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Millimetre waves, EME and 5G - what you need to know

Here are the facts about mmWaves, and how they relate to EME and 5G. This will help you understand how they work and why they’re safe to use in wireless telecommunications.

Learn more about millimetre waves and the rollout of the 5G network.

When learning about electromagnetic energy (EME) and the 5G network, you’ll often come across the term millimetre waves (mmWave).

Here are the facts about mmWaves, and how they relate to EME and 5G. This will help you understand how they work and why they’re safe to use in wireless telecommunications.

What are millimetre waves?

mmWave refers to a part of the radiofrequency spectrum in the 30-300 GHz bands and describes the way the radio wave behaves.

Because these waves are so small – varying in length between 1 to 10 millimetres - they can carry a lot of data, but have difficulty travelling through buildings and other obstructions.

Unlike the EME produced by X-rays and gamma rays, the EME emitted by mmWaves used in 5G are considered non-ionising. The mmWaves used in 5G don’t have enough energy to cause us harm when used within limits set out in the ARPANSA standard.

mmWaves are already a part of modern life and they’re most often used in car radars and airport security screening. What is new about mmWave is its use in telecommunications.

How are mmWaves in telecommunications different?

The characteristics of mmWave spectrum are different to the spectrum used in 3G and 4G telecommunications because its operation in a much higher frequency band means it has smaller wavelengths.

These smaller wavelengths are capable of transmitting more data, faster, however the coverage area or distance the data can travel is much smaller than 3G and 4G services in low and mid-band frequency ranges.

5G services using mmWave spectrum may be able to transmit data up to a few hundred metres, while 3G, 4G or 5G services using spectrum in lower frequency are able to transmit data up to a few kilometres.

Why are mmWaves being used for 5G?

People and devices are consuming more data than ever before and this trend is not expected to slow down.

Telecommunications companies are investing in mmWave spectrum and small cell infrastructure to meet expected demand from consumers, business and industry.

mmWave spectrum used in a 5G network can:

  • deliver ‘superfast’ mobile communications
  • increase network capacity by enabling greater amounts of data to be transmitted,
  • connect significantly more devices to the network and operating in real time.

While some of the user applications of 5G are known, many new services and applications that capture the benefits of 5G are expected to be developed over time as coverage becomes more widely available.

Further information about the benefits of 5G is available here.

Are mmWaves safe to use?

5G services using mmWave spectrum and operating within the limits set out in the ARPANSA Standard are considered to be compliant and safe.

The frequencies used in mmWave spectrum are covered in the ARPANSA Standard, and the levels of EME emitted from 5G services using mmWave spectrum must be below the maximum exposure limit set out in the Standard.

Telecommunications equipment used to provide 5G services using mmWave spectrum – such as small cells – is subject to the same regulations as equipment used to operate mobile phone base stations operating in other frequency bands.

Find out more about the safety standard for EME in Australia.

The science of safe connection

Learning about the science behind the safety and regulation of new technologies, including mmWave spectrum and 5G, may help you feel more comfortable about its use in everyday life.