Key Takeaways from GSMA EMF Forum 2023

The GSMA EMF Forum 2023 returned to Brussels on 26 September with a mix of hybrid and in person only sessions. Plans to update the European Union recommendations for public electromagnetic field (EMF) exposure limits; publication in 2024 of a new World Health Organization (WHO) health risk assessment for radio waves; and moves by countries to modernize EMF rules were among the topics discussed.

In Europe, the Scientific Committee on Health, Environmental and Emerging Risks (SCHEER) concluded that it ‘could not identify moderate or strong level of evidence for adverse health effects resulting from chronic or acute RF EMF exposure from existing technology’ at levels below the current guidelines for workers and the public. However, they recommend updating limits to account for new technologies, especially at higher frequencies. SCHEER was recently mandated to propose new limits for public exposure ‘in the light of the latest available scientific evidence, including the ICNIRP guidelines updated in 2020.

The WHO is conducting a health risk assessment of the adverse health effects of exposure to radio waves to be published as an Environmental Health Criteria monograph in mid-2024 Inputs include a scoping report and systematic reviews that will be examined by a Task Group of independent experts.

During the forum, policy makers and industry representatives debated different approaches to EMF limits. Malta is one of the first countries in the European Union to use both the updated international EMF limits and the latest technical standard for EMF assessment. This decision ensures up-to-date health protection and aligns with national digital policy goals. In contrast, countries such as Greece and Italy with restrictive EMF limits continue to report difficulties with site sharing and impacts on network performance. It was explained that operators typically apply international limits where no formal EMF policy exists.

Reasons for the slow adoption of the ICNIRP (2020) guidelines for public exposures (12 countries to date) were discussed. There is more progress in the use of the IEC standard (IEC 62232:2022) and technical report (IEC TR 62669 edition 3) for EMF assessment of base stations. The former provides technical methods independent of national EMF limits and covers all mobile technologies, including 5G. The latter includes case studies of how the methods can be applied, with an updated version scheduled for publication in 2025.

It is the GSMA’s view that national EMF policies should be evidence based and harmonized with international recommendations and technical standards.

It was pointed out that globally more than €150 million was invested over 25 years in research on pre-5G technologies greatly expanding scientific knowledge. This research is highly relevant to 5G using similar frequencies. For the newer frequencies, additional research is underway, including the CLUE-H projects supported by the European Commission. While research continues the scientific consensus is that no health risk is expected provided exposure limits are not exceeded.

GSMA took the opportunity of the EMF Forum 2023 to launch updated versions of the Risk Communication Guide for Mobile Phones and Base Stations, and a report on EMF from 5G, the Internet of Things (IoT) and Wearable Devices. The Risk Communication Guide includes expanded guidance on responding to social media, and updated graphics explaining the application to radio frequencies of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) hazard assessment process. New infographics in English and Spanish address 5G mmWave safety.

For more information slides and a recording of the hybrid sessions are available here.