public right-of-way

The area directly curbside of a roadway, but not extending onto private property

HB2365 was supported by a coalition of the four major wireless providers at the time—AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint—as part of a nationwide effort to remove “overly-burdensome siting ordinances” and “excessive fees to gain access to municipal rights-of-way”.  Arizona was the first state to legislate such a bill, and now 21 other states have done so as well. 

State Representative Pamela Powers Hannley of Tucson LD9, who was the only representative to vote “no” on HB 2365, gives her perspective on it here.

Pamela Powers Hannley, AZ State Representative (Tucson, LD9)

International and U.S. action to halt or limit 5G


Arizona currently does not have regulations in place that safeguard its citizens’ health and honor their interests in cell tower placement.  By contrast, as of November 2020, steps have been taken to regulate the rollout of 5G in many other areas:





   Papua New Guinea







   United Kingdom









United States


   New Hampshire




   New York (proposed)

   Illinois (proposed)

   Hawaii (proposed)

   Montana (proposed)


   Hawaii:  Big Island

   Connecticut:  Easton

   Tennessee:  Farrugut

   New Hampshire: Keene

   California: Many cities

   Ohio:  Mason

   Massachusetts:  Burlington

   Louisiana:  Baton Rouge

Source:  Environmental Health Trust

*Countries in which actions have been taken at national, regional,

 or local levels.

Because of HB 2365, when Tucson citizens voice concerns about the small cell towers (and many have) city government officials claim that “Our hands are tied”.  But, according to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the city government, including Mayor Romero and the Tucson City Council, has a mandate to “protect safety and property”.


And it has some means to do so.  While the passage of HB 2365 limits the city’s control over the first three pillars of 5G infrastructure, it has full control of the operations of small cell towers, a power partly bestowed in fact by the U.S. Supreme Court.  Through this power, the city can take action to protect Tucson's citizens, animals, and our beautiful and unique natural environment.

Safe Tech Tucson is a group of Tucson residents working to educate the public and city government officials about ways to make 5G and other types of wireless technologies safer and more secure.  The group focusses its efforts on the “The Three P’s”:  Public Safety, Privacy, and Property values.  Read more here.

Privacy Regulation 

Compared to the other three types of EMFs, the unique feature of radio frequency radiation is that it transmits information (see the EMF Basics in 10 Minutes page). This means that while wireless communication offers many conveniences, it can also invade peoples' privacy.  5G “Internet of Things” technology is capable of retrieving data on consumer purchasing behaviors, physical location, and other personal characteristics to be profiled and stored by public and private actors.  It is capable of seeing through walls and clothes, and can be used to commit crimes, such as identify theft, when in the wrong hands. 


Arizona’s constitution has a specific clause that gives its citizens the right to privacy, including internet privacy.  Hopefully, given this right, our government will work to protect our privacy in the face of 5G technology and not leave this important protection to the discretion of the telecoms.  State representative Domingo DeGrazia (of Tucson LD10), who is an attorney and Certified Information Privacy Professional, discussed 5G privacy issues at the October 2020 public forum on 5G (see below).  Hear his comments here

Domingo DeGrazia, AZ State Representative (Tucson, LD10)

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The 5G rollout in Tucson 

Tucson’s 5G rollout began in 2019, starting with small cell-tower installations in the downtown and University of Arizona areas and later moving into residential areas.  By October 2019, 70 towers with 5G-ready antennas had been installed.  By December 2020, around 250 towers had been installed (mainly by Verizon and AT&T), and 150 more approved.  According to Ward 6 Councilman Steve Kozachik the complete rollout will require thousands of towers scattered across the city. 

The City of Tucson web page for information about 5G small cell towers.


City of Tucson Streetlight map with location of installed and planned 5G small cell towers: Vicinity of Catalina Magnet High School 

How can you find out about 5G towers in your neighborhood?


The locations of all installed and reserved small-cell sites are given at the City of Tucson Streetlights map.

                  Red crosses = Installed



                 Circles with red borders = reserved sites

The installation of fiber optic cable may be the first indication that 5G small-cell towers are coming to your neighborhood. Some cable is installed underground and some up above—parallel to electric power lines on utility poles (usually the thicker, lowest cables).

 Orange marker for underground cable. 

Overhead cable with orange "FIBER OPTIC CABLE" marker


If you want to know whether unsafe levels of wireless radiation from a cell tower are entering your home, contact EMF Wellness.

Interested in knowing more about what is being done about 5G in Tucson? 

Read about Safe Tech Tucson here.   

Find out about other EMF-related activities and groups on the Tucson EMF Who's Who and Happenings page. 

Fiber to the Premises (FTTP):  The safe and super-fast alternative 

You might wonder why, if fiber optic cable is even faster than 5G wireless, it is not being brought to our houses, skipping the new small-cell towers and their unsafe radiation.  This is exactly what around 55 cities in the United States are doing, for example, Chattanooga, the fourth largest city in Tennessee, and Longmont Colorado.

In these cities, fiber optic cable is being installed in a city-wide network and then brought to each home, business, and government service in a system called “Fiber to the Premises” (FTTP).  This system delivers the faster speeds and connectivity of 5G without the increased risks to people’s health and privacy.  It is also more energy efficient.  It gives consumers choice:  people can go wireless or opt out (and thus forego some aspects of the internet of things) and use safer, wired internet connections. 


What about cell phones, which require wireless connections with cell towers?  The safest option is to use wired connections when one is in place—whether at home, work or in the classroom—and connect wirelessly when one is mobile.  Cities can opt to keep their 4G macro antennas in place for people wishing to use this dual system which, while still unsafe for those close to the 4G antennas, reduces the number of antennas transmitting wireless radiation dramatically.  It would thus be safer for most people, plants and animals.

Read more about fiber optics as an alternative to small cell 5G towers, as well as the practical and legal steps needed to implement an FTTP system, at the web sites of these organizations.   

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5G in the local news  

KVOA News 4 Tucson, September 2, 2020

        “City of Tucson & residents have zero control over cell pole placement

          The story of Tucson resident Josh Franklin who has decided to move from his

           home because of the installation of a small-cell tower directly in front of it. 

KVOA News 4 Tucson, October 13 2020

        “Cell wireless poles means unhappy Tucsonans

          The story of citizens in Tucson’s Garden District who awoke one morning to find

          5G tower workers digging up a landscaped water retention basin they had

          worked to establish and maintain for seven years. The basin project was funded

          by a $500K federal grant. 

KVOA News 4 Tucson, February 23, 2021

        “DIGGING DEEPER: 5G towers popping up across Tucson, City sends                 letter to State lawmakers

          A story about the problems that have come with 5G small cell towers being placed              close to people's homes ...  along with some people welcoming the expected higher            internet speeds. While Verizon states that its wireless facilities have the approval of            local officials, the story conveys that the "City of Tucson would disagree with its                  support."  The Mayor and City Council have written a letter to the State legislature              urging the repeal of a 2017 law (HB 2365). This law  "greatly limited local                            government's ability to stop or influence the installation of cell towers".  

          Unfortunately, this story also leaves viewers with false information: that the                         radiation from small cell towers has no negative health effects—without giving                    supporting evidence. 

Arizona Daily Star, February 21, 2021

A story of concern about reduced property values and a littered landscape.

The home of Tucson resident Jo Riester now has a small-cell pole in front of it.  The article notes her concern that "the city has regularly warned or cited them for the weeds growing in the same patch of ground where the small-cell pole now stands. That raises the question:  If the owner or renter are responsible for keeping that plot of land clean, then why can't they decide whether they want a pole placed there?"


Read the full article here

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