Making Waves

The government and sector regulator TRAI have blamed telcos and tower firms for call drops and are mulling penalties while the industry has countered by accusing the states, local bodies and belligerent resident welfare associations (RWAs) of thwarting telecom infrastructure expansion by wrongly claiming that cell tower radiation is harmful. Even as the blamegame over call drops intensifies, ET has put together few pointers based on the industry, DoT and World Health Organisation (WHO) data that suggests cell tower radiation may not be dangerous.

EMG, Radiation, Not Harmful

Why do Telcos claim cell tower radiation is not harmful?

  • Emissions from mobile towers are considered safe as it is non-ionising or “low energy” radiation, which cannot alter the human DNA. At most, it can only induce thermal effects by way of mild warming of the body
  • The World Health Organisation (WHO) is categorical that low-level radio frequency radiation is completely safe
  • Only ionising or ‘high-energy’ radiation as X-Rays, Gamma rays or Ultra Violet emissions can alter human DNA, and hence, can cause harm

Do mobile towers radiate? Myth or Reality:

A mobile tower does not radiate as it is merely a supporting structure. It’s the antennae mounted atop a tower that radiates. Antennae enable transmission of mobile signals.

Radiation from such antennae is largely parallel to the ground with a tiny 5 degrees tilt, and tends to fall and lose intensity rapidly as it travels away. Hence ground level radiation intensity is 10 times lower than antennae emissions.

Accordingly, mobile transmission gear is placed on high roof-tops or atop high masts as radiation is strongest near the antennae and in line with it

So a person below a tower is, typically, exposed to ‘scatter’ or virtually ‘zero’ radiation.

Cell tower radiation is less or comparable with the safe emission levels of regular household electrical appliances like mixer grinders, vacuum cleaners, microwave ovens, hair dryers or shavers.

Are India’s cell tower emissions norms in line with global standards?

India’s tower emission rules are 10 times more stringent than those framed by the International Commission on Non-ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), the global agency that puts out norms on permissible radiation limits for tower firms worldwide.

While ICNIRP pegs permissible tower emission at 4.5 watts/sq. m in popular 900 MHz band, DoT. For 2100 MHz (or #G band), ICNIRP pegs safe emission level at 10 watts/sq m, while DoT has slashed it to 1 watt/sq m.

India’s cell tower emission standards are more stringent than Germany, US, UK, France, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Korea, Brazil, South Africa, Portugal, Ireland, the Netherlands, Hungary, Romania, Finland, Estonia, Sweden, Norway and Denmark, who all follow the ICNIRP rules.

India is among a handful of countries that have tougher emission standards than the ICNIRP norms. The others are China, Russia, Switzerland, Israel, Italy, Greece, Belarus, Poland, Lithuania, Belgium, Chile, Bulgaria and Liechtenstein.

Source: Telecom Industry, WHO, DoT, ICNIRP

Credit: The article was written by Mr. Kalyan Parbat and was published in The Economic Times, Delhi Edition on 16th of September.

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