Exposure to EMF and Ofcom’s role
All uses of radio spectrum generate electromagnetic fields (EMF) and there are internationally recognised guidelines to help ensure services operate in a way that will not adversely affect health. The guidelines are published by the International Commission for Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) and include limits on EMF exposure for the protection of the general public. We refer to these limits as the “general public EMF limits”. In the UK, Public Health England (PHE) takes the lead on public health matters associated with EMF, and has a statutory duty to provide advice to Government on any health effects that may be caused by exposure to EMF. PHE’s main advice is that EMF exposure should comply with the general public EMF limits.
Ofcom authorises and manages the use of the radio spectrum in the UK through the issue of licences and/or by setting conditions for spectrum use on a licence-exempt basis. In performing that role, we take into account PHE’s advice on EMF exposure.
Measurements of EMF levels around mobile base stations
Ofcom has been carrying out EMF measurements near mobile phone base stations for many years. These published measurements have consistently shown that EMF levels are well within the general public EMF limits.
We have recently published an updated summary report (PDF, 745.0 KB) of measurements taken near 5G-enabled mobile base stations during 2020.
Ofcom can also undertake measurements near mobile base stations in response to requests from schools, hospitals or members of the public, and we offer further information on this service.
Ofcom’s policy on EMF exposure
Our policy on EMF exposure has been subject to two public consultations (which were published on our website), as well as the formal licence variation consultation procedure.
We published our first consultation on 21 February 2020. We proposed to formally require licensees that can transmit at powers above 10 Watts EIRP (or 6.1 Watts ERP) to comply with the general public EMF limits. Stakeholders had until 12 June 2020 to respond (the original deadline was extended due to the first Covid-19 lockdown). We received nearly 400 responses to this consultation.
After considering all responses to this consultation, in our October 2020 statement, we made the policy decision to vary spectrum licences to formally require licensees to comply with the general public EMF limits.
We made this decision because there is in our view a risk that some spectrum users may not be fully aware of the general public EMF limits and may not be fully taking EMF emissions into account when installing, using or modifying radio equipment. We are also concerned that some spectrum users may not have appropriate processes in place to monitor the levels of EMF emissions and ensure compliance with the general public EMF limits on an ongoing basis. We also noted that current regulatory regimes on EMF exposure do not formally require spectrum users to comply with the general public EMF limits and do not put Ofcom in a position where we could take appropriate enforcement action in the event the limits are breached.
We also made a number of changes to our proposed EMF licence condition and “Guidance on EMF Compliance and Enforcement” taking into account all the comments we received.
Alongside our October 2020 statement, we issued a further consultation on the specific drafting changes we made to the wording of our proposed EMF condition and our “Guidance on EMF Compliance and Enforcement”. Stakeholders had until 16 November 2020 to respond and we received 85 responses to this consultation.
We have also had further discussions relating to our proposed EMF licence condition with industry and stakeholder bodies including the Radio Society of Great Britain, the Royal Yachting Association and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.
Taking into account all further comments received, we made some further refinements to our proposed EMF licence condition and “Guidance on EMF Compliance and Enforcement. In February 2021, we published a further version of the EMF licence condition which we used for the formal licence variation process and a revised version of our “Guidance on EMF Compliance and Enforcement”.
On 1 March 2021 we published a General Notice of Proposal to Vary, giving licensees formal notice of our proposal to vary their licences. We invited licensees to submit any representations they wished to make about the proposed variation by 18 April 2021.
Having considered the representations we received, we published our General Notice of Final Decision (PDF, 753.8 KB) on 18 May 2021. This General Notice formally notifies licensees of our final decision. It varies the vast majority of radiocommunications licences and formally requires licensees to comply with the general public EMF limits and keep records demonstrating compliance.
You can read all our policy documents, along with other supporting documents and stakeholders' responses to our consultation proposals.
Some people have expressed concern about EMF exposure from new 5G services. We have provided a short summary of what 5G is and how it works. Ofcom and the UK Government have also collaborated on a more detailed guide to 5G and EMF.
If your licence is in a licence class which authorises transmit powers above 10 Watts EIRP (or 6.1 Watts ERP), it has now been varied to include the new EMF licence condition. However, if your individual licence does not currently allow you to transmit at powers above 10 Watts EIRP (or 6.1 Watts ERP), you will not need to take any action to demonstrate compliance with this condition.