Washington, D.C. – In recent years, a series of studies have shown that a consumer’s choice of wireless carrier may be more important than the cell phone itself in determining how much radiation will reach the user, according to a new analysis by researchers at the Environmental Working Group.
These studies indicate that users of similar mobile devices can be exposed to starkly different intensities of radiofrequency emissions, depending on which network technology their carriers use to transmit signals.
“For the many people who want to avoid excessive cell phone radiation, the choice of wireless network is key,” said Renee Sharp, director of research for EWG. “Yet they don’t have enough information to make that decision, because neither the Federal Communications Commission nor the wireless industry makes public critical information about wireless systems’ radiation levels in real-world conditions.”
One important industry-funded study, published in 2010 but based on data collected in 2005 and 2006, showed that AT&T and T-Mobile 2G (second generation) networks that used GSM and TDMA technologies exposed cell phone users to 30 to 300 times more radiation than Verizon and Sprint networks with a technology called CDMA.
The 2005 and 2006 data don’t necessarily mean that AT&T and T-Mobile networks still emit more cell phone radiation than their competitors. Wireless network technology has cycled through several major evolutions since that time. Other studies have shown that when carriers switched from 2G to 3G (third generation) network transmission technologies, phones operating on 3G networks used less power much of the time, and their users experienced lower radiation exposures.
More recently, cell phone carriers have been moving away from 3G and towards what they called LTE, or “long-term evolution” technologies. Some experts in mobile device engineering have produced evidence that indicates that LTE systems can expose users to more cell phone radiation than the 3G systems. Last year, for instance, a team from the Beijing University School of Electronic Engineering reported that fourth generation LTE antenna designs produced average emission rates two to 60 times greater than 2G and 3G designs.
So what wireless network should consumers choose if they want to lower their exposure to cell phone radiation? The FCC has remained silent about the research findings and does not require the wireless industry to make public useful information on the issue.
The EWG report says that “a growing body of scientific research suggests that network technology plays a major role in determining the level of radiation to which a mobile device user may be exposed. Yet people cannot find out how much radiation will emanate from particular cell phones on particular networks. That information is known only to the cell phone industry.”
At the urging of the Government Accountability Office, Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the FCC is reviewing its cell phone radiation standards. These were set in 1996, when cell phones were heavy, expensive and rarely entrusted to kids.
“Today, many of the most frequent cell phone users are teenagers and children,” Sharp said. “They are more vulnerable to cell phone radiation than adults because their skulls are thinner. Moreover, they will be exposed to these emissions over many more decades than their parents. Nobody knows the long-term consequences of daily exposure to these emissions.”
EWG is pressing the FCC for relevant real-world data on how much radiation different wireless devices emit under various circumstances, and from from various networks.