Harmonisation of antenna deployment policies necessary for efficient 5G rollout

The 7th GSMA EMF Forum was held on 16 October 2018 at the GSMA Europe offices in Brussels. It discussed the proposed updated international radio frequency exposure guidelines, the latest scientific developments and new approaches to compliance assessments of mobile devices and network antennas with particular relevance for 5G and small cell deployments.

The draft international exposure guidelines for radio signals were presented by Dr Eric van Rongen, Chair of the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). These are an update to the 1998 guidelines that are the basis of the Council Recommendation 1999/519/EC and actions by the European Commission. The ICNIRP limits provide a high level of protection for all people against known adverse health effects. Dr van Rongen explained that there is no scientifically substantiated evidence that radio signals cause diseases such as cancer and that ICNIRP had considered studies such as that of the American National Toxicology Program. The ICNIRP public consultation closed on 9 October and the final guidelines are expected in 2019.

Professor Mireille Toledano, Chair in Perinatal and Paediatric Environmental Epidemiology, School of Public Health, Imperial College London, provided a summary of epidemiological research on mobile phone use and health. COSMOS is a six country cohort study with about 300,000 participants investigating possible health risks associated with long-term use of mobile phones and other wireless technologies. The first results for symptoms are expected in 2019. She also described the SCAMP study, which aims to investigate whether children’s use of mobile phones and other wireless technologies is associated with neurocognitive and behavioural outcomes (e.g. attention, memory, language understanding). Professor Toledano explained that while past studies involving adults have focussed on call time this is not so relevant for adolescents who make calls for less than 5 minutes per week. For young people Wi-Fi access and data usage are the important parameters. This means that operator data may no longer be the ‘gold standard’ for exposure assessment and new approaches such as apps have been developed.

In his introduction to the panel on the right electromagnetic field (EMF) and antenna policies to support 4G and enable 5G rollout, Dr Manimohan, Senior Director of Public Policy, GSMA, shared preliminary data from a survey of European operators on network deployment. A significant minority of countries apply EMF limits to mobile network antennas that are more restrictive than the European recommendations. One of those countries is Italy and Massimiliano Simoni, TIM and Chairman of the Frequencies Operator Expert Group, GSMA Europe, outlined the negative impacts including reduced indoor coverage and the need for more antenna sites. He said that an independent analysis in 2017 found that 77% of sites in urban areas are potentially not available for new antennas due to the Italian EMF restrictions. Thomas Barmüller, Director Europe, Middle East and Africa, Mobile & Wireless Forum stressed the importance of harmonised EMF limits and technical approaches to facilitate 5G deployments.

Another finding from the GSMA Europe survey was that it typically takes 6 months to obtain the permissions needed to deploy antennas. This was contrasted with the USA where the FCC recently adopted rules with reduced deadlines for antenna permits (cities and states have to approve or reject the addition of small cells on pre-existing structures, such as utility poles and streetlights, within 60 days, and on new structures within 90 days) and also capped administrative fees. A large number of small cells are forecast as part of 5G rollout and simplified administrative procedures are needed. According to Pearse O’Donohue, Director for Future Networks at the European Commission, the new European Electronic Communications Code (EECC) provides policy tools to promote harmonisation and adoption of good practices.

Dr Konstantinos Masselos, President of the Hellenic Telecommunications and Post Commission (EETT), described 5G networks as a paradigm shift both technically and economically. He explained that transparency is a key part of the strategy for addressing EMF concerns in Greece. EETT also recognises the need for efficient deployment procedures and plans to expand their light licensing regime to more types of base stations and examine ways to reduce rights of way costs.

The afternoon contained mobile industry only workshops on new approaches to EMF compliance, the promotion of harmonised EMF limits and improved communication about 5G deployment.

For more information visit interactive map presenting the results of European EMF and antenna siting policy survey October 2018.