5G Moto Mod will have proximity shutoff sensors to limit exposure to millimeter waves . . . What does that admit and reveal about the Radio-frequency Electromagnetic Microwave Radiation (RF-EMR) exposures from owning, using and carrying 4G and 5G phones with their antennas powered on?
Photo by Sean Hollister / The Verge
Last August, Motorola announced what might still wind up being the world’s first true 5G phone — the Verizon-exclusive Moto Z3 with an optional 5G Moto Mod. It’s a snap-on module that the company promised would give you an insanely fast 5,000 Mbps cellular connection, faster than most wired Internet these days, but . . . surprise . . . the claimed speeds are now actually 300 Mbps to 500 Mbps (just 6% to 10% of the original 'theoretical' claim).
The 5G Moto Mod just crossed the FCC's desk today, and it came with a surprise in tow — a document from December 2018 that has more details about how it’ll work than I thought the company would ever publicly reveal. One of those details is sure to surprise some people. Namely, the 5G Moto Mod will feature proximity sensors that shut off any of its four millimeter wave 5G antennas if your fingers get too close.
Here’s a portion of Motorola’s description:
As mentioned in the device description, capacitive and proximity sensors are used to disable transmission from a given mm-wave antenna array module when a user may be located in close proximity to the module and in a direction in which the module may transmit. The control mechanism is a simple one in which, if proximity detectors indicate the potential presence of the user within a roughly conical region in front of the module where power density may approach [or exceed] the FCC Maximum Public Exposure limit for Radio-frequency Electromagnetic Microwave Radiation (RF-EMR) exposures, that module is disabled from use by the modem. This terminates and prevents transmission from the module in question until the condition is cleared.
Here are a few things you should know:
Millimeter wave radiation is considered non-ionizing — it doesn’t have enough energy to tear apart living tissue — yet, established science through 2018 shows that such non-ionizing radiation is sufficient to be classified as a IARC Group 1 — Definite Human Carcinogen.
You’ve probably already encountered millimeter wave radiation if you’ve gone through an airport body scanner. The FDA says there are “no known adverse health effects” from that kind of dose — yet, the people who work near these scanners are getting higher rates of skin cancer, cataracts, cardiac irregularities and fetal abnormalitiess. One has to consider the proximity of antennas to humans and the duration of RF-EMR exposures; how many hours a day do you keep your cell phone antennas powered on, within three feet of you or others, waiting for a call/message and automatically uploading/downloading data?
The FCC has millimeter wave exposure limits already, and that’s what Motorola’s system is complying with — yet the FCC RF-EMR exposure limits are scientifically unsound and are not protective from the adverse biological effects which occur at power density levels far below that which heats tissue. Such compliance statements do not communicate actual safety. When forewarned, you are proceeding at your own risk.
Motorola goes on to say that the proximity sensors aren’t the only way that it’s shutting off these antennas — the Mod will also automatically pick an antenna with better signal strength if your fingers are blocking others — yet it is not just your fingers that matter; cell phone antennas and Wi-Fi antennas are often within three feet of people's brains, torsos, breasts, testicles and internal organs — all will be adversely affected by non-ionizing RF-EMR exposures. When forewarned, you are proceeding at your own risk.
It’s pretty interesting that Motorola feels the need to include such a proximity sensor/antenna shut off system. What does this admit about the hazards of owning, using and carrying 4G and 5G phones with their antennas powered on?
We’d previously learned that the 5G Moto Mod contains practically all the guts of a high-end smartphone inside, including its own Snapdragon 855 processor, X50 5G modem, 10 antennas, and its own 2,000mAh battery so it doesn’t need to drain your connected phone, but the FCC filing reveals one less-exciting spec as well: the Mod appears to be 7mm thick at its thickest point, meaning it’ll more than double the thickness of the Moto Z3 phone.
13.75mm total – 6.75mm phone = 7mm
We still don’t know how much the 5G Mod will cost, or quite how fast a connection you’ll be able to get in Verizon’s first 5G-equipped cities at launch — our early hands-on was hamstrung — but it’s worth noting that Motorola’s now only advertising a conservative estimate of 300 to 500Mbps, compared to the 5Gbps it’s theoretically capable of.
Is there really a Moto Z3 Pro?
Oh, and I’ll leave you with one final tidbit I spotted in the FCC filing, though you might want to take this with a grain of salt: A sentence that reads “It functions only when it is snapped onto a 5G Mod-compatible smartphone device, such as the Moto Z3 Pro.”
The rest of the filing is pretty clear that the Mod was only tested with the existing Moto Z3 — I cross-referenced all the numbers to confirm — but I have to admit it was weird to see Motorola avoid launching a new high-end flagship phone last year. It wouldn’t be completely surprising if a “Pro” version of the phone arrives alongside the Mod when it shows up for real. Maybe we’ll hear something at Mobile World Congress next week?