Exposure to electromagnetic fields
Update 20 April 2020 – Update in relation to COVID-19:
We are aware of theories being shared online and on social media claiming that 5G technology is connected to, or responsible for, the COVID-19 pandemic. These claims are wrong; there is no scientific basis or credible evidence for them.
Public Health England says that “there is no plausible mechanism that would explain any such a relationship” between 5G mobile and coronavirus.
Ofcom regulates the use of radio frequencies by mobile networks. We are not responsible for setting electromagnetic field (EMF) safety levels, but we do test EMF levels near to mobile phone base stations.
As an expert health body, Public Health England (PHE) takes the lead on public health matters associated with radiofrequency electromagnetic fields, or radio waves. PHE has a statutory duty to provide advice to Government on any health effects that may be caused by exposure to EMF. We take into account PHE’s advice when carrying out our functions, including those relating to managing the use of radio spectrum.
PHE’s main advice is that EMF levels should comply with the ICNIRP Guidelines. ICNIRP is formally recognised by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The guidelines developed by ICNIRP cover all frequencies used for mobile telecommunications in the UK, including new 5G services.
In relation to 5G, PHE’s view is that “the overall exposure [from all mobile network EMFs, including 5G] is expected to remain low relative to [the ICNIRP] guidelines and, as such, there should be no consequences for public health”.
Measurements of EMF levels from mobile base stations
Ofcom has been carrying out radio frequency electromagnetic field (EMF) measurements near mobile phone base stations for many years. These published measurements have consistently shown that EMF levels are well within the internationally agreed levels published in the ICNIRP Guidelines.
In April 2020, we published the updated results (PDF, 553.7 KB) of EMF exposure measurements at locations near 5G-enabled mobile phone base stations. Ofcom will continue to undertake EMF measurements and publish the results on its website.
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.
Requirements on mobile operators and other spectrum users
Mobile operators are responsible for ensuring that EMF levels from their networks are within the limits set out in the ICNIRP Guidelines. The industry Code of best practice on mobile network development in England was updated in 2016. This sets out (at paragraph 7.5) the need for certificates of ICNIRP compliance to be provided with planning applications and for operators to continue to ensure all sites remain compliant.
In February 2020, Ofcom published a consultation which proposes to include a specific condition in Wireless Telegraphy Act licences requiring licensees (including mobile operators and other radio users) to comply with the ICNIRP Guidelines.
This licence condition would apply to all radio equipment that is authorised to transmit at powers above 10 Watts EIRP. We are proposing to include the new condition in new licences and vary existing licences to include the new condition.
- Public Health England - Mobile phone base stations: radio waves and health
- Public Health England - Radio waves: reducing exposure from mobile phones
- Public Health England - 5G technologies: radio waves and health
- World Health Organization (WHO) - Electromagnetic Fields
- WHO - Electromagnetic fields and public health: mobile phones
- WHO - Electromagnetic fields and public health: base stations and wireless technologies
- ICNIRP Guidelines (1998) for limiting exposure to time-varying electric, magnetic, and electromagnetic Fields (up to 300 GHz), Health Physics Vol. 74, No 4, pp 494-522, 1998
- ICNIRP Guidelines (2020) for limiting exposure to electromagnetic fields (100 kHz to 300 GHz)
- Health and Safety Executive (HSE) – the HSE regulates work that causes or could cause EMF exposure of workers or the public and has published information which covers matters relating to mobile phone technology.