Vodacom masts and health


On a daily basis, mobile phones help change people's lives and improve communication worldwide by creating access to services

Mobiles, masts and health

On a daily basis, mobile phones help change people's lives and improve communication worldwide by creating access to services and enabling economic development. Although there is no evidence to convince experts that the use of mobile phones and the masts that make them work carries health risks, some people are still concerned.

Safeguarding the health and safety of our customers, employees and the public is paramount. By demonstrating leading edge practices and encouraging others to follow, we aim to lead the industry in responding to public concerns regarding mobile phones, masts and health.

How your mobile works

Your mobile device converts voice and data messages into radio waves, which are part of the electromagnetic wave spectrum. The radio waves are transmitted as electrical signals through a network of base stations. Each base station has a cabinet and antennas to send and receive your communication.
The antennas are usually fixed to a support structure such as a mast. Base stations relay your signal through cables, or a microwave connection, to a core switching centre, from where it is routed to its destination using the same technology.

Our Scientific process

There have been thousands of scientific studies into the effects of radio frequency (RF) fields on health. Scientists know more about this than they do about most chemicals.

Authorities including the World Health Organization (WHO) agree there is no evidence that convinces experts that exposure to RF fields from mobile devices and base stations operated within guideline limits has any adverse health effects. Read advice from the WHO and find further information on the WHO's EMF website.

However, there are still some gaps in scientific knowledge. We look to the WHO to identify and prioritise research needs and are dedicated to supporting independent scientific research into these areas. Scientists and public health officials assess risks to human health based on the entire body of evidence, rather than individual scientific studies. The evidence is considered by panels of experts in this field. We look to such expert reviews for advice on mobile devices, masts and health.

How scientists investigate

Scientific discovery is a process. Those discoveries pass through several phases: from hypothesis, through testing and analysis, to writing up results and publication. That publication may then be reviewed by others in a process known as peer review. In addition, other scientists will often try to replicate the study to see if the findings can be repeated.

This short animated film describes how this process works.

 

How we assess evidence

Scientists and public health officials from individual countries and global agencies such as WHO assess risks to human health based on the entire body of evidence available at a given point in time, rather than by using individual scientific studies.

Evidence is considered by panels of experts from many different scientific disciplines, to ensure all aspects are considered and that conclusions are a combined decision.

We review the research conducted into mobiles, base stations and health where it is:

  • designed, performed and reported independently;
  • conducted under the auspices of a national or international health agency by a panel of experts; and/or
  • published in peer-reviewed literature.

Scientific research must always be carried out to very high, globally recognised scientific standards, including the use of best practice experimental procedures, and must be executed with integrity or the results can be misleading or could be misinterpreted. We publish links to the latest scientific research that meet these standards in an effort to ensure our customers and stakeholders can access the information easily.

Research

WHO: Are there any health effects?

"In a recently published factsheet titled 'Electromagnetic fields and public health: mobile phones', the WHO stated that "a large number of studies have been performed over the last two decades to assess whether mobile phones pose a potential health risk. To date, no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use."

International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) cancer hazard assessment

In May 2011, an expert group from the IARC, a specialist agency within the WHO, announced its cancer hazard assessment for radiofrequency signals, including those from broadcast, mobile communications, microwaves and radar.

Update: The IARC published its full report ('Monograph 102') on the classification of RF-EMF as "possibly carcinogenic to humans" on 19 April 2013.

Frequently asked questions
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How do you know that mobile phones are safe?
Are mobiles devices and masts safe?

There have been thousands of scientific studies into the effects of radio frequency (RF) fields on health. Scientists know more about this than they do about most chemicals. Authorities including the World Health Organization (WHO) agree that there is no evidence that convinces experts that exposure to RF fields from mobile devices and base stations operated within guideline limits has any adverse health effects. Their opinions are based on the entire body of scientific evidence available.

There are international guidelines on safe levels of RF exposure, including that from mobile devices and base stations. Independent expert reviews have concluded that – provided mobile devices and base stations are operated within these guidelines – the absorption of energy from them poses no threat to human health.

There are still some gaps in scientific knowledge and further research is needed. For example, although current evidence is reassuring, it is difficult to assess whether there may be health risks associated with using a mobile device for 10 years or more. Vodafone and Vodacom acknowledge this uncertainty and supports ongoing research recommended by the WHO, such as long-term cohort studies. The Vodafone Group reviews all major research into mobile devices and health and has undertaken to update its policies and practices if one of the following bodies advises that the findings change the overall weight of scientific evidence:

The World Health Organization’s International EMF Project, established in 1996, records global research into mobile devices, masts and health and prioritises research needs. In 2006, they identified the main areas for additional research. These are:

  • The WHO (including the International Agency for Research on Cancer)
  • A reference review
  • A body which has previously prepared a reference review
  • An external expert review commissioned by Vodafone and the EMF Board
Why are some people concerned?

Vodafone Group surveys conducted in December 2009 have shown that there is an underlying perception that mobile devices and base stations present a health risk. In the UK, research shows that 13% of people list mobile phones and masts as a health concern when prompted.

Human exposure to RF fields is not new. But over the last 70 years, developments in information and communications technology have meant that many of us are exposed daily to more artificial sources of these fields – at work, at home and elsewhere.

The human body absorbs a small amount of energy from the RF fields given off by some electrical items, including mobile devices and base stations. This is converted to heat. Our normal biological processes are very good at cooling us down, and prevent any significant temperature rise in our bodies.

However, some individual research studies have suggested that using a mobile device could affect people’s health, and possibly even cause cancer. This has led to articles in the media questioning whether mobile devices are safe, which has increased public concern about the issue. Although most scientists agree that the energy levels emitted by mobile devices and base stations are too low to cause cancer, we do recognise these concerns and take them seriously. There are still gaps in scientific knowledge and we support independent, good quality research that investigates whether low-level RF exposure has any effect on health.

The World Health Organization’s International EMF Project, established in 1996, records global research into mobile devices, masts and health and prioritises research needs. In 2006, they identified the main areas for additional research. These are:

  • Long-term (more than 10 years) exposure to low-level RF field
  • Potential health effects of mobile use by children
  • Dosimetry, or the way the level of absorbed RF fields are calculated or measured.
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How do mobile devices work?

Mobile devices:
  • Need base stations to work and connect customers' calls
  • Use radio frequency (RF) fields to send and receive calls, texts, emails, pictures, web, TV and downloads
  • An RAF signal is sent to the nearest base station (often called masts or antennas), which sends the signal to a digital telephone exchange and on to the main telephone network. This connects the signal to the receiving device, again via a base station (if it is another mobile device);
  • Use the minimum transmit power needed to communicate with the base station
  • This automatically adjusts according to the signal at the base station. The better the signal – the lower the transmitted power needed from the mobile device. The power needed depends on a range of factors, including:
  1. Distance between the mobile device and the base station;
  2. Landscape and buildings between the mobile device and the base station;
  3. Operating frequency band at a given time; and
  4. The service the mobile device is being used for (e.g. texting, data or voice calls);
  • Connect to the base station providing the best signal – usually the nearest.

As a person moves away from the base station the signal becomes weaker, so the mobile device automatically adjusts its own transmit power to maintain the minimum needed to communicate with the base station.

The area covered by a base station is known as a cell. Each cell is usually split into three sectors, which overlap with the sectors of neighbouring cells to create an uninterrupted network. When people travel, the signal is passed from one base station to the next, and typically never has to travel further than the nearest base station.

The size and shape of each cell is determined by the features of the surrounding area, such as buildings, trees and hills, which can block signals.

  • Cells are largest in flat open landscapes, where they can cover a radius of several kilometres.
  • Cells in urban areas typically cover up to a two kilometre radius.
  • The smallest cells, covering a few tens or hundreds of metres, are in built up areas, where micro-cell base stations are used to provide extra coverage and capacity.

Each base station can only handle a limited number of connections at a time.

  • In areas of high demand, additional antennas are sometimes added to a base station to send and receive more calls and other mobile services, or an extra base station is installed.
  • A large number of base stations are needed to allow more people to use mobile devices, from more locations, and for coverage to be continuous when moving around.
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Are mobiles devices and masts safe?

There have been thousands of scientific studies into the effects of radio frequency (RF) fields on health. Scientists know more about this than they do about most chemicals. Authorities including the World Health Organization (WHO) agree that there is no evidence that convinces experts that exposure to RF fields from mobile devices and base stations operated within guideline limits has any adverse health effects. Their opinions are based on the entire body of scientific evidence available.

There are international guidelines on safe levels of RF exposure, including that from mobile devices and base stations. Independent expert reviews have concluded that – provided mobile devices and base stations are operated within these guidelines – the absorption of energy from them poses no threat to human health.

There are still some gaps in scientific knowledge and further research is needed. For example, although current evidence is reassuring, it is difficult to assess whether there may be health risks associated with using a mobile device for 10 years or more. Vodafone and Vodacom acknowledge this uncertainty and supports ongoing research recommended by the WHO, such as long-term cohort studies. The Vodafone Group reviews all major research into mobile devices and health and has undertaken to update its policies and practices if one of the following bodies advises that the findings change the overall weight of scientific evidence:

The World Health Organization’s International EMF Project, established in 1996, records global research into mobile devices, masts and health and prioritises research needs. In 2006, they identified the main areas for additional research. These are:

  • The WHO (including the International Agency for Research on Cancer)
  • A reference review
  • A body which has previously prepared a reference review
  • An external expert review commissioned by Vodafone and the EMF Board
Why are some people concerned?

Vodafone Group surveys conducted in December 2009 have shown that there is an underlying perception that mobile devices and base stations present a health risk. In the UK, research shows that 13% of people list mobile phones and masts as a health concern when prompted.

Human exposure to RF fields is not new. But over the last 70 years, developments in information and communications technology have meant that many of us are exposed daily to more artificial sources of these fields – at work, at home and elsewhere.

The human body absorbs a small amount of energy from the RF fields given off by some electrical items, including mobile devices and base stations. This is converted to heat. Our normal biological processes are very good at cooling us down, and prevent any significant temperature rise in our bodies.

However, some individual research studies have suggested that using a mobile device could affect people’s health, and possibly even cause cancer. This has led to articles in the media questioning whether mobile devices are safe, which has increased public concern about the issue. Although most scientists agree that the energy levels emitted by mobile devices and base stations are too low to cause cancer, we do recognise these concerns and take them seriously. There are still gaps in scientific knowledge and we support independent, good quality research that investigates whether low-level RF exposure has any effect on health.

The World Health Organization’s International EMF Project, established in 1996, records global research into mobile devices, masts and health and prioritises research needs. In 2006, they identified the main areas for additional research. These are:

  • Long-term (more than 10 years) exposure to low-level RF field
  • Potential health effects of mobile use by children
  • Dosimetry, or the way the level of absorbed RF fields are calculated or measured.
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Is using a mobile phone harmful for children?

Children and mobile devices

Having a mobile device can improve children’s personal security, as they can maintain contact with their parents and get help in emergencies.

Some parents are concerned their children’s health may be affected by using mobiles. They may choose to consider what experts say about children’s use of mobiles, as well as the security benefits. The majority of scientific opinion, supported by the World Health Organisation (WHO), is that from the research undertaken to-date there is no clear evidence that mobile phones or base stations present adverse risks to human health and that there is no evidence that children are at special risk. However, with the likelihood of today’s younger population using mobile phones over a longer period, the WHO has identified further research into the use of mobiles by children of different ages as a priority and further research into use by children and long term use is underway. Vodafone closely monitors the results of such research and the views of organisations such as the WHO. To help parents make an informed decision about their children’s mobile use, we provide information and advice from the WHO and its linked organisations. In its factsheet, Electromagnetic fields and public health: mobile phones, published in June 2011, the WHO states that “no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use”. It provided the following information on how to reduce RF exposure from using a mobile phone: “In addition to using "hands-free" devices, which keep mobile phones away from the head and body during phone calls, exposure is also reduced by limiting the number and length of calls. Using the phone in areas of good reception also decreases exposure as it allows the phone to transmit at reduced power". We also provide information from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP, see boxes below), both of whom are part of the WHO.

Information from International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)

In May 2011, IARC classified radiofrequency (RF) fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans, and stated that more research is needed in this area. A number of studies are already underway under the WHO’s research agenda priorities.

The results of one such study, the CEFALO study into mobile use in children, were published in July 2011. The study involved nearly 1,000 children in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Switzerland. The study compared mobile use by children and adolescents aged 7-19 years, who were diagnosed with a brain tumour between 2004 and 2008, with that of a randomly selected group of the same age range. The study found no overall evidence of increased risk of brain cancer, concluding that: “The absence of an exposure–response relationship either in terms of the amount of mobile phone use or by localization of the brain tumor argues against a causal association”.

Information from International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP)

ICNIRP produces guidelines governing radio frequency (RF) exposure from mobile devices and base stations, and these are designed to protect the whole population, including children. All phones and devices sold by Vodafone; and all base stations operated by Vodafone, are designed to comply fully with ICNIRP guidelines. In August 2009, ICNIRP released a statement confirming there is no scientific evidence to suggest that using a mobile device poses adverse health risks for adults or children.

ICNIRP also published a review of the scientific evidence concerning RF exposure in 2009. This states that: “The experimental data do not suggest so far that children are more susceptible than adults to RF radiation, but few relevant studies have been conducted” and that “Overall, there is no robust evidence of any effect of mobile phone type RF on children or adolescents”.

In May 2011, the WHO and ICNIRP held an international health expert meeting on children and non-ionizing radiation. The meeting aimed: “to determine if the ICNIRP guidelines are adequate to protect children – who are different in terms of physiology, anatomy and lifestyle”.

Following the meeting, the Chairman of ICNIRP concluded: “From the scientific results of the workshop, we can conclude that our guidance is adequate. For UV radiation, we do know that people are at risk and now we have even more evidence for this position. In contrast, for EMF, and mobiles in particular, there is no evidence that children are at special risk. This means that there is no reason to change current guidelines. Nevertheless we will continue to review the science, and the outcome of this workshop has contributed to that.”

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We designed this page to provide straightforward information about mobile devices, masts and health for customers and the public. If you couldn’t find what you were looking for, these commonly asked questions may help.

Are mobile devices and masts safe?

There is no evidence to convince experts that the use of mobile devices and the masts that make them work carries health risks, when they are operated within the guideline limits set by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). The World Health Organization (WHO) supports this position.

More specifically, experts see the possibility of health effects from living or working near a base station as extremely low. The WHO fact sheet Base stations and wireless technologies, published in 2006, discusses the scientific evidence for cancer clusters and symptoms such as sleep and cardiovascular problems around base stations. It concludes that “considering the very low exposure levels and research results collected to date, there is no convincing scientific evidence that the weak radiofrequency signals from base stations and wireless networks cause adverse health effects”.

Why do we need masts?

Mobile devices use radio frequency (RF) fields to send and receive calls and data via the nearest base station (often called masts or antennas). Many other everyday items also use RF fields to send and receive information, such as television &, radio broadcasting and two-way radio communications.

Mobile devices won’t work without a network of base stations to connect them. Each base station only covers a certain area and can only handle a limited number of calls at once, and so a large number are needed for more people to use mobile devices, from more locations, and for coverage to be continuous when moving around. We expand the Vodacom mobile network to ensure we continue to meet customer demand.

If the scientific evidence says devices and masts are safe, why are there still high levels of public concern?

We recognise that some people are concerned about potential health effects of mobile devices and base stations, and about the siting of base stations in local communities. We’re committed to understanding and addressing these concerns. We also know that the majority of people have no concerns.

We want to provide those concerned with useful information and do soon our website.

Along with other mobile operators, we consult those local communities where concerns are high about siting our base stations. The majority of experts say there is no scientific reason to distance base stations from places where people live and work.

What if I am still concerned?

People concerned about the health effects of mobile devices or base stations may find the World Health Organization’s (WHO) guidance helpful. The WHO concludes that the thousands of scientific studies carried out do not confirm that exposure to radiofrequency fields from mobile devices and base stations has any health effects.

The WHO also provides information on how to effectively reduce mobile device exposure:

“In addition to using "hands-free" devices, which keep mobile phones away from the head and body during phone calls, exposure is also reduced by limiting the number and length of calls. Using the phone in areas of good reception also decreases exposure as it allows the phone to transmit at reduced power.”

(WHO Fact Sheet 193 May 2010 - Electromagnetic fields and public health: mobile devices).

What is Vodacom doing to address the public's concerns?

We recognise that some people are concerned about potential health effects of mobile devices and base stations, and about the siting of base stations in local communities. We’re committed to understanding and addressing these concerns. We also know that the majority of people have no concerns.

We want to provide those concerned with useful information and do so on our website

Along with other mobile operators, we consult those local communities where concerns are high about siting our base stations. The majority of experts say there is no scientific reason to distance base stations from places where people live and work.

Are mobile devices safe for children?

Experts from the World Health Organization, the European Commission Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR), and national bodies in Ireland, the Netherlands and the UK advise that there is no scientific evidence that using a mobile device can damage a child’s health. The ICNIRP (International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection) guidelines on radiofrequency exposure from mobile devices and base stations include a very large safety margin to ensure this is the case.

We aim to give parents the knowledge they need to make an informed decision regarding their child’s mobile device use. They may choose to balance their children’s access to and use of mobile devices with the security benefits.

Is exposure greater from a mobile device or a base station?

A handset operates at a maximum of 0.25 watts and a base station generally between 2–150 watts, so the power from the base station is greater. However, exposure decreases rapidly with distance, so exposure from the mobile device is greater because it is closer to the body – although still well within guideline levels.

What exactly are the emissions from mobile device masts?

Mobile devices and base stations use radiofrequency (RF) fields to send and receive calls and data. RF fields are a form of low-energy electromagnetic field (EMF) – energy transmitted as waves through space. EMFs surround us all the time. They occur naturally as well as from artificial sources.

EMFs are created whenever an electric current flows. In nature, they are created by lightning and also occur in the human nervous system. Light from the sun is a form of EMF. They are also created whenever an electrical appliance is connected to the mains supply, including many in daily use such as refrigerators, hairdryers and computers.

Many electrical appliances don’t just create EMF – they rely on it to work. Television, radio, cordless devices, remote control handsets, baby monitors and the communication systems used by emergency services all communicate using EMF. So do wireless technologies such as WiFi, which is increasingly used by computer networks, to connect to the internet and to connect different electronic items.

There are many forms of EMF operating at different frequencies. Frequency is related to wavelength – the distance between one wave and the next. The closer together the waves are, the higher the frequency will be.

Some very short electromagnetic wavelengths carry so much energy they can cause molecules to change. Examples include the x-rays used for medical diagnosis and radiotherapy treatment. These are known as ionising fields. Other wavelengths, such as those used by mobile devices and base stations, do not have enough energy to cause molecules to change. These are non-ionising fields. All types of EMF fall into these two categories.

What is a SAR value?

SAR stands for specific absorption rate, which is the standard way of measuring exposure to radiofrequency (RF) fields from mobile devices. It measures the amount of energy from an RF field the human body absorbs. The maximum SAR value, as established under standard test conditions, for each mobile device is provided when it is bought. Many manufacturers also make this information available on their own website or the Mobile Manufacturers Forum website. The SAR experienced at any given time by a person will depend on how and where they use their mobile device.

Is it safe to carry a mobile device close to your body?

There is no evidence to suggest that holding a mobile device close to your body has any harmful effect, provided the device meets the recommended ICNIRP (International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection) guidelines.

SAR values currently measure exposure to the head. We recognise that mobile devices are increasingly worn on a belt or in a pocket, so we have asked manufacturers to supply us with a SAR measurement based on the US test protocol for testing close to the body which is managed by the Federal Communications Commission.

Some manufacturers are updating their User Guides with information for use close to the body and customers who purchase a new mobile device or mobile device may notice a sticker and/or a leaflet in the box requesting that they read the information provided with the device before using it.

What are the health impacts of continuous mobile device usage over a long period of time?

Research into potential health effects of radiofrequency fields has been going on for almost 70 years, and there has been more specific research into mobile devices in the last few decades. Independent bodies regularly review all the available evidence.

There is no evidence to convince experts that the use of mobile devices carries health risks, when they are operated within the guideline limits for RF exposure set by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). The World Health Organization (WHO) supports this position.

We look to the WHO to define health research needs and it has identified long-term (more than 10 years) exposure as a priority for additional research. Such studies are now underway. For example, the COSMOS study in Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK aims to observe the health of 250,000 European mobile device users to look for possible long-term risks.

How long is it safe to use a mobile device for?

In its fact sheet Mobile phones and their base stations, the World Health Organization (WHO) states there is no need for any special precautions when using a mobile device, because the radiofrequency fields people are exposed to are below the limits for continuous exposure of the general public specified by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP).

However, we want to provide those concerned with useful information. People who personally want to can take simple steps to reduce their exposure:

When in use, keep the mobile device away from the head and body by:

  • Using an earpiece (wired or Bluetooth)
  • Using the loudspeaker function (including video calls)
  • Placing the device on a surface when sending data files.
  • Texting instead of calling.

The WHO says: “If individuals are concerned, they might choose to limit their own or their children's' RF exposure by limiting the length of calls”.

Although it is claimed masts and mobile devices may be safe now, what about the future?

Mobile technology is expanding all the time and many items now use RF fields to provide a wireless connection, such as laptop and handheld computers and access points for mobiles devices and broadband. The ICNIRP (International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection) guidelines cover these and future technologies as well as mobile devices and base stations. Our policies and commitments on mobile devices, masts and health also apply to new wireless technologies.

We review the findings of research into RF fields taking place around the world and take the advice of recognised expert scientific review panels and health authorities on mobile devices, masts and health. We will consider new research findings to be significant if one of these panels or authorities advises that the findings change the overall weight of scientific evidence, and changes its position accordingly.

 

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