There are the devotees and then there are the skeptics. 5G has been part of Monaco’s daily life for over a year now, but in the Principality, as elsewhere, the next generation network continues to raise eyebrows. So, we decided to investigate all aspects of the controversial technology, from how it affects our daily lives and how it works, to how efficient it is and its harmfulness. Here are the answers we got.

In Nice, it’s really hard to miss the news. The capital of the Côte d’Azur is covered in ads promoting the city’s new 5G network, a roll-out that has come with the expected mix of legitimate questions, concerns, and fake news. But if in France the debate has now been going on for several years, just 20km from Nice, in the Principality of Monaco, 5G is already part of everyday life.

>> READ MORE: Monaco’s user guide to 5G

Since July 2019, a city-state just over 2 square km is the only country in the world to be fully covered by 5G. The fifth-generation network is the latest innovation introduced by Monaco to make the Principality as attractive as possible to up-and-coming businesses.

A business attractor

From blockchain and a sovereign cloud to the Extended Monaco project, Monaco is embracing the very latest technologies in hope of courting companies into settling on its shores. One entrepreneur Monaco successfully seduced is Sylvain Ordureau, President of Vizua, a 3D image sharing platform.

“We are currently working together with the Monaco fire brigade on an app that would allow us to see through a building from the control centre,” explains Sylvain Ordureau. If the project works, it would be a real break-through, for instance for the medical sector, where it would allow for tricky operations to be carried out remotely, “with a millimetre-level and even micron-level accuracy.”

>> READ MORE: Monegasque “Smart Principality” on the move

Sylvain Ordureau says he was able to carry out his project thanks to 5G, but also thanks to “Monaco’s dynamism”. He even goes as far as comparing the Principality to Silicon Valley. “There is a desire to  build on knowledge here. Combined with the proximity to Nice and Sophia Antipolis, there really is the possibility of creating a technology hub.”

No tangible impact on everyday life?

5G will not impact households in the same way it will impact businesses, points out Martin Péronnet, CEO of Monaco Telecom. For companies, 5G will “simplify, improve, make more reliable and automate the production process”. However, he explains, the new network will not change much in our day to day lives.

Indeed, even after a year, 5G has not yet won over Monaco residents. 5G promises to be 10 times faster than 4G. Yet consumers don’t seem to be particularly enthusiastic and too few of them have a compatible smartphone.

Taking matters into our own hands, we went to Port Hercule and asked 30 passersby if they had a device compatible with 5G. Only one of them did. Their verdict? “Images get sent almost instantaneously and videos are downloaded in record time. While they certainly acknowledged  “a wow factor”, they also said that the changes weren’t “particularly significant” either.

“Until now, there was a very limited choice,” admits the director of Monaco Télécom, who says that the number of individual 5G users has increased from one hundred to nearly a thousand following the launch of the iPhone 12 in the autumn.

Images get sent almost instantaneously and videos are downloaded in record time.

Marion, user of a 5G compatible smartphone

Despite the fact that only 2% of Monaco users have compatible devices, the CEO of Monaco Telecom is certain that the new network will eventually become part of everyone’s daily life. “We didn’t introduce 5G to profit off our investment within one year.”

“When you launch a network, it takes time to create the perfect environment for it. 5G really only is at its beginnings. We are a step ahead because we were the first ones to introduce it, which means we now have gained some insight and experience,” says Martin Péronnet who adds that the real challenge was installing the network.

“We might be one of the smallest states in the world, but we’re certainly a state where introducing 5G is the most complicated,” says Péronnet. This is due to the height of the buildings, the density, the fact that Monaco faces the sea, and the mountainous topography. “Even with an extremely dense network (+30% compared to a capital like Paris), covering Monaco is a real headache.”

The question of toxic waves

5G antennas in Monaco © Government of Monaco – Michael Alesi

Alongside its previous networks, Monaco now also counts 21 antennas transmitting waves at around 3.5 GHz, which comply with the power regulations specified in a 2010 sovereign order. Regardless, the new addition has elicited complaints from residents who are worried about electromagnetic waves.

Most recently, on 23 October, Héléna Krajewicz, president of the Monaco 5G association, wrote to Pierre Dartout, Monaco’s Minister of State, to express the associations’ concern about the accumulation of airwaves.

The 5G “comes in addition to the existing waves 2G, 3G, 4G, and Wifi already in place, globally increasing the electromagnetic power burdening the population”.  Amongst other things, Héléna Krajewicz asked that Monaco “remove 2G waves, which are very little used today, in order to reduce the amount of exposure”

>> READ MORE: 5G available throughout Monaco, a world first!

Different types of technology still use 2G, such as payment terminals or conveyor belts.

Martin Péronnet, Director of Monaco Telecom

“It’s not that easy,” says Martin Péronnet, who points out that 2G is still used in many ways. “We are in the process of managing the transition for older people. But it doesn’t happen overnight. Different types of technology still use 2G, such as payment terminals or conveyor belts.”

Pérronnet stresses that the change must be done carefully. “If in the long run, we have to get rid of old kinds of technology, we must do it as cleverly as possible, otherwise we are heading for a disaster.” Martin Péronnet also points out the misunderstanding regarding 5G airwaves. “5G doesn’t mean more electromagnetic fields, but rather better managed electromagnetic fields. Moreover, 5G antennas are unique, insofar as they transmit airwaves only where they are being used.”

What is the impact of airwaves on hour health?

The potential impact of electromagnetic waves on our health has been a hot topic for three decades. Unfounded fears, according to Anne Perrin, biologist, a specialist in electromagnetic risk, and former president of the French Association for Scientific Information. “Scientists have found no proof of the health risk of radio waves despite intense research and risk assessment studies on a global scale.”

Anne Perrin is not the only specialist dismissing the fears around network waves. In 2013, the French National Agency for Food, Environmental and Work Safety (ANSES) found that waves do not cause “any proven effect on our health” other than the already known thermal effect, which only occurs at much higher levels of exposure.

For Anne Perrin, who is the co-author of a 2018 book on the subject titled Champs électromagnétiques, environnement et santé, there is a lot of fake news surrounding 5G. She blames the rumours on social media, but also on the scarce knowledge the general public has of electromagnetic waves.

“No one seems to care about radios, which also work with airwaves. Wifi uses frequencies at 2, 4, or 5 GHz, microwaves at 2.45 GHz whereas 5G, as currently deployed, does not exceed 3.8 GHz. These are frequencies that we are all acquainted with.”

The question of 5G millimetre wave

While the current frequencies used by 5G range from 3.5 GHz to 3.8 GHz, this will not be the case with 5G millimetre waves, which will be around 26 GHz. The latter “is of particular concern to Monaco residents,” according to the Monaco 5G Association.

In a letter to the Ministry of State, the Association asked the Government to “halt the roll-out of 5G millimetre waves until independent and scientific studies have proven them to be harmless,” adding that “the foreseeable harmful effects of this new wave range are worrying specialists.”

Actually, the higher the frequency, the lower the intensity of the waves penetrating the body.

Anne Perrin, biologist and specialist in electromagnetic risk

However, Anne Perrin insists that there’s nothing to worry about. “We’re not on untrodden grounds. While we currently do not have in-depth knowledge of waves of this frequency, studies have been carried out on even higher frequencies, and found that there was no risk at low levels of exposure.” Perrin also points out that it’s not as easy as saying the higher the frequency, the more dangerous it is. “Actually, the higher the frequency, the lower the intensity of the waves penetrating the body. From around 6 GHz, wave absorption stops at the skin”.

We will never do anything that puts at risk the health of Monegasques and residents.

Frédéric Genta, inter-ministerial delegate in charge of Monaco’s digital transition

In any case, Martin Péronnet reports that Monaco is not rushing into the second generation of 5G anytime soon. “it’s a question for the future,” he says. The Princely Government echoes Péronnet’s words. “If it is shown that there are no health risks involved, there is no reason to refuse progress. What is certain is that we will never do anything that puts at risk the health of Monegasques and residents,” reassures Frédéric Genta, inter-ministerial delegate in charge of Monaco’s digital transition.

A map to illustrate airwaves

In response to growing concerns about 5G wave emissions, the Government of Monaco has opted for total transparency and some of the strictest regulations in Europe.

According to Order no. 3.020 of 26 November 2010, an electric field cannot exceed a strength “of 6 V/m for the entire spectrum between 100 kHz and 6 GHz”. This represents “a limit value 4.5 times lower than the lowest field strength recommended by the European Commission, i.e. 28V/m.”

The General Secretariat of Monaco’s Government has therefore ordered the Department of Digital Platforms and Resources to ensure that the regulatory thresholds are fully respected. Following the order, the Government has published an online interactive map that allows anyone to track the electromagnetic frequency in any given place in Monaco.

The news should reassure  Monaco residents, unless, as Martin Péronnet suggests, “what is targeted is not 5G but its use.” In that case, the issues around 5G would be part of a more global debate on the possible excesses of the Internet of Things, which has been largely caricatured by science fiction. Our conclusion? Getting to know a subject in depth is the best cure to dispel any preconceived ideas one might have.

Map tracking electromagnetic waves in Monaco