- Vodafone Foundation Australia
- Media Centre
Mobile phones cannot work without base stations. Our comprehensive network of base stations allows us to keep improving our coverage and to introduce new services such as video calling, internet and mobile TV.
While most people welcome more mobile phone coverage, we at Vodafone recognise that some people are concerned about possible health effects of base stations and we are committed to addressing these concerns.
The World Health Organization's (WHO) fact sheet on base stations and wireless technologies states that "there is no convincing scientific evidence that the weak RF (radio frequency) signals from base stations and wireless networks cause adverse health effects."
The WHO 2010 Research Agenda states that the recent German and Swiss research programs have focussed on well-being and nonspecific symptoms of ill health. However, the results published so far "do not indicate effects from such exposures in the everyday environment, although longitudinal studies are still scarce".
As part of our commitment to responsible deployment, Vodafone applies the principles of safe systems, consultation and sensitive environmental planning, good design and environmental protection to all its base station network development and operations.
Community health and safety is paramount to us. Vodafone strictly adheres to all the national guidelines and standards relating to mobile phones and mobile infrastructure, including base stations. Vodafone applies a strict policy of building and operating its base stations well within the limits of national health and safety standards, applying the objective of minimising electromagnetic energy (EME) whilst meeting service requirements.
When formulating proposals for base station siting and design, we undertake a thorough assessment in order to identify the most environmentally friendly solution. This process involves assessing:
In order to meet these objectives, we aim to use existing buildings and structures. Where possible, we will use existing antenna structures and design the base stations to keep the amount of telecommunications equipment to a minimum.
Vodafone seeks to protect, and where possible, enhance the natural and built environment by:
Base stations are designed so that no member of the public would be able to gain access inadvertently to the limited area near the antenna where there is the possibility that exposure limits could be reached (generally less than 10m directly in front of the antenna devices for a macro or full size base station). It is important to remember that the pole or tower simply supports the antennas and does not emit radiofrequency signals. The nearby cabins housing electrical cabling and other equipment are not designed to emit radiofrequency signals.
The emission levels from a Vodafone base station depend on a number of factors, including the area the cell is designed to cover and the number of simultaneous calls it is designed to carry. Depending on the base station, power levels will normally be between two and 150 watts. Radiofrequency exposure levels from a typical Vodafone base station at ground level are normally 0.1 to 3 per cent of the Australian Communications and Media Authority's mandatory limits (i.e. the ARPANSA Standard).
Yes. The ARPANSA Standard for radiofrequency fields is designed to safeguard everyone regardless of age and at all times.
Base stations operate at low power. Independent surveys demonstrate that the background RF level in the community, including levels near schools and homes from base stations is very low, and similar to the levels from broadcast radio and television.
The World Health Organization monitors scientific research into wireless technologies and concludes, "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."
For mobile networks to work, low powered base stations are required to be located in proximity to where people use their phones. In order to provide quality coverage, it is not always possible to locate a base station in areas far away from residences.
In relation to the proximity of proposed facilities to schools and residential areas and potential health effects, we appreciate that sometimes members of the community are particularly concerned about such facilities being placed near schools and residences. The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) who is responsible for the formulating the Australian EME exposure standard states the following in relation to this:
"Regulations to protect the public from RF EME exposure from telecommunications facilities established by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) do not set any distance requirements between the facility and other land uses such as residences, schools or hospitals.
Similarly, the ACIF Code does not specify arbitrary distances at which infrastructure must be sited from community sensitive locations, because arbitrary distances do not necessarily reflect a precautionary approach. In fact, infrastructure sited further from a community sensitive area may need to operate at a higher power and may result in higher EME exposures in that sensitive area. Furthermore, it must be remembered that evidence gathered by ARPANSA suggests that exposure levels in public areas are so far below the exposure limit set by ACMA, and that EME emissions from mobile phone base stations have no implications for health.
Generally yes. A shared site will have higher emission levels. However, the regulations require cumulative assessments to be undertaken for all carriers on a shared site. The cumulative exposure levels for the general public at shared sites cannot exceed the ARPANSA RF safety limits.
As with a shared site, adding an additional 3G antennas will increase emissions. But the resultant levels are still expected to be a fraction of the ARPANSA RF safety limits. The cell size for the 3G antennas is generally smaller and the cell size "shrinks" when in high use. Only low levels of power are required to operate a 3G and/or LTE antenna.
A lot of research has been done over the past five decades into the effects of radiofrequency (RF) signals.
The safety of wireless technologies including base stations is backed up by the World Health Organization who state:
"Over the past 15 years, studies examining a potential relationship between RF transmitters and cancer have been published. These studies have not provided evidence that RF exposure from the transmitters increases the risk of cancer."
"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." ( WHO Fact Sheet 304, May 2006).
Australia's health authority, the Australian Radiation Protection & Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) states:
"the weight of National and International scientific opinion is that there is no substantiated evidence that living near a mobile phone antenna causes adverse health effects. There is no evidence of a link between exposure to radiofrequency (RF) EME and adverse health effects in humans at levels below the limits specified in the ARPANSA Radiation Protection Standard (2002) "Maximum Exposure Levels to Radiofrequency Fields - 3kHz to 300 GHz". Although subtle biological effects caused by RF EME emissions have been reported in some laboratory studies, there is no evidence that these effects may lead to adverse health outcomes. However, there are gaps in the knowledge that have been identified for further research to better assess health risks. "( ARPANSA EME Series Fact Sheet 2, revised July 2011).
Vodafone ensures base stations comply with the national and international guideline limits in all publicly accessible areas. Access is restricted and signage is used around base stations to indicate the very limited area immediately around an antenna where it is possible for exposures to be above the National and International guideline limits.
It is impossible to give such a guarantee about anything in life. In 1999, the UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee explained that "no matter how much research is done, it will never be possible to prove that something is not harmful. Scientific research can say that there is no evidence of risk or it can demonstrate that any risk is very low, but it cannot produce evidence of no risk." (UK House of Commons Mobile Phones and Health, 1999).
In May 2000, the Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones (Stewart Enquiry) endorsed this view, stating that "Some people propose that new developments should only be permitted when they have been shown to be completely safe, but this is unrealistic. Science can never provide a guarantee of zero risk." (Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones (IEGMP), Stewart Report, 2000. paragraph 6.15).
Whilst science cannot provide a zero risk guarantee, Vodafone supports independent quality research and the continued monitoring and health assessment by recognised expert groups such as the World Health Organization Electromagnetic Fields project.
Research into the effects of radiofrequency signals goes back more than five decades and this enormous body of research has been analysed by scientists from all over the world. The World Health Organization concludes that the thousands of scientific studies carried out to date do not confirm that exposure to radiofrequency fields from mobile devices and base stations has any health effects.
Most experts agree that the RF energy produced by a mobile device is not sufficient to cause long-term changes in the body. Furthermore, research has not demonstrated that RF fields are carcinogenic, but it has not been able to rule out cancer risks from mobile phone devices used close to the body over more than 10 years of heavy use.
IARC, which is part of the WHO, has classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B), based on an increased risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer.
IARC said in its statement:
"The evidence was reviewed critically, and overall evaluated as being limited among users of wireless telephones for glioma and acoustic neuroma, and inadequate to draw conclusions for other types of cancers. The evidence from the occupational and environmental exposures mentioned above was similarly judged inadequate."
IARC concluded that there could be some risk, and therefore there was a need to keep a close watch for a link between cell phones and cancer risk.
We have now been using mobile phones for nearly 30 years and they have been in widespread use for two decades without any significant increase in the rates of brain tumour being found.
According to the IARC World Cancer Report 2008, the incidence of brain tumours since the introduction of widespread mobile phone use has remained relatively stable:
"After 1983 and more recently during the period of increasing prevalence of mobile phone users, the incidence has remained relatively stable for both men and women."
A US study of more than 38,000 brain cancer cases from 1977 to 2006, published in July 2010 by the US National Cancer Institute, found:
"Overall, these incidence data from the United States based on high-quality cancer registries do not provide support for the view that use of cellular phones causes brain cancer."
It is worth noting that when exposure guidelines are defined, they are based on preventing a known adverse health effect to which additional safety factors are added. People should also keep in mind that when scientists or expert groups refer to a biological effect, this does not necessarily mean an adverse health effect. For example, drinking a glass of water or even listening to music will produce a biological effect and we experience these effects throughout our lives. Indeed, vision is a biological effect based on the eye detecting radiofrequency signals at frequencies higher than those used for radio communications.
The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) provides advice to the general public on such issues. Their website offers a series of electromagnetic emission fact sheets that cover the Radiofrequency Exposure Standard, public health issues related to electro magnetic emission, mobile phone networks and base stations, broadcast towers, potential interference issues, mobile phones and children and Australian research into electro magnetic emission (EME).
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) also responds to enquiries from the general public about the use of radio and interference issues.
You can access independent expert review reports from national and international health authorities here.
There are national and international standards governing all forms of electronic equipment regarding the interference that such equipment produces and, in turn, its immunity to interference from outside. Any equipment compliant with these standards is unlikely to suffer or cause interference.
However, if a member of the public contacts Vodafone on a matter of interference in relation to its base stations, Vodafone will investigate the matter and take appropriate action if required. The Australian Communications and Media Authority will also investigate issues raised regarding interference in its management of the radiofrequency spectrum.
A mobile phone base station, whether nearby or on the hospital roof, should not interfere with any equipment. Vodafone carries out special field strength studies in hospitals to make sure emissions are even lower than those recommended in the national and international standards. A study by the UK Medical Devices Agency found no significant levels of interference to medical devices from mobile phone base stations. (MDA Device Bulletin DB9702: Electromagnetic compatibility of Medical Devices with Mobile Communications, 1997).
In most areas of a hospital, mobile phones do not pose any problems. However, using a mobile phone close to some sensitive electronic devices could possibly result in interference.