Vodafone offers regularly updated information and reports on health and the use of technology.
Mobile phones use radio frequency (RF) fields to communicate with the nearest available base station. Many other everyday items make use of RF fields to send and receive information, such as radios, televisions, walkie talkies, baby monitors and wifi networks. When a mobile phone is used, the body absorbs some of the RF field and some scientists have suggested that this might be harmful.
We recognise there is public concern about the safety of mobile phones and mobile phone sites. It is our responsibility to ensure the health and safety of all our employees, customers and members of the public. We are committed to respond to public concerns on this issue by making objective and independent information available and engaging with stakeholders on this issue.
In New Zealand, radio frequency emission levels from mobile phone sites are set by the New Zealand standard NZS 2772.1:1999. This standard is based upon International Commission for Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), which have a large safety margin built into them, with public exposure levels set 50 times below levels which health effects may be measured. There have been thousands of scientific studies into the effects of RF on health. There is no evidence to convince experts that exposure below the guidelines set by ICNIRP carries any health risks, for adults or children.
ICNIRP recently reviewed their guidelines considering all scientific research since the original publication. Their conclusion was that there was no new evidence of any health effects below their recommended guideline which would warrant any review or reduction of the precautionary limits set.
On 31 May 2011, IARC, a specialist agency within the World Health Organization, announced a cancer hazard assessment for radio frequency signals (RF), including those from broadcast, mobile communications, microwaves and radar.
IARC classified RF as "possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B), based on an increased risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer, associated with wireless phone use." The full findings will be published in 2012.
Based on this assessment the WHO, governments and public health authorities will decide what advice and guidance, if any, is appropriate.
The latest WHO fact sheet published in June 2011, concluded that to-date no adverse health effects had been established for mobile phone use.
For the past 8 years Vodafone has commissioned independent field monitoring of RF fields around its mobile phone sites. These tests are carried out by the National Radiation Laboratory, an independent organisation which is part of the Ministry of Health. This has created a significant public database of sites showing typical RF levels around our sites. Vodafone was the first company in New Zealand to publicly disclose independent monitoring information of RF levels in this way. The results of the tests are available on the National Radiation Laboratory's website.
From 2007 onwards we reduced the number of sites monitored each year. This corresponds with a slowing rate of growth in the number of mobile phone sites, as the focus shifts towards upgrading existing sites to newer 3G technology. In areas of particular public interest we may also commission individual field monitoring tests to meet community demand. Last year we commissioned reports on 10 sites selected at random by the NRL. In some cases we also commission additional reports on specific sites if requested by the local council or community.
All sites tested in the past seven years have complied with the reference levels for the public in New Zealand Standard 2772.1:1999 Radiofrequency Fields Part 1: - Maximum exposure levels 3 kHz - 300 GHz. At all of the sites tested in the past year the maximum exposure was less than one percent of the levels permitted by the New Zealand Standard. A lamppost site in the commercial area of Quay Street, Auckland, recorded the highest reading. The peak reading was 3.5 microwatts per square centimetre (µW/cm2), 0.77 percent of the Standard.
For information on how we go about choosing the location of a mobile phone site see our Network Deployment page.
The strength of a Radio Frequency field's effect on a person can be measured using specific absorbsion rates (SAR). The SAR value measures the energy absorbed by the body as heat in watts per kilogram. The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) has guidelines for a recommended maximum SAR value of two watts per kilogram. All handsets sold by Vodafone comply with these guidelines. SAR values for individual handsets can be found on the Mobile Manufacturers' Forum.
Modern mobile phones adjust the power automatically to the minimum required to communicate with the mobile phone site. Generally, the nearer the site, the lower the handset RF output. When switched on but not in use, handsets send only brief infrequent signals to maintain contact with the network. These are made a few times every hour as a short transmission lasting just a couple of seconds.
For those people concerned about emissions from handsets, the WHO advises that exposure may be limited by keeping call lengths to a minimum, and by keeping the handset away from the head by using a handsfree or speakerphone function. There have been attempts to design mobile phone covers that absorb RF fields, to reduce the person's exposure. The WHO advises that there is no scientific evidence that these are needed, and that the effectiveness of the covers is unproven. They are also likely to affect the quality of service, and may in fact increase the mobile phone's operating power.