Updated international EMF exposure guidelines apply to all 5G frequencies

The 8th GSMA EMF Forum was an opportunity to bring together over 100 invited stakeholders from across Europe and around the world to discuss the revised 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 EMF Forum was held at the GSMA Europe offices in Brussels on 15 October and started with a review of the epidemiological research on mobile phone use and health delivered by Dr Maria Feychting, Professor of Epidemiology at the Karolinska Institutet, Sweden. She explained the challenges in conducting epidemiological studies, including the reliance by many studies on participants accurately recalling their phone use up to 10 years in the past. This limitation is being addressed in new studies, like the 300,000-person COSMOS International Cohort study that will collect validation data from operator records. Feychting concluded that the existing evidence, such as the lack of an increase in brain tumour occurrence, means that past studies reporting large risks are incorrect. However, the same evidence can’t rule out possible risks in small sub-groups of the population.

Dr Eric van Rongen, Chair of the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), reported that the final updated international guidelines will be published before the end of 2019. These are similar to the existing guidelines for frequencies up to 6 GHz and at higher frequencies a new exposure measure, the absorbed power density is introduced. The ICNIRP Chair said that the guidelines ‘apply to all people, young and old, sick and healthy, and they apply to all frequencies that 5G is going to use.’ He called on the European Commission to update recommendation 1999/519/EC (based on the ICNIRP 1998 guidelines) to. This was a call echoed later in the day by Sarah Wylie, Vodafone Group – Chair of the GSMA Global EMF and Health Group, who said that operators want harmonised, science-based limits that protect the public, allow for efficient deployment and enable effective delivery of services to consumers.

In the morning panel discussion, Dr Efthymios Karabetsos from the Greek Atomic Energy Commission and Dr Simon Mann from Public Health England provided member state perspectives. A 2018 survey in Greece identified high levels of concern about mobile network antennas and mobile phones. Karabetsos said that 2020 plans include developing a mobile app and piloting information campaigns in schools. Public Health England recently published a fact sheet on 5G and EMF. Mann pointed out that there may be a small increase in overall exposure to radio waves when 5G is added to an existing network or in a new area, however, ‘the overall exposure is expected to remain low relative to guidelines and, as such, there should be no consequences for public health.

The afternoon session started with a presentation from Andreas Geiss, Head of Unit for Spectrum Policy in DG CONNECT of the European Commission, who provided an update on the light deployment regime for small cells. He expects the Commission to soon make a proposal for the definition of a small cell that will focus on aesthetics and transmit power with the aim of ensuring wide public acceptance.

The afternoon panel discussed the results of assessments of 5G networks. Christophe Grangeat (Nokia) and Mike Wood (Telstra) described the work of the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) in developing compliance standards for 5G network equipment and devices. Novel approaches include the use of actual maximum output service from a base station to provide more accurate assessments. Dr Emmanuelle Conil, from ANFR, the spectrum agency in France, described the use of the IEC methods to assess 5G pilot sites. When the measured levels were extrapolated to take account of 5G traffic, exposures were about the same as 4G services. Telstra also reported similar results in Australia. Dr Wout Joseph, Ghent University, provided more details on the additional complexity of measuring a 5G site. The university has developed a method based on measurement of certain 5G signalling features to assess installed 5G base stations without requiring information from the operator of the site.

Thomas Barmüller of the Mobile & Wireless Forum (MWF) rounded out the day with a presentation on the evolution of compliance standards and regulations for mobile devices. Testing standards exist for mobile devices up to 6 GHz based on the specific absorption rate (SAR) and these are being extended to 10 GHz. Methods exist that allow for measurement of power density at higher frequencies. MWF members will also expand their existing SAR based transparency and reporting programme to include the new data for power density.

In his summary, Dr Jack Rowley, Senior Director Research & Sustainability, GSMA, identified three key takeaways: the updated international guidelines include 20 more years of research, apply to 5G and protect all persons; technical standards exist for assessment of both network equipment and mobile devices; and available results show 5G at similar levels to existing mobile technologies with no significant increase in overall signal levels.

Nadia Jouravleff, Orange Group – Chair EMF and Health Operator Expert Group, GSMA Europe thanked the speakers and the audience for their active participation.

At the EMF Forum, GSMA presented the updated report 5G, the IoT and Wearable Devices: What do the new uses of wireless technologies mean for radio frequency exposure?, a fact sheet on Safety of 5G Mobile Networks (available in multiple languages) and an animated video on the Safety of 5G Networks.

For more information visit interactive map summarising European EMF and antenna siting policies and read the report of the GSMA EMF Forum 2018.