All wireless communications equipment including mobile phones we sell and the base stations we operate meet strict international safety guideline limits (ICNIRP)

These guidelines have a substantial safety margin built into them and remain the basis for ensuring safety of our technology.

Vodafone relies on the advice of independent scientific experts, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), to give consumers accurate information to assist them in making informed choices about mobile technology and health.

On mobile phone safety the World Health Organization advise,

"A large number of studies have been performed over the last two decades to assess whether mobile phones pose a potential health risk. To date, no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use."

"The electromagnetic fields produced by mobile phones are classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as possibly carcinogenic to humans."

The WHO explains "possibly carcinogenic (Group 2B) [is] a category used when a causal association is considered credible, but when chance, bias or confounding cannot be ruled out with reasonable confidence."

The WHO provides information on how to effectively reduce mobile phone exposure:

"In addition to using "hands-free" devices, which keep mobile phones away from the head and body during phone calls, exposure is also reduced by limiting the number and length of calls. Using the phone in areas of good reception also decreases exposure as it allows the phone to transmit at reduced power."

WHO Fact Sheet 193 May 2010 - Electromagnetic fields and public health: mobile phones

The WHO will conduct a formal risk assessment of all studied health outcomes from radiofrequency fields exposure by 2012.

Vodafone supports effective measures to reduce exposure when using mobile phone devices while we wait for the completion of the additional research and WHO's formal risk assessment for radiofrequency fields in 2012.

Strict safety standards are always met

Mobile phones and base stations operate by transmitting and receiving radio signals using radio frequency waves (RF). These are the same type of waves produced by radios, televisions and remote controls.

To place a call from our mobile handset, both the handset and the base station antenna send and receive radio frequency (RF) fields. RF fields are the medium carrying the conversations (voice), messages (SMS), photographs, web, music or videos (data) we want to share with another person.

A large number of base stations are needed to allow more people to make calls, send emails and videos and connect to the internet from more locations. When a mobile phone is used, the body absorbs some of the RF field and some scientists have suggested that this might be harmful.

The International Commission for Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) has issued guidelines on levels of exposure to RF fields, including that from mobile phones and base stations. These guidelines have a safety margin built into them. Australia has adopted the ICNIRP levels in theARPANSA Standard RPS3

All mobile phones sold by Vodafone meet strict national and international safety standards. The A-Tick ( ) mark on your phone, usually found under the battery, is your guarantee that the telecommunications product meets the safety and technical standards set by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

Before using a mobile device it is important that you read all safety, compliance and "how to use" information in the user guide as each device is different.

Compliance tests for RF safety (SAR test) are done with the phone at the maximum power. Each mobile device has different design characteristics and when operating the mobile the level of RF you receive depends on things such as how much data is being transferred, for how long; where the phone is in relation to the base station; and the distance of the phone from the head or body.

  • Do headsets, Bluetooth or shields work reduce exposure?
  • Is it safe for children to use a mobile phone?
  • Do I have to take special precautions if I have a medical implant?
  • What do the experts say on mobiles and cancer risk?
  • Common questions about mobile phones and exposure

Mobile phones and children

Having a mobile phone can improve children's personal safety, as they can maintain contact with their parents and get help in emergencies.
We acknowledge that some parents fear their children's health may be affected by using mobile phones. We aim to give parents the information they need to make an informed decision. Parents may choose to balance their children's access to and use of mobile phones with the safety benefits.

Information from International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)

The full findings of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a specialist agency within the World Health Organization (WHO), evaluating the carcinogenic hazard of radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF EMF) to humans, were published on 19 April 2013. Click here to see the full monograph 102.

The IARC Working Group originally met in May 2011 to classify the cancer hazard of RF-EMF, including those from broadcast and mobile communications, microwaves and radar. This process resulted in RF-EMF being classified as "possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B), based on an increased risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer, associated with wireless phone use." A summary of their findings was published in The Lancet Oncology, which concluded that there is "limited evidence in humans" for the carcinogenicity of RF-EMF. The full report, Monograph 102, confirms the 2B classification, which was originally made in May 2011.

The IARC classification only considers whether there is a possible link between long-term heavy mobile device use and cancer, it does not assess the likelihood of this link arising. To understand the likelihood and therefore the potential risk posed, the WHO will carry out a wider health risk assessment, which will take into account all the available science relating to RF and health, including the IARC classification and work done by ICNIRP.

Other studies are also underway under the WHO’s research agenda priorities. The results of one such study, the CEFALO study into mobile use in children, were published in July 2011. The study involved nearly 1,000 children in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Switzerland. The study compared mobile use by children and adolescents aged 7-19 years, who were diagnosed with a brain tumour between 2004 and 2008, with that of a randomly selected group of the same age range. The study found no overall evidence of increased risk of brain cancer, concluding that: “The absence of an exposure–response relationship either in terms of the amount of mobile phone use or by localization of the brain tumor argues against a causal association”.

What does ARPANSA say about children and mobile phones?

In the  recommendations from its Mobile phones and children fact sheet, the Australian Radiation Safety and Nuclear Science Agency states:

"Community concern has been expressed with regard to mobile telephone use by children. At present, there is insufficient evidence in the science to substantiate the hypothesis that children maybe more vulnerable to RF EME emissions from mobile phones than adults.

It's recognised that parents provide mobile phones to their children for different reasons, including their child's personal security as well as the assurance of their child being constantly contactable.

It is recommended that if individuals are concerned, they should choose to limit their own or their children's RF EME exposure by limiting the number and length of calls, or using "hands-free" devices to keep mobile phones away from the head and body. Users should pay attention to manufacturers' advice regarding spacing from the body if phones are to be attached to belts or placed in pockets."

Do international health experts think that the current safety guidelines (i.e. ICNIRP) protect children?

The May 2011 WHO/ICNIRP international health expert meeting on children and non-ionizing radiation was held "to determine if the ICNIRP guidelines are adequate to protect children “who are different in terms of physiology, anatomy and lifestyle." At the press conference following the meeting, the Chairman of ICNIRP concluded:

"From the scientific results of the workshop, we can conclude that our guidance is adequate. For UV radiation, we do know that people are at risk and now we have even more evidence for this position. In contrast, for EMF, and mobiles in particular, there is no evidence that children are at special risk. This means that there is no reason to change current guidelines. Nevertheless, we will continue to review the science, and the outcome of this workshop has contributed to that."

What does the WHO say about children?

From the World Health Organisation Fact Sheet No 193:

"While an increased of brain tumours is not established, the increasing use of mobile phones and the lack of data for mobile phone use over time periods longer than 15 years warrant further research of mobile phone use and brain cancer risk. In particular, with the recent popularity of mobile phone use among younger people, and therefore potentially longer lifetime exposure, WHO has promoted further research on this group. Several studies investigating potential effects in children and adolescents are underway.

What research relevant to children has been done and what are the conclusions?

Published research relevant to the use of mobile phones by children includes:

  • whether children's heads absorb more RF energy than adults
  • any effects on cognition (such as the ability to think, reason and remember)
  • animals during pregnancy through to young adulthood examining potential biological effects (for example changes in brain structure or function and birth defect inducing effects)

Overall this research found that the range of absorption in children's heads is within the variation of the adult population and no consistent evidence of harmful effects from exposure at levels below internationally recognized guidelines.

What more research relevant to children needs to be done?

The WHO 2010 RF Research agenda identifies several high priority research areas for children expressing them in terms of research underway and new research to fill certain gaps in knowledge.

Should there be any restrictions on children using mobile phones?

Despite the no specific scientific justification, some expert groups, in reviewing the question of whether there should be restrictions on children using mobile phones, have recommended that there should be a "precautionary" approach. Others, including the WHO, acknowledge that there is no present evidence that children are at special risk but advocate pragmatic measures for all to reduce exposure whilst additional research is being conducted into long-term heavy use of phones. For example, Director Christopher Wild from the International Agency for Cancer (IARC), a part of the WHO said:

"it is important that additional research be conducted into the long-term, heavy use of mobile phones. Pending on the availability of such information, it is important to take pragmatic measures to reduce exposure such as hands-free devices or texting."

Testing mobiles for safety (SAR)

All mobile phones sold by Vodafone must meet stringent national and international safety standards. For handsets, the Australian and the US governments require that both head and body-worn positions are measured. You can easily check that your mobile device meets all of the required Australian government technical and safety standards as it will have an A-tick mark on it.

Though not mandatory in Europe, in recognition that people do use their phones in their pockets, Vodafone globally requires manufacturers to test the body-worn position in addition to the head for phones sold through Vodafone.

Safety compliance testing for mobile phones and similar radio communication transmitting devices is by way of a SAR test. SAR stands for Specific Absorption Rate, which is the unit of measurement for the amount of Radio Frequency (RF) energy absorbed by the body when for example using a mobile phone, walkie talkie, or communicating wirelessly on a laptop. SAR is expressed in units of watts per kilogram (W/kg). the SAR compliance test is done with the phone at its highest certified power level in laboratory conditions.

On mobile phone safety the World Health Organization advise,

"A large number of studies have been performed over the last two decades to assess whether mobile phones pose a potential health risk. To date, no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use."

The WHO also provides information on how to effectively reduce mobile phone exposure:

"In addition to using "hands-free" devices, which keep mobile phones away from the head and body during phone calls, exposure is also reduced by limiting the number and length of calls. Using the phone in areas of good reception also decreases exposure as it allows the phone to transmit at reduced power."

WHO Fact Sheet 193 June 2011 - Electromagnetic fields and public health: mobile phones.

How is a SAR compliance test done?

Specialised laboratory test equipment is used for conducting SAR measurements. The equipment consists of a human 'phantom', precision robot, RF field sensors, and mobile phone holder. The human phantom is filled with a liquid that represents the electrical properties of a human.

  • The mobile phone or device is positioned against the phantom head or body and switched on to full power.
  • The precision robot scans head of body of the phantom for maximum radio signal.
  • The computer analysing the data coverts the radio signal levels into SAR (W/kg).
  • The maximum level measured is recorded as the SAR value against the head.

View the video on how the SAR test is done in the laboratory.

Does SAR vary between mobile phones?

Yes. The maximum SAR level for different mobile phone models can vary and this is mostly due to where the antenna in the phone is located and other design characteristics such as how slim the phone is.

Are low SAR mobile phones safer?

No. Variations in SAR do not mean that there are variations in safety. While there may be differences in SAR levels among phone models, all mobile phones must meet RF exposure guidelines.

SAR levels can also vary considerably when in use depending on how good the reception is. Once a call is established the mobile will power down to the minimum level required to reach the network and maintain a quality call.

Do the SAR limits apply to children?

Yes. The radiofrequency exposure guidelines are designed to offer protection for all ages including children with a large in-built safety margin.

Does the SAR for a mobile phone vary when in use?

Yes. Although the SAR is determined at the highest certified power level in laboratory conditions, the actual SAR level of the phone while operating can be well below this value. This is because the phone is designed to use the minimum power required to reach the network and maintain a quality call. Once a call is established the mobile will power down to the minimum level required. Therefore, the closer you are to a base station, the more likely it is that the actual SAR level will be lower.

Where can I find the SAR information for mobile phones?

SAR information for model phones are included with the materials that come with the mobile phone. Information and links to SAR information can be found on www.SARtick.com. In addition, this information will be available from the website of your mobile phone manufacturer.

SAR values for all Vodafone Branded devices is available here. Download the pdf specifications for the device that you are interested in. You will find the SAR for that device at the end of the document.

Use the menu bar to download the pdf specifications and find SAR for earlier handsets and mobile broadband devices.

How is SAR measured for other wireless devices?

Wireless devices intended to be used in close proximity to the body for example Laptops & data cards are also required to be SAR tested. The SAR test is similar to the body test for a mobile phone. The wireless device is placed against the phantom in the SAR laboratory, and the precision robot scans the area inside the phantom near the device and measures the absorbed radio signals. The computer analysing the data coverts the radio signal levels into SAR (W/kg).

Questions about personal mobile phone exposure

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions we receive about personal mobile phone exposure.

What influences the level of RF exposure from a mobile phone?

  • There are many factors which influence the level of RF exposure from a mobile phone. These include:
  • The design characteristics of the phone
  • The distance between the person and the mobile phone
  • The distance from the base station
  • The landscape between the mobile phone and the base station
  • The way the mobile phone is being used.

Mobile phones use the minimum RF field strength needed to communicate with the base station. This automatically adjusts when the signal from the base station is weaker. The better the signal from the base station, the lower the RF field strength from the mobile phone.

Are all phones the same in terms of safety and compliance?

You can be sure that your phone is compliant with the required Australian safety standards by finding an A-tick mark on your phone. However each phone has different design characteristics and when operating the phone, the level of RF depends on things such as how much data is being transferred, for how long and where the phone is in relation to the base station. So it is very important that you read all safety, compliance and "how to use" information in the user guide.

Find out more about the A-Tick mark from the Australian Communications and Media Authority website.

Are there any differences in safety and compliance between 2G, 3G and fourth generation (LTE)?

No. The third generation (3G) and fourth generation (LTE) of mobile technology enable people to access multimedia services such as web, TV and downloads on their mobile phone. All mobile phones on the market, regardless of the technology they use, adhere to required safety standards. This means that 3G and LTE mobile phones comply with the same standards as older phones. 3G and LTE technology differs from older mobile phones in the way they communicate information, not the amount of energy they use. In fact 3G and LTE phones are more efficient than 2G phones and so their average power level are lower than the older 2G phones.

Does a mobile emit radiofrequency continuously?

When the phone is switched on but you are not on a call, it only sends out a low RF signal for a few seconds every couple of minutes just to locate the nearby base station network. You can hear the interference "bbb" sound when you hold some phones near a radio.

What happens to the power levels of the phone when on or making a call?

When the mobile phones are tested for compliance with the safety regulation, they are tested at maximum power. When operating the mobile phone, most of the time this power level is not required.

The phone does power up to establish a call, but once established both the phone and the nearby base station power back down to a level only to maintain a quality call or data transfer. This feature conserves the phone's battery life and means than no more RF comes from the phone than is required.

Is it OK to upload and download data and video with the mobile in my pocket?

A phone uploading and downloading large amounts of data from an inside pocket reduces signal effectiveness and increases the power from the phone. So it isn't the best position for this operation.

However, in Australia all mobiles are tested for compliance at the head and also the body-worn position. You should check your manual for the correct operation of the mobile especially if the manual recommends the use of a belt clip or a small separation distance (e.g. 1-2 centimetres) for the bodyworn operation.

When I read the user manual it said that I should keep a 15mm separation distance from my body. Does this mean I cannot use my phone in my pocket?

It is an important practice to check the user guide for all operating and safety instructions and for any minimum separation distance. Mobile phones generally get better reception when used away from the main part of the body. A mobile phone can always be used up against the head without separation.

Some mobile phones are designed to have a small minimum separation from the body, typically 15 - 25mm depending on the phone. This is so the antenna inside the phone has some clearance to function more efficiently and provide better reception. This minimum separation often represents the spacing created by a phone holder or clothing. If a minimum separation is specified, the SAR test against the body will be conducted at that distance.

What if I use my mobile in my pocket forgetting the minimum separation listed in the user guide?

Clothing and mobile phone covers often provides a separation however it is important to always check the user guide for minimum requirements. In most cases mobile phones operate at reduced power levels meaning a lower SAR, and for added safety, the international exposure guidelines have a large in-built safety margin.

What if I have a medical implant such as a cardiac pacemaker?

If you have a biomedical implant such as a cardiac pacemaker, it is recommended to maintain a separation distance of at least 15 cm from the handset and the implant. This recommendation aligns with government advice from the Therapeutic Goods Administration. Your user manual will contain this information and a whole lot more.

What actions can I take now, while scientists are resolving the gaps in current knowledge?

On mobile phone safety the World Health Organization advise,
"A large number of studies have been performed over the last two decades to assess whether mobile phones pose a potential health risk. To date, no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use."

The following 3 tips may be useful:

  • Use a hands-free kit, Bluetooth or speaker phone (i.e. keep the phone away from the head and body when in use)
  • Reduce the overall number and length of phone calls
  • Use more text messages

These tips have been sourced from the health authority websites of the World Health Organization (WHO Fact Sheet No. 193), the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA Fact Sheet EME Series No. 11).

I have heard that a wired hands-free kits increases exposure?

It is a myth that wired hands-free kits increase exposure, by acting as a route for the radio waves to travel along. Independent research has found personal hands-free kits used normally, with the earpiece cable hanging naturally from the ear, reduce exposure by 93 to 98 percent. Even when using the worst-case configurations, with the earpiece cable wrapped around the phone's antenna, the reduction was 75 to 93 percent.

Wouldn't the radio waves used by a Bluetooth device add to my exposure?

Bluetooth is radio technology designed to connect electronic devices using wireless such as hands free earpieces to mobile phones. Bluetooth operates over very short distances, typically a few meters, and is very low powered, many times lower than mobile phones. Therefore using a Bluetooth hands-free and moving your mobile phone further away from your head and body still reduces the total amount of radio waves you're exposed to.

What is the difference in my RF exposure when using a mobile phone directly against the ear, a wired hands-free accessory, or a Bluetooth headset?

Compared to holding the mobile phone directly against the head, both the wired hands-free accessory and the Bluetooth headset operate at an increased the distance between the aerial of the phone and your head. The level of RF exposure decreases rapidly with distance. Thus large reductions in exposure are achieved by holding the phone away from the head and body when using these accessories.

The hands-free kit works by firstly converting the RF signal into electrical energy which travels along the wire just like any set of wired head phones.

The Bluetooth headset only has to send a RF signal to the phone over a very short distance to the phone held in your hand or on your desk. Without a Bluetooth, the level of RF exposure you receive when using the mobile against the head comes from the aerial in phone which has to be of sufficient power to communicate between itself and the nearest base station.

The power levels from a Bluetooth are about one hundred times lower than the RF from a normal mobile. So the exposure reduction is achieved by having RF that is many times lower than the level of RF you would receive from a normal phone operating near you head.

Like mobile phones, Bluetooth headsets must meet all of the RF safety requirements: that is they must and do comply with the National (ARPANSA) and International (ICNIRP) levels and are thus considered "safe" by our regulators and expert health organisations such as the World Health Organization. When mobile phones are tested, they are tested at maximum power and must pass the strict safety regulations for RF exposure before they can be sold in Australia. You can check that the mobile has passed by checking inside the phone for an A-tick mark.

Do mobile phone shields reduce RF emissions from a mobile phone or make them safer?

From time to time various products are marketed claiming to increase the safety of mobile phone use. These products generally take the form of shielded cases, earpiece pads/shields, antenna clips/caps, so-called absorbing buttons and 'neutraliser' chips.

The WHO advises that "The use of commercial devices for reducing radiofrequency field exposure has not been shown to be effective."

Consumer protection and fair trading agencies in the US, Australia and New Zealand have brought successful legal actions against the unsubstantiated claims of effectiveness by some manufacturers/agents of these types of devices.

Find out more about answers to questions about testing mobiles for safety (SAR test)

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