Frequently asked questions about radio waves and health

1. What kind of "radiation" is used by mobile phones and base stations?

Base stations, mobile phones and other wireless devices use radio waves, also called radio frequency (RF) electromagnetic fields (EMF) or non-ionizing radiation, to send and receive speech, text messages and pictures as well as connect to the Internet for downloading information, web browsing, social media usage, etc. Radio waves have been used for a long time in different types of wireless communication, such as radio and TV broadcasting.

It is important not to confuse radio waves with radioactive radiation. An example of radioactive radiation is gamma rays, a type of ionizing radiation generated by nuclear materials.

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2. What is the status of research on mobile communications and health?

Over the past 50 years a large amount of research on radio waves and health has been conducted.

More than 30 independent expert groups and health agencies, including the World Health Organization, have reviewed the available scientific data and have all come to the same conclusion: there are no established health effects from radio waves emitted from mobile phones and base stations complying with international limits.

Read more in the World Health Organization (WHO) fact sheet No 193, "Electromagnetic fields and public health: Mobile phones" and in the WHO fact sheet No 304 "Electromagnetic fields and public health: Base stations and wireless technologies".

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3. Can mobile communications cause cancer or other health effects?

The vast majority of studies conducted over the course of many years has not established any link between adverse health effects and the radio frequency electromagnetic fields (radio waves) from mobile communication equipment, including mobile phones and base stations.

Read more in the World Health Organization (WHO) fact sheet No 193, "Electromagnetic fields and public health: Mobile phones" and in the WHO fact sheet No 304 "Electromagnetic fields and public health: Base stations and wireless technologies".

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4. Are mobile phones and base stations safe?

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that "None of the recent reviews have concluded that exposure to the RF fields from mobile phones or their base stations causes any adverse health consequence."

[fact sheet "Electromagnetic fields and public health: Mobile phones" (no 193)]

Especially regarding base stations the WHO states:

"Considering the very low exposure levels and research results collected to date, there is no convincing scientific evidence that the weak RF signals from base stations and wireless networks cause adverse health effects."

[fact sheet "Electromagnetic fields and public health: Base stations and wireless technologies" (no 304)]

(RF – radio frequency)

The fact sheets are available in a number of languages on the WHO web site.

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5. Are there any safety limits on human exposure to radio waves?

Yes. Most national authorities have adopted international science-based safety guidelines specifying radio wave exposure limits. The limits have been set with wide margins to provide protection from established adverse effects on health. The World Health Organization (WHO) has endorsed the limits set by International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP).

Read more on WHO fact sheet 183, Health effects of radiofrequency fields and web site of ICNIRP.

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6. Why have some countries adopted more restrictive limits for base station exposure?

Authorities in some countries or regions have chosen to use lower limits, despite the science-based international limits recommended by the World Health Organization, due to public concern often fueled by inaccurate or lacking information. Such arbitrary exposure limits do not provide any additional protection, since there is already a large safety margin incorporated in the international limits.

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7. Do base stations and mobile devices meet safety standards and limits?

Base stations and mobile devices are designed, manufactured and tested to meet relevant safety standards and regulations. Related product information on safe installation and usage is provided to customers and consumers.

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8. What are the exposure levels from mobile phones?

Wireless connected devices, such as mobile phones are tested to meet relevant radio frequency (RF) safety standards. RF exposure limits are expressed as SAR levels (unit watt per kilogram). SAR stands for Specific Absorption Rate, which is a measure of the rate of RF energy absorption in body tissue. Mobile phones have SAR information in the packaging, including the maximum SAR value. SAR information also is provided on the Mobile Manufacturers Forum’s (MMF) website.

Variations in SAR do not mean that there are variations in safety. While there may be differences in SAR levels among phone models, all models must meet radio wave exposure guidelines.

Present scientific information does not indicate the need for any special precautions for use of mobile phones. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) gives some guidance for people who want to further limit their exposure to radio frequency energy, for example using hands free equipment to keep the mobile phones away from the head and body.

Read more on the web sites of MMF, EMF explained and in the WHO fact sheet 193,Electromagnetic fields and public health: Mobile phones.

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9. Is it safe to be close to base station antennas?

Yes. There is only a small area in front of the antennas where the radio frequency (RF) exposure could exceed the safety limits. The size of this area varies from a few centimeters up to some meters, depending on the type of base station site and the power transmitted. The antennas are to be installed in such a way that people cannot get into this area.

Read more in the WHO fact sheet 304, Electromagnetic fields and public health: Base stations and wireless technologies.

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10. What are the exposure levels from base stations?

Base stations use relatively low power for transmission. The antenna output power level is typically between 10 and 100 watts for a large outdoor base station and less than 10 watts for smaller equipment used in cities and indoor environments. This is about the same power levels as used by light bulbs in homes.

The intensity of the radio waves is drastically reduced with increasing distance from the base station antenna. Radio base station antennas are installed in such a way that the exposure levels are below established exposure limits for the general public. In fact, typical exposure levels are a few percent, or less, of the limits.

Read more in Ericsson’s fact sheet on base stations.

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11. Will people who live in buildings with wall- or rooftop-mounted base station antennas be more exposed to radio waves than others?

No. To give coverage over a wider area, the antennas direct the radio waves away from the buildings they are mounted on. The antennas could be compared to the headlights of a car, which light up the road, but not the car itself. Inside and around the building, the intensity of the radio waves is far below the exposure limits.

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12. Are there any safety issues with indoor base station antennas and WiFi access points?

Small indoor base stations and antennas, as well as WiFi access points, use very low output power to cover a relatively small area. The output power levels are about the same as used by mobile phones. In fact, the exposure levels are below the international limits even a short distance (0-20 cm) away from the antennas. Typical exposure levels in the indoor environments are a few percent, or less, of the limits.

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13. What about children using mobile phones and other connected devices?

There is no conclusive evidence of a link between mobile phones and adverse health effects for any age group, including children and teenagers. The exposure limits endorsed by WHO are designed to protect everyone, including children.

Read more in the MMF brochure "Mobile Phone Safety and Use by Children" available at the MMF web site.

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14. Is it safe to place base stations near schools and pre-schools?

Radio base station antennas are installed in such a way that the general public exposure levels are below established exposure limits. The limits have been set with wide margins to protect everyone, including children. Furthermore, typical exposure levels in the neighbourhood are a few per cent, or less, of the exposure limits.

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15. Ericsson talks about billions of connected devices in the future. What does that mean in terms of safety?

Ericsson envisions a networked society with billions of connected devices. Household appliances, consumer electronics, and other things that could benefit from being connected will communicate with wireless networks using radio waves. Like mobile phones, all these devices will comply with standards and regulations for radio wave exposure. Although the number of devices will increase dramatically, the overall exposure to radio waves will be only marginally higher and still far below established limits.

Read more in Ericsson’s fact sheet on 50B connected devices.

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16. May connected Smart Meters pose any health risks?

Smart Meters often use radio waves to connect to a wireless network and thereby communicate with the electric, water or gas utility company. Like mobile phones and other wireless devices, Smart Meters comply with standards and regulations for radio wave exposure. A Smart Meter emits low-power radio waves and communicates only sporadically with the network, which means that the typical exposure to an individual is just a small fraction of the relevant exposure limits. Health Canada has issued a fact sheet about Smart Meters which states that “Health Canada has concluded that exposure to RF energy from smart meters does not pose a public health risk.”

Read more on the web site of Health Canada.

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17. What is Ericsson doing in the field of radio waves and health?

Ericsson employs rigid product testing and installation procedures with the goal of ensuring that radio wave exposure levels from our products and network solutions are below established safety limits. We also provide public information on radio waves and health, and support independent research to further increase knowledge in this area. Since 1996, Ericsson has co-sponsored over 100 studies related to electromagnetic fields and health, mostly through the Mobile Manufacturers Forum (MMF) in accordance with World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations. To assure scientific independence, there is a firewall in place between industrial sponsors and researchers.

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18. Where can I find more information about mobile communications and health?

Extensive information can be found on the websites of:

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