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How the technology works

Connectivity is key to all we do

Through our business, we aim to build a digital society that enhances socio-economic progress, embraces everyone and does not come at the cost of our planet.

Our mobile devices use radio waves for all the ways that we connect with each other. We explain on this page how your mobile device works, why mobiles need base stations and what radio waves are.

How does a mobile device work?

Your mobile uses radio waves to transmit signals to a network of base stations. The radio waves used by mobile devices are part of the electromagnetic wave spectrum and travel at the speed of light.

When using your mobile device to go online, you can access content either through your mobile network or via a wireless (WiFi) access point. Your choice is communicated automatically to your mobile network using radio waves.

Your mobile device transmits your request to access certain content as radio waves, converting them into electrical signals through a network of base stations and cables to the core switching centre. This time, the switching centre acts as a gateway – either sending content directly to your device or enabling content to be sent from other content providers.

The web content is sent out from the switching centre as electrical signals to your nearest base station. This then transmits the signals to your mobile device. Your mobile receives the communication and converts it back into text, pictures, sound or video.

Did this answer your question?

The short answer is they don’t. Mobile devices need antennas that sit on top of masts to relay your communications. A mast is simply a pole or structure, designed to support a radio antenna. In some places, they are known as towers. With the antenna fixed high above the ground, there are fewer obstacles that can interfere with the path of your phone’s signals. These signals travel to the antenna like a beam of light from a lighthouse.

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We constantly work to improve our mobile network to meet customer demand. Where demand is high, additional radio antennas may be added to a base station. While most people welcome the improved coverage and services this brings, we recognise that expanding our network by installing new base stations or additional antennas on our masts can generate questions from local communities. These questions are usually about the visual impact of base stations and masts or about base stations and health. We are committed to responding openly and transparently to address those concerns.

Did this answer your question?

Radio spectrum can be used for different reasons and to enable different technologies, including mobile and wireless broadband communications, maritime services, aeronautical communications and navigation, television and sound broadcasting, radio navigation and satellite systems, emergency communications and disaster relief, intelligent transportation systems and climate change monitoring.

Each generation of mobile technology (e.g. 4G, 5G ) has different data requirements. For our network to have room to provide all these services, we need more of the radio frequency range.

2G texting
3G mobile internet
4G Video
5G health applications

Access to the different frequencies that mobile networks use are sold by governments and bought by different mobile networks to provide the service that customers want.

Allocation of global radio frequencies and satellite orbits is coordinated by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) – a United Nations specialist agency.

ITU’s Master International Frequency Register records the use of spectrum by radio communication stations worldwide to provide international recognition and protect against signal interference. The agency also develops the technical standards to ensure networks and technologies interconnect seamlessly.

Radio waves explained

Electromagnetic fields are invisible and can be found all around us. They can occur naturally – for example, from the sun—and are also generated by our everyday use of electricity at home and at work.

Electromagnetic fields are not all the same. They are part of a spectrum and are divided into two main categories: ionising or non-ionising radiation, determined by the energy contained in them.

The effects of exposure to these electromagnetic fields vary along differing parts of the spectrum. To ensure people are protected, different regulations will apply depending on which frequency is being used.

One example of ionising radiation is X-rays, which are important in medical diagnostics and tightly regulated.

Electromagnetic fields in our daily lives

Many everyday appliances emit non-ionising radiation while they are connected to an electricity supply and in use.

Your mobile uses non-ionising radio waves to transmit the electrical signals of a call, text or data from one device to another.

Wireless technology guidelines

Wireless technology is subject to international guidelines set by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP).

Many national governments have produced regulations to manage radio-frequency electromagnetic field exposure in line with the ICNIRP guidelines, and introduced regular monitoring of compliance with these limits. In some countries, such as India, stricter regulations than the ICNIRP guidelines have been implemented. Our base stations (including their masts and antennas) comply with national regulations or, where these do not exist, with the internationally recognised ICNIRP guidelines endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO).

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