The debate on health concerns related to electromagnetic field (EMF) exposure has been ongoing through every generation of mobile technology. With the adoption of 5G and the expanded use of millimetre wave spectrum and small cells, the mobile industry has seen a renewed focus on the issue of safety. The publication of the updated radio frequency (RF) exposure guidelines by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), confirming that, after an additional 20 years of research, the international limits remain protective of all people (including children) against all established health hazards, is both welcome and timely.
Studies on radio signals used by mobile technologies have been ongoing for decades. The scientific evidence garnered is the basis for the international safety guidelines and these include all current and planned mobile frequencies. The latest update from ICNIRP is based on scientific reports prepared for the World Health Organisation (WHO), the European Commission, national expert groups and continuous monitoring of new research. The process has taken seven years and there was a public consultation in 2018 with more than 1,000 comments from over 120 organisations.
The safety guidelines retain a high level of protection with limits set well below the thresholds for established hazards for all radio frequencies from 2G to 5G.
Where changes have been made, these recognise the importance of higher frequencies above 6 GHz to 5G, and provide more detailed guidance for this range. ICNIRP has also introduced a new absorbed power density limit above 6 GHz. The updated guidelines have been anticipated by the industry for some time and test methods exist to ensure the compliance of 5G devices in the market.
It should be noted that the exposures from 5G networks are well below these thresholds. As ICNIRP states ‘The most important thing for people to remember is that 5G technologies will not be able to cause harm when these new guidelines are adhered to.’
Whilst several myths around the safety of mobile technology have spread over social media, any discussion on the safety of mobile networks and devices should be grounded in fact. The European Commission confirms that strict and safe exposure limits apply for all mobile frequency bands and all existing and new applications such as 5G, wireless IoT and wearable devices are designed to comply with relevant exposure limits. Also, national and international health agencies have consistently concluded that no health risks have been established from exposure to the low-level radio signals used for mobile communication. These facts remain valid today, and the publication of the updated exposure guidelines, again confirming that the international limits are protective, supports the mobile industry’s position that adherence to international standards protects against all established health risks. These facts are also in line with the WHO position which confirms that provided the overall exposure from 5G remains below international guidelines, no consequences for public health are anticipated.
National regulatory authorities must adopt the updated guidelines consistently, and the GSMA calls on governments to consult with operators and other stakeholders on the implementation process.
ICNIRP is an independent scientific commission that works with the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the European Commission. ICNIRP members are not employed by industry and funding derives from national and international public institutions