We’ve now conducted more than 50 tests on 5G mmWave and small cells to measure the electromagnetic energy (or EME) levels in many different real-world settings. In some of the most extensive testing undertaken on 5G technology in Australia, we’ve found levels of mmWave electromagnetic energy to be similar to existing technologies like 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi.

I’ve been testing EME levels for decades, and this is some of the most extensive testing I’ve taken part in – we’ve really put mmWave and small cells through their paces. This round of testing was different, though, in that we also sought help from the graduates and young engineers in our business who really embrace the latest tech.

No matter how much we upped the ante – and we really threw everything we had at our testing to max out the small cells – we found that our 5G technology produces electromagnetic energy levels not just slightly below, but actually around 1000 times below the safety limits in most cases.

How did we test the network?

Importantly, we did our testing on Telstra’s live network. This wasn’t just a bunch of boffins testing EME in the lab – our 50 tests of 5G were real-world tests, in places like apartments, pubs, cafes, transport hubs, homes and businesses – and even a dentist’s office. We also used devices that are commercially available. This is where our grads and young engineers really put their mark on this project, seeking out the best real-world situations to put 5G to the test and gather valuable real-world data.

In a local café, one of my favourite places to work, our Telstra graduates arranged a coffee and 5G mmWave test where their challenge was to max out the hardware we had available – to all connect to the mmWave hotspots and run video streaming, jump on social media and their everyday online work from the café, really putting the 5G to the test with real-word scenarios while we measured the EME.

As we expected, the EME measured was very low whilst the grads enjoyed a seamless connection, learned how the testing was conducted, and helped us evaluate more real-world settings.

Encouraging our young engineers and providing these learning opportunities really helps us to ensure the Telstra networks are world class, all while we’re helping to develop Australia’s best technical talent. These are Australia’s future technology leaders!

What did we find?

Our testing also found that 5G EME levels from small cells and 5G mmWave were similar to 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi. These are technologies that have been around for more than a decade.

Even at the highest level measured in our testing – which was on an apartment balcony directly opposite a small cell – was very low at 0.28% of the safety limit, barely one quarter of one percent. This answers an important question often asked about small cells – a great connection to the apartment in this instance still meant low EME.

One of the locations we ran our 5G EME tests – an apartment building in South Brisbane.

Our EME team conducted the tests at a variety of locations in Queensland and Victoria during non-Covid lockdown periods, and used specialised testing equipment that works in the mmWave frequency range.

We tested at these locations:

Southport, QLD

Telstra’s 5G Innovation Centre
Southport Mall and commercial precinct
Inside a pub
Australia Fair entrance and café
Outside a bank
Inside an overpass
Labrador Playing Fields

South Brisbane, QLD

Inside and outside homes and apartments
Outside a church, school and childcare centre
Cafes, a dentist and a real estate agent
Car parks

Melbourne VIC

CBD
Transport hubs
Docklands apartments and Docklands Harbour
Surrey Hills

The nerdy tech details

The team used specialised testing equipment that works in the mmWave frequency range.

Tests were carried out using a Telstra 5G Wi-Fi Pro connected to a 5G mmWave small cell, which connects to the modem through a low-powered narrow beam through a technology called beamforming. The download speed we measured at the modem was around 1.8 to 2.4Gbps for these tests – so it was certainly moving data at a rate of knots!

To get definitive results from our testing, we used a spectrum analyser at 26GHz and a directional mmWave horn antenna, which allows accurate measurement of the beam and associated EME level from the mmWave small cell.

The narrow beam means that measuring EME must be done in line with the modem, so we had to measure the beam directly in between the small cell and the modem itself. If you step two metres to one side, the EME level drops away because you’ve moved off the edge of the beam. The same happens when the modem is not active – the EME drops away.

Sami Uddin – a young Telstra engineer testing 5G mmWave.

We conducted all the tests following procedures in Australian and international standards for testing EME. In all our tests, we loaded the small cell to maximum capacity in a single beam to one user – which in practice would never really occur – and we found the maximum EME to be less than 1% of the safety limit in all cases.

In fact, we found the maximum EME levels to be around 1000 times below the safety limits. What this shows us is the newer 5G technology is very efficient, and even the maximum EME levels are well below the conservative safety limits.

In reality, the actual or typical EME levels will be well below maximum levels, which is what we are finding on the existing 5G network that we have already rolled out in many locations across Australia.

Download our 5G mmWave testing presentation here, and view the Telstra small cells and EME information page here.