Mobile base stations and health
Mobile phones and wireless devices rely on a network of base stations that send and receive calls and provide other mobile services such as wireless broadband, video calling, and mobile TV. Base stations need to be located close to users in order to provide a reliable service and good quality reception.
Detailed information on how mobile networks and base stations work is available at EMF Explained.
Base stations operate at relatively low power, with independent surveys demonstrating that the background EME level in the community from base stations is very low, and similar to environmental EME levels from broadcast radio and television.
The World Health Organization monitors scientific research into EME and base stations and concludes:
“Considering the very low exposure levels and research results collected to date, there is no convincing scientific evidence that the weak RF signals from base stations and wireless networks cause adverse health effects”
Source: WHO Online Q&A September 2013
The conclusion from ARPANSA on base stations and health is:
“Current research indicates that there are no established health effects from the low exposure to the RF radiation from mobile phone base station antennas”
Source: ARPANSA web site Mobile Telephone Communication Antennas and Health Effects
Australian Government, Department of Communications has information online for the community, schools and parents, on towers, radiocommunications facilities, mobile phones, Wi-Fi and electromagnetic energy, including an explanatory video.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has developed an online EME consumer hub to provide clear and concise information on a range of EME topics in a single location.
The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) has adopted the radiofrequency safety standards recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The safety standards are developed using all available scientific literature and are designed to offer protection against identified health effects of EME with a large in-built safety margin.
Radiofrequency transmitters, including mobile network base stations and commercial radio and TV broadcast towers, are regulated for their environmental EME levels. Specifically, regulations are in place to limit the strength or level of the radiofrequency signals in the environment from all radio transmitters including Telstra's mobile network base stations. They are not based on distance, or creating "exclusion zones" for residential or other sensitive areas.
That is why from a public health perspective telecommunications facilities are permissible in any environment, including on apartment buildings and hospitals, and even within schools grounds.
The safety standard limits the network signal strength to a level low enough to protect all people, in all environments, 24-hours a day. The safety limit itself, recommended by the WHO, has a significant safety margin, or precautionary approach built into it.
Telstra and all other mobile network carriers in Australia must demonstrate that they comply with national RF EME safety limits when proposing a new base station.
The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) has developed an Environmental EME Report that all carriers must produce for each proposed new base station. These reports are publicly available on the Radio Frequency National Site Archive. The RFNSA can be accessed at www.rfnsa.com.au and you can search for base stations by address, suburb, postcode, or site number.
The Environmental EME Report predicts the maximum signal strength from the proposed facility - assuming that it is handling the maximum number of phone calls and data connections possible 24-hours a day. The maximum EME level from the proposed base station is presented as a percentage of the standard.
In reality, mobile base stations are designed to operate at the lowest possible power - lower than the maximum capacity demonstrated in the Environmental EME report. Once a connection has been established, the base station and device reduce their power automatically to the lowest level required to maintain a connection.
However, ARPANSA requires all network carriers to show the maximum signal strength of a proposed new facility to give the community peace of mind about the greatest possible impact that the antennas could have on the environment.
Base Stations are located in a patchwork of cells across the metropolitan and regional areas of Australia. They are located close to mobile phone users to ensure that users can rely on high quality, continuous coverage. The number of base stations required to provide network coverage to an area is greatly affected by the number of users in that area and other facts such as local terrain and obstructions.
Base stations can be found in just about every urban setting. They are located on apartment buildings, commercial buildings and industrial estates, on existing utility structures such as light poles and high voltage electricity towers, on hospitals, university campuses, shopping centres and corner stores, at clubs and sports complexes, and in local parks.
In dense urban areas such as a city central business district, small micro-cell antennas can be located only hundreds of metres apart to ensure that there is enough network capacity to cater for the large number of people making calls on their mobiles at any one time. In suburban settings, antennas are typically several kilometres apart, and in regional areas they can be as much as 30 kilometres apart.
Some commercial buildings such as shopping centres and office blocks are also fitted with small "in-building" base stations that provide coverage to that building specifically.
Telstra tries hard to strike a balance between providing reliable, continuous coverage for services that we know people use every day and finding suitable locations for our infrastucture. While we always endeavour to minimise the impact and disturbance of our infrastructure on the local community by co-locating antennas on existing telecommunications poles or placing our infrastructure in industrial or built-up commercial areas wherever possible, it is sometimes impossible to avoid residential areas.
Base Station located on apartment building rooftop lift motor room. Antennas are mounted behind colour matched screening
Microcell base station mounted on street light pole
Base station located on suburban street to visually blend with street scape.
Base station and outdoor equipment cabinet located on a main road.
Base station antennas located in a church's cross structure