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Health: the science and evidence

At Vodafone, we are committed to ensuring the health and safety of all. Our mobile devices and the base stations that send and receive your communications operate well within the guidelines set by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Protection (ICNIRP).

ICNIRP is an independent advisory body working in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO). These guidelines incorporate substantial safety margins to deliver protection for everyone. There is no evidence to convince experts that mobiles or base stations carry any risk to human health when operating within these international safety guideline limits.

2020: Following an extensive review of the best science currently available, the independent body ICNIRP has updated the international safety guidelines that provide protection from exposure to EMF from mobile devices and networks.  

Although ICNIRP has made several minor adjustments to its 1998 guidelines, the review confirmed that there are no adverse effects on human health from radiofrequencies used by mobile technologies, including 5G, if exposure is below these guidelines.

Vodafone always operates its mobile networks strictly within national regulations, which are typically based on, or go beyond, ICNIRP’s guidelines, and we regularly monitor our operations in each country to ensure we meet those regulations.

Base stations and health

What do the experts say?

Base stations are designed to send and receive electrical signals from mobile devices and relay them to a core switching centre. Each base station consists of antennas and a cabinet with equipment to power it. The antennas are usually fixed to a support structure, which is known as a mast.

Your mobile phone only works if it can connect to a base station. The majority of experts and national advisory boards say there is no scientific reason to distance base stations from places where people live and work. This is as long as the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) guidelines are adhered to. These guidelines include a substantial safety margin.

The World Health Organization (WHO) fact sheet on base stations and wireless technology states that:

....there is no convincing scientific evidence that the weak RF [radio frequency] signals from base stations and wireless networks cause adverse health effects.

Surveys have shown that the RF exposures from base stations range from 0.0002% to 2% of the levels of international exposure guidelines, depending on a variety of factors such as the proximity to the antenna and the surrounding environment. To offer further reassurance, some governments have introduced a national database that shares independent information about the location of base stations and the amount of radio waves they produce. Vodafone has provided information to assist these programmes in Greece, the UK, Egypt, India and the Netherlands.

Independent reports

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.

Is 5G safe to use?

5G frequencies are covered by existing international and national exposure guidelines and regulations for radio-frequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF).

What do the experts say?

Your mobile device converts radio waves into electrical signals in order to send and receive your communications. At its peak (when the phone is turned on), power use ranges between 0.1 and 2 watts.

The radio waves that mobile devices rely on are at the non-ionising end of the electromagnetic spectrum. While a mobile device is used close to the human body, a small amount of energy from the radio waves is absorbed and this is converted into heat.

Scientific research has concluded that a temperature rise of no more than one degree Celsius is a safe level for the body. Our normal biological processes cool us down and prevent any significant temperature rise in our bodies.

The vast majority of experts, including the World Health Organization (WHO), agree that mobiles, operated in line with international guidelines, do not produce enough energy – and therefore heat – to cause long-term changes in the body.

WHO periodically reviews the science and is currently conducting another risk assessment of radio frequency electromagnetic fields.

The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) regularly reviews the published science and has set guidance on the health and environmental effects of non-ionising radiation to protect people and the environment.

Adherence to ICNIRP guidelines for mobiles and base stations is based on the scientific findings about heating and ensures that the level is not exceeded. All of the mobile devices that we sell are manufactured to comply with these guidelines.

Provided the device meets these recommended ICNIRP guidelines, there is no evidence to suggest that holding a mobile close to your head or body has any harmful effect.

Children and mobiles

All our phones and devices conform to international guidelines, which ensure protection for everyone.

The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) guidelines are designed to protect the entire population, irrespective of a person’s age, and include a substantial safety margin.

Children use mobiles to study, stay in touch, for gaming and to go online. Some parents are concerned that their children’s health may be affected by their regular use. To help parents make an informed decision about their children’s mobile use, we provide information and advice from the World Health Organization (WHO) and its linked organisations.

The majority of national and international scientific opinion, including from WHO, has concluded that the research undertaken to date shows no evidence of risks to human health.

“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.” WHO October 2014

As young people today are likely to use mobile phones over a much longer period in their lifetime, WHO has made it a priority to carry out further research into this area. Studies into the use of mobiles by children and usage of more than 10 years are currently under way. Vodafone closely monitors the results of such research and the views of international bodies such as WHO.

Exposure limits and SAR testing

Public exposure to radio waves from mobiles is measured using the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR).

SAR expresses the amount of energy absorbed by the human body from a mobile device in watts per kilogram (W/kg). ICNIRP guidelines recommend a maximum SAR limit of 2W/kg and all mobiles operating below this level are considered safe to use. Handsets sold by Vodafone comply with this limit.

Some countries, such as India, Canada, South Korea and the United States, have adopted an alternative, slightly lower SAR limit of 1.6W/kg. Mobiles sold in these countries are tested to ensure compliance with the relevant local SAR limit.

Specific Absorption Rate testing

SAR testing uses standard models of the human head and torso that are filled with liquids to simulate the absorption characteristics of human tissue. Each mobile phone model produced is tested by the relevant phone manufacturer. Each is tested while operating at its highest power level, in all of its operating frequency bands, and in specified positions against the head and body. A robotic probe takes measurements of the electric field in a precise grid pattern in the model of the head and torso. The results are submitted as part of the equipment approval test report for final authorisation.

The SAR-Tick label confirms that your mobile phone complies with international exposure standards. It is part of an effort by the Mobile Manufacturers Forum to help consumers learn more about national and international exposure standards for their mobile phone or wireless devices. For SAR information about your phone, please see the manufacturer’s website.

Our commitment to addressing public concerns

Our vision is to lead within the industry in responding to public concerns about mobile masts and health; communicating openly and transparently. We provide information on our global and national websites, as well as in our stores and via our call centres.

Monitoring scientific research

From the launch of the UK’s first cellular telephone service in 1985 to the first text message in 1992 and the first smartphone in 2000, mobile technology has been rapidly adopted. The number of active mobile devices in circulation exceeds 7 billion worldwide.

There have already been thousands of scientific studies into the effects of electromagnetic fields on health. The vast majority of experts agree there is no evidence to convince experts that mobiles or base stations have adverse health effects, when operated within guideline safety limits.

There are still some gaps in scientific knowledge, and additional scientific research continues to take place, including studies prioritised by the World Health Organization (WHO), which Vodafone follows closely.

The primary role of WHO is to direct and coordinate international health within the United Nations’ system. Its position and guidance are respected and recognised by governments throughout the world. Current areas identified by WHO for ongoing research are:

  • population-based studies;

  • effects on the brain;

  • early life and children;

  • ageing and degenerative disease; and

  • RF exposure levels from new technologies.

Independent advice from the World Health Organization

The World Health Organization (WHO) directs and coordinates research and produces guidance and information about international health issues within the United Nations system. It has published various fact sheets providing information and guidance on electromagnetic fields and public health.