GSMA EMF Forum 2022 sets out the roadmap for EMF policy harmonisation

Authorities should monitor the outcomes of the World Health Organization (WHO) health risk assessment for radio signals and adopt the updated international radiofrequency electromagnetic field (RF-EMF) exposure guidelines. They should also implement the latest technical standards for assessing RF-EMF compliance, particularly for 5G networks.

A look back at the day

These were the takeaway messages from the 11th GSMA EMF Forum held on 11 October in London, UK. Hybrid access meant that there were participants from 56 countries.

Dr Emilie van Deventer, from the WHO, told the event that a technical report providing a scoping review of RF-EMF scientific literature is arriving in early 2023. This is happening in parallel with systematic reviews on priority health outcomes that will be published in a special issue of Environment International. These reports will feed into a WHO Task Group that will complete the RF-EMF health risk assessment.

There is little evidence that Wi-Fi exposure is a health risk in the everyday environment, where exposure levels are typically low, was the main conclusion of a review presented by Professor Martin Röösli, of the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute. He also noted that low quality studies were more likely to report effects. 

Science Panel

The event’s science panel discussed the question Is there a consensus among scientific reviews of RF EMF health risks? Associate Professor Sarah Loughran from the Australian health agency ARPANSA, and Professor Theo Samaras representing the European Commission Scientific Committee on Health, Environmental and Emerging Risks (SCHEER) were joined by Dr van Deventer and Professor Röösli. A recent SCHEER preliminary opinionrecommends updating European RF-EMF rules to align with the latest international guidelines. 

In a discussion facilitated by Dr Concha Muro Lupori, Telefonica Spain, panellists noted differences among review groups in how uncertainty was assessed and communicated. However, the panel agreed that there was a consensus among government expert groups, while noting that some stakeholders may disagree. 

During his presentation, Professor Nicola Pasquino from the University of Naples explained the measurement of 5G networks, including those using beamforming, based on methods described in edition 3 of the IEC 62232 standard. Mike Wood, chair of the IEC technical committee responsible for developing IEC 62232, emphasised that the new methods improve accuracy and are valid for the latest exposure guidelines from the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). 

The United Kingdom recently mandated public RF-EMF exposure limits but allowed operators to assess based on ICNIRP (1998) or ICNIRP (2020). Martin Fenton from the UK regulator Ofcom explained the reasons for this approach, including the availability of methods to assess compliance to the newer guidelines. He also confirmed that after hundreds of measurements, no antennas were found that exceeded the limit values.

Priorities for EMF Policy Panel

The second panel focussed on priorities for EMF policy and communication. It included Martin Fenton along with Dr Alberto Nájera, of the Spanish expert group CCARS; Josette Gallant, of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada and Sarah Wylie, Vodafone Group and Chair of the GSMA EMF and Health working group. The discussion was led by Martin Busch, Deutsche Telekom and Vice-Chair of GSMA EMF and Health. 

The panellists explored the benefits of implementing RF-EMF policies based on international best practice and the need to engage with traditional media and on social media to ensure the availability of accurate information. 

GSMA launched a guide to 5G millimetre wave safety, highlighting how this important resource can be used safely, thanks to national and international safety guidelines for radio waves that apply to all the frequencies used for 5G. GSMA further announced updates to the 5G EMF surveys map, which continues to show that the typical maximum measured 5G EMF level is less than 1% of the international public limits.