Understanding 5G technology from a casualty perspective


Almost as soon as companies announced the development of 5G network technology, the rumours began to swirl about the dangers of 5G networks. Articles suggested that the electromagnetic field put out by 5G technology would increase the risk of particular cancers, and in some of the more extreme claims, were charging that 5G technology had actually caused COVID-19!

Over time, much of the hyperbole around cellphone (mobile phone) EMF (electromagnetic field) has been quashed by a number of scientific reports and 5G is not expected to be markedly different. However, research continues, and it is still the case that some aspects of the technology could pose risks to some humans, and also to businesses as the world transitions to Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things.

What 5G Is

5G technology is fifth-generation technology for mobile networks that provides faster data speeds and larger network capacity. Such capability comes predominantly from the frequency at which it operates. Whilst 5G networks may operate in the 600MHz – 6GHz part of the spectrum, which is similar to existing cell phone technology, the major benefits will come from the higher frequencies (up to about 80GHz) as this provides the greater bandwidth or data carrying capability. These frequencies are still well within the non-ionizing part of the electromagnetic spectrum, though.

The technology will therefore enable higher download speeds and, importantly, a significantly reduced latency - the time it takes to transfer packets of data to and from devices. The benefits of 5G also include higher reliability and the ability for more people or machines to be connected simultaneously without overburdening the network.

For all that it delivers, 5G should not deliver widespread potential for bodily injury to users. Numerous research studies and peer reviewed papers have consistently shown that there is no causal link between cellphone (mobile phone) usage and bodily injuries, including cancers, and 5G is not expected to be different. In addition, even though cellphones (mobile phone) have been around since the early 1990s and in the past were used predominantly to make phone calls (and therefore held against the side of the head), epidemiology studies are not suggesting a concern.

Researchers will continue to study the link between 5G technology and potential connection to bodily injuries as there are still many unknowns. At present, however, it is considered unlikely that future research will uncover significant differences from current findings.

A word of caution, though – recent plaintiff verdicts in other industries in the US have demonstrated that just because the science doesn’t suggest a causal link between a product or service and bodily injury, it doesn’t necessarily follow that a jury will always agree.

Whilst there is certainly new liability potential associated with 5G technology, it must be remembered that those liabilities could be offset by the increased capabilities that the technology brings to business and subsequent reduction in liabilities in other areas.

The Real Risks

Still, 5G does hold some risks to businesses. While mass tort injury claims from cellphone (mobile phone) users relating to 5G use are unlikely, there are other areas that could pose the potential for injury.

The Bodily Injury Piece

Because the frequency is higher than existing cell phone technology, more antennae are required. These antennae are being built within urban areas, sometimes at street level or rooftop level. Antennae may be disguised or incorporated into other equipment and structures for aesthetic reasons or to meet local requirements or located adjacent to other equipment. Certain classes of workers such as scaffolders, painters, HVAC technicians etc. could be in harm’s way and inadvertently receive a strong dose of radiation from being in too close proximity to a network antenna. Whilst the power levels of higher frequency 5G antennas should be lower than from traditional cellphone (mobile phone) masts, injuries from the thermal and non-thermal effects of radiation are possible which could lead to an increase in workers compensation, employment liability, or public liability claims.

Industrial Internet of Things Exposure

While the true impact of such an exposure is yet to be determined, one thing is certain: 5G will increase the amount of information transferred electronically, and this will include safety-critical data. This may increase casualty and cyber risk exposures.

One of the major benefits of 5G technology is that it will enhance machine-to-machine (M2M) communication and will enable better smart technology in manufacturing and other industries. Near real-time data transfers will help drive autonomous vehicle development and will also increase the use of wireless transfer of safety-critical data at refineries, pipelines, petrochemical complexes and other high hazard facilities.

Yet with increased speed and efficiency comes risk. While redundancies and safety measures will certainly be built into the technology, loss or corruption of critical data could increasingly be implicated in bodily injury, property damage or pollution incidents. Also, any significant increase in safety-critical data flow could increase the potential for cyber related claims.

Whilst there is certainly new liability potential associated with 5G technology, it must be remembered that those liabilities could be offset by the increased capabilities that the technology brings to business and subsequent reduction in liabilities in other areas. Roll-out of autonomous vehicle technologies, for example may increase products liability exposures in certain areas but should lead to a major reduction in auto liability claims.

When considering deploying 5G technology in your business operations, ensure that you identify and mitigate the new risk areas from a public, product and cyber liability perspective, especially when the new technology may be used for safety-critical applications. Also, work with an insurer that understands the new exposures posed by 5G technology use.

Enhancing Business

As business marches forward, new technologies continue to improve productivity, efficiency, and speed to market. As 5G technology becomes mainstream, it will serve as a critical piece improving profitability and communication among all applications in the operations.

Yet it does not come without potential risks. By paying attention to how 5G will impact your business from both a risk and an opportunity perspective, you can be ready for the transformation, knowing your business can reap the benefits and improve results.

Additional Information

To learn more about 5-G and other emerging risks impacting the casualty insurance industry, access our on-demand webinar “Hindsight is 2020: Six emerging liability risks we’re watching.” For additional information about our Casualty Risk Consulting capabilities, CLICK HERE

Authored by Jon Elvidge, Practice Leader, Energy & Construction for Casualty Risk Consulting, AXA XL

Jon Elvidge is the Practice Leader, Energy & Construction for Casualty Risk Consulting at AXA XL. Jon is a chartered mechanical engineer with 25 years post-chartered experience and a technical background in fluid mechanics. Jon is responsible for a wide range of risk assessments, technical advice and emerging risk research relating principally to public and products liability coverages.


About AXA XL

AXA XL, the new division of AXA Group, combines XL Group operations, AXA Corporate Solutions and AXA Art, to provide property, casualty and specialty risk insurance and risk management products and services for mid-sized companies through to multinationals, and reinsurance solutions to insurance companies globally. We partner with those who move the world forward.

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