Mobile communications

Do mobile masts produce excessive radiation levels?

“One in five mobile masts emits excessive radiation levels” or “Radiation limits greatly exceeded”: the headlines in consumer protection publications and other media are stark. But what is the truth? We asked Andreas Müller, who is responsible, among other things, for ensuring that Swisscom mobile communication masts comply with the set limits.

5G mast rising up to the blue sky with white clouds.

Andreas Müller, there are allegations that many mobile communication masts exceed the permissible radiation levels once connected to the network. Telecom companies have had to reduce the approved power output of over 250 antennas since 2018. What is your response to this?

Andreas Müller: The headlines are misleading. We calculate and forecast the maximum permitted power output of an antenna, but a calculated forecast cannot, by its very nature, take into account all the subtleties of signal distribution. This is precisely why the established acceptance tests are part of the control system.

However, a crucial point is not made in the media: a theoretical maximum is calculated for the acceptance tests that never occurs in reality.

Do you mean that no actual field strengths are measured during acceptance tests?

Andreas Müller: No. When the acceptance tests are carried out, a value is extrapolated that would only occur if the mast were fully utilised. That would be when the maximum possible number of devices at the edge of the mast coverage area with maximum data traffic use the mast at the same time. This never happens in reality; the actual field strength values are much lower.

To give an analogy: imagine if the noise pollution on a road was measured on the basis of cars packed close together in a traffic jam and revving their engines to the limit. This situation is conceivable in theory, but it never happens in reality. It is obvious that these extrapolated results are occasionally slightly above the precautionary installation limit value.

So what is the purpose of the acceptance tests?

Andreas Müller: An acceptance test is used to check the environmental conformity of an installation – whether the antenna installation complies with the installation limit values from an environmental point of view. This is a hypothetical scenario solely designed to meet the compliance prerequisites.

To go back to the analogy: based on the worst-case measurement described above, it is not possible to make a statement about the actual noise pollution under normal traffic conditions. It is exactly the same with the NIR acceptance test. The limit value is not exceeded in reality.

The acceptance tests are explained in the enforcement recommendations for the ONIR (Ordinance on Protection from Non-Ionizing Radiation) of the Federal Office for the Environment and specified in the form of technical measurement recommendations produced by METAS (Federal Institute of Metrology).

Switzerland also imposes extremely rigorous limit values by international comparison. The ONIR sets limits for places where people spend longer periods of time that are 10 times higher than those recommended by the World Health Organisation for prevention.

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