The Strasbourg branches of the two associations have signed a critical infographic with regard to 5G. They unpublished it after finding that it contained errors and approximations. But it has continued to circulate on social networks.

They wanted to reveal “The dark side” 5G. Strasbourg branches of the Zero Waste and Extinction Rebellion associations produced, at the end of June, an infographic listing a series of arguments against the deployment of fifth generation mobile telephony. This visual however contains errors and approximations.


“There was no desire to misinform”, defends himself, contrites, Simon Baumert, co-founder of Zéro Déchet Strasbourg, who promises to “set up an internal audit process”, to ensure the accuracy of the work provided by volunteers. “We want to be reliable and able to base what we say on rigorous sources”, abounds Extinction Rebellion Strasbourg, which confirms “the creation of a specific team responsible for cross-checking sources”. The associations deleted the image, but it continued to circulate on social networks. Franceinfo unites the true from the false.


“An antenna every ten to twelve houses”: exaggerated

In France, 5G will be launched on the 3.5 GHz frequency band (between 3.4 and 3.8 GHz), which provides a higher speed than those of the 700 MHz to 2.6 GHz used today for 4G. Gold, “the higher the frequency, the more the range decreases”, explains Hugues Ferrebœuf, director of the Shift Project, a think tank on the energy transition. 5G antennas have a shorter range than 4G antennas. Logically, “We will have to add equipment to have equivalent coverage.”

Tactis, who advises communities on the digital development of their territory, therefore anticipates the need for a “massive densification of networks”. According to his estimates, it will be necessary to build two to three times more pylons to achieve similar coverage in rural areas. In peri-urban areas, it will be necessary to install 30% more sites.

In addition to this 3.5 GHz band, operators plan to use a second frequency band, the 26 GHz frequency band, in order to offer very high speed. Gold, “these waves hardly penetrate the glass walls, points Gauthier Roussilhe, designer and researcher, who studies the environmental impact of digital. A major obstacle in the city. “According to sources, the number of antennas could be multiplied by four or twenty, in dense urban areas”, Explains the expert. It will therefore be necessary “hundreds or even thousands of antennas”. Hugues Ferrebœuf judges however “very pessimistic” this assumption of an antenna every 50 to 100 meters. “Sometimes it will be every 100 meters, sometimes every 300 meters”, considers for his part Gauthier Roussilhe.


Where does this fork of an antenna come from every ten to twelve houses? From the United States, responds Gilles Brégant, director general of the National Frequency Agency (ANFR). “On the other side of the Atlantic, the 3.5 GHz band was congested, in particular by security services that were difficult to clear. To go faster, the Americans attacked directly with the top band. At home, it was 28 GHz “, he sums up. To deploy 5G quickly, an expeditious method “ was used. Dhe small antennas, “small cells”, resembling fire or store alarms, have proliferated. In France, “we’re not going to install a 5G antenna every ten houses, it doesn’t make sense”, decides the boss of the ANFR.

A mobile phone antenna near Berlin on May 26, 2020.
A mobile phone antenna near Berlin on May 26, 2020. (CHRISTOPH DERNBACH / DPA / AFP)

An “increase in the bill”: very likely

It is still too early to find out. The auctions for the allocation of frequencies to operators will not take place until the end of September and the marketing of 5G is not scheduled before the end of the year. There is still an upward trend in prices.


Bouygues Telecom has unveiled its 5G “compatible” subscriptions. Lhe cheapest starts at 26.99 euros per month for a year, then climbs to 41.99 euros. The most expensive reaches 54.99 euros per month in the first year, then climbs to 69.99 euros. Passing from 4G to 5G, packages increase from 2 to 5 euros per month, note Digital.

Orange CEO Stéphane Richard acknowledged in January at Radio Classique that subscribers will have to pay “maybe a little more money” to benefit from 5G. “But we will still be in areas very close to 4G”, he assured.

A “mandatory” phone renewal: exact

The French already change phones every two years on average, points out the Environment and Energy Management Agency (Ademe) while in 88% of cases, their device still works. Just as you had to have a 4G phone to connect to the 4G network, a 5G smartphone will be necessary to take advantage of the promised broadband. Compatible mobiles are already on the market. They are equipped with chips capable of picking up the new frequency band which will be opened for this fifth generation mobile telephony. These 5G phones will remain operational in 4G as in 3G.


“20,000 satellites” in orbit: hard to say

“No one knows how many satellites there will be in space in the next few years, especially for 5G”, Replies Xavier Lobao, head of the future projects division of the European Space Agency (ESA). On the other hand, “there are lots of paper satellites”, observes the specialist. For example, the operator OneWeb, based in the United Kingdom and the United States, has requested authorization to launch up to 48,000 telecommunications satellites. Currently, its deployment plan has only 648, 74 of which are currently in orbit. The coronavirus crisis further delayed the launch program. OneWeb had to declare bankruptcy and was taken over by the British government associated with the Indian conglomerate Bharti.

SpaceX also has dreams of greatness with its Starlink constellation. The company of the American billionaire Elon Musk has asked for authorizations to launch 42,000 satellites. At the moment, it has about 300 in orbit. For Xavier Lobao, castronomical demands have only one reason for being: “secure access to frequencies”.

These future satellite constellations will not only be used for 5G. “In the years to come we will have very versatile remote programmable satellites, promises the ESA expert. You can, for example, configure them to distribute 3G when they fly over Sudan and 5G over France. “


A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket takes off from Cape Canaveral, Florida (United States) to put Starlink satellites into orbit on November 11, 2019.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket takes off from Cape Canaveral, Florida (United States) to put Starlink satellites into orbit on November 11, 2019. (PAUL HENNESSY / NURPHOTO / AFP)

A “multiplication of the waves by ten”: uncertain

“5G is supposed to bring ten times more speed, it is supposed to be able to manage ten times more connected objects in the same perimeter, we also say that it is supposed to have a response time ten times shorter than 4G, that it consumes ten times less energy in the terminal, lists Gilles Brégant. But at no time was this factor ten associated with the waves. “


The opening of a new frequency band will certainly lead to an increase in exposure to the waves. This increase “will be both moderate and gradual” and “we will not go from 1 to 10”, predicted the head of the ANFR. Unlike 4G antennas,“lhe 5G antennas are directive “.” They act like a brush that will target your phone for a very short period of time “, Illustrates Gilles Brégant. Time to download the video you want to watch, for example. In addition, the 5G antennas will only target devices capable of connecting to it. “For exposure to 5G waves to increase significantly, the number of 5G phones must first increase”, notes the specialist.

It must be recognized, however, that 4G, in the wake of 3G, has taken off the use of mobile internet. In addition to smartphones, connected objects have started to proliferate. The televations, refrigerators, but also telemedicine devices, autonomous vehicles, industrial production chains … With the very high speed it promises, 5G will further accelerate the movement. Who says more connected objects says more wireless connections and therefore more waves in our environment.

A “permanent collection” of personal data: possible

By allowing “connect everything, everywhere and all the time”, 5G will be accompanied by a “permanent collection” personal data, fear its detractors. In France, the law has been tough, recalls the regulatory authority for electronic communications and postal services (Arcep). “A new device for controlling telecom equipment has been put in place, led by the National Information Systems Security Agency (Anssi). This device applies regardless of the supplier and its country of origin. ” Actors in the sector are also subject to the General European Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which is supposed to guarantee respect for the privacy of users.


However, more connected objects also means no more potential security breaches. Each device can constitute a new entry point for “hackers”. The antennas, too, can be hacked. The United States even fears that the equipment manufactured by Huawei is used for Beijing spy activities, which the group denies. 5G has however been designed to guarantee a higher level of security than 4G. But “tamper-proof security systems don’t exist”, reminds AFP Sylvain Chevallier, partner in the firm Bearing Point, telecommunications specialist.

A Google Home Assistant on February 27, 2019 at the Mobile World Congres in Barcelona (Spain).
A Google Home Assistant on February 27, 2019 at the Mobile World Congres in Barcelona (Spain). (JOAN CROS / NURPHOTO / AFP)

“Overconsumption of electricity equivalent to two nuclear reactors”: difficult to calculate

In France, 5G “will lead to overconsumption of electricity equivalent to two nuclear reactors”, write the activists. Where does this comparison come from? Jean-Marc Jancovici, president of the Shift Project, believes that the deployment of 5G will result “a 2% increase in electricity consumption”, is “around 10 terawatt hours additional “. France consumed 473 TWh in 2019, according to the network operator RTE (PDF file). The most widespread nuclear reactors in France, those of 900 MW, each produce on average 500,000 MWh each month, or 6 TWh per year. Two reactors of this type therefore produce 12 TWh, or 2.54% of the annual electricity consumption, almost the amount estimated by Jean-Marc Jancovici.


“Since we are going to add equipment, energy consumption will only increase”, sums up Hugues Ferrebœuf, project director at the Shift Project. The expert fhowever, have another calculation.A 5G station that operates at full power would consume between two and four times more than a 4G station. But when the 5G station is operating at full power, it can handle ten to twenty times more requests. The energy efficiency of 5G can therefore be ten times better than that of 4G. ” The fact remains that the 5G antennas will not operate all the time at full power and even when they are not used, they will consume electricity.

“5G was designed to reduce power consumption, recalls Gilles Brégant, of the ANFR. In order to work with the maximum of connected objects, “It was important that we have 5G protocols very economical in power consumption”. “The tools are being implemented, so we will realize the consumption of 5G as we go”, recognizes however the director general of the ANFR.

An impact on astronomy: exact

Astronomers and astrophysicists are alarmed by the proliferation of satellites in space, because they generate light pollution that is detrimental to observing the sky. “Many professional observatories (…) broadcast images showing impressive interference. We see satellite trails that make the observations unusable “, worries Eric Lagadec, vice-president of the French Society of Astronomy and Astrophysics, in The world.


Starlink satellites thus “photobombed” a meteor shower in late November 2019. “It opened our eyes”, says Bill Cooke, head of the NASA meteorite observation office, quoted by Space Weather. “That kind of thing could force us to change the way we write software to automatically detect meteors.”

Two Starlink satellites in the sky of Brandenburg (Germany) on April 18, 2020.
Two Starlink satellites in the Brandenburg sky (Germany) on April 18, 2020. (PATRICK PLEUL / DPA ZENTRALBILD / DPA PICTURE ALLIANCE / AFP)


An impact on the weather forecast: likely

The meteorological community alerted on this point as early as 2019, particularly in the review Nature. Ultimately, 5G must use the 26 GHz frequency band (between 24.25 and 27.5 GHz). This is very close to a frequency band “primordial” for observations and weather forecasts, said Eric Allaix, national frequency coordinator at Météo France. In this band, between 23.6 and 24 GHz, lhe weather satellites listen to the slightest variation in the column of water vapor between the earth and the atmosphere. Their measurements serve as references to all the others and make it possible to determine the weather.

Under pressure from certain countries, including the United States and the Arabs, the 2019 World Radiocommunication Conference did not result in a firm decision protecting this precious frequency band from 5G interference. Europe has certainly taken a more protective decision, which will apply to 47 states, including Russia or Turkey, “but all equipment deployed in Europe before 2024 and in the world before 2027 would not have to be modified to comply with the new rules”, regrets the expert.

“The levels of protection adopted worldwide are such that we are sure that there will be interference, laments Eric Allaix. That means this is the end of really effective satellite observations and forecasting. ” “What satellites observe over the Americas is used to determine the weather in Europe”, argues the specialist. Interference over the American continent would therefore result in imprecise, even false, forecasts for France. “If we were strongly interfered with, it would reduce the forecast from six to ten hours. It means later alerts for the protection of people and property”, warns Eric Allaix.


Climate scientists would also lose track of climate change, warns Eric Allaix. “We have satellites that have measured in this band for 30-40 years. We have accumulated a lot of data on the changes in the Earth-atmosphere couple. If we no longer have the same reference base, we can no longer say that there is a variation in what we measure. “

A “negative impact on the life of insects”: not verified

5G “causes insect mortality”, also writes Extinction Rebellion Strasbourg in a Facebook post. The association takes over a bad reading of a study published in Nature in 2019 made by the Swiss newspaper The morning and relayed by many other media.

This work focused on the exposure of insects to electromagnetic fields ranging from 2 GHz to 120 GHz. A range that includes the future frequencies of 5G. From modeling, scientists have found that when the wavelength reaches the size of the insect, the latter absorbs a maximum of emission. This absorption of electromagnetic waves results in an increase in body temperature.


The authors hypothesize that this warming “could cause changes in behavior, physiology and morphology of insects over time”. It remains theoretical. “I cannot say at this stage what is the effect of this heating”, wrote one of the study’s authors, Arno Thielens, to franceinfo. The researchers also specify that they do not have “performed full simulations”.

Exploitation of “child labor” and “pollution” of the environment: true

The manufacture of a smartphone – in particular the extraction of the fifty metals necessary for its functioning – is responsible for about three quarters of its environmental impact, figures Ademe. The exploitation of mines causes pollution of water, air, soil and the destruction of ecosystems. In China, the extraction of neodymium generates discharges of acidic water and waste loaded with radioactivity as well as heavy metals. In Chile, Argentina and Bolivia, the massive use of water for the production of lithium from batteries compromises the survival of local populations. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, more than 40,000 children worked in the cobalt and coltan mines in 2014, according to UNICEF.

“We have forced labor, slavery … The working conditions have not changed. It’s hell”, denounces Frédéric Bordage, responsible digital specialist, founder of “The teenagers who are supposed to do internships in companies have become the adjustment variable of the Chinese electronics industry which makes them work in a line 15 hours a day”, notes the expert. The migration crisis in Asia has also brought about a new workforce. “Young single migrant women”, deplores the consultant, who adds: “Working conditions are also abhorrent in assembly plants in Mexico.”


“The environmental impact of digital will have tripled between 2010 and 2025, essentially because of three things: smartphones, screens and connected objects”, warns Frédéric Bordage. France is not to be outdone. “According to the indicators we are looking at, we has two to six times more environmental impact than the world average. “ The expert fears a “monstrous rebound effect” with 5G. “Not only will we multiply connected objects, but we will also multiply uses that we did not have before: streaming video games, high-definition video on the move. It will significantly increase the environmental impact. “