5G – Harmonization of Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) Standards Worldwide

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In countries with EMF limits significantly below the ICNIRP limits, the rollout of 5G networks will be a major problem


– October 2018: Brussels standards must be adapted to enable 5G deployment

Lars Andersen, Brussels Times: The Belgian Institute of Postal and Telecommunications Sevices (“IBPT”) believes in a study, published on Monday, that radiation standards in force in Brussels should be adapted to enable 5G deployment in the capital.


-October 2018: Brussels govt to propose higher antenna limits to support 5G roll-out
The Brussels region environment minister Celine Fremault said she plans to propose an increase in the region’s limits for electromagnetic radiation from cell antennas, in order to support the roll-out of 5G networks, which will require many more antennas. She announced the move in an interview with L’Echo after the regulator BIPT released a report showing that 5G networks would not be possible under the current radiation limits.


-August 2018: Switzerland

Doris Leuthard (head of the Swiss Federal Department of Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications) is considering, in order to implement 5G technology in Switzerland, to amend the Ordinance on non-ionizing radiation protection so that the limit values in Switzerland are the same as in the European Union (they are currently ten times stricter in Switzerland than in Europe), even if it means bypassing parliament.


-April 2019: Switzerland to monitor potential health risks posed by 5G networks 

Switzerland will introduce a monitoring system to assuage concerns about the potential health impact of fifth-generation (5G) mobile frequency emissions and smooth the cutting-edge technology’s rollout, the government said on Wednesday.

The cabinet agreed to have the federal environmental agency measure levels of so-called non-ionising radiation, assess the risks and regularly inform the public about its findings.

The move comes as some Swiss cantons baulk at authorizing new antennas needed to support 5G services after a spectrum auction in February that raised 380 million Swiss francs ($377 million).

-September 2019: Polish telecom regulator disputes proposed environmental permits for base stations 

Polish national telecommunications regulator UKE has issued a negative opinion on the government decision prepared by the Ministry of Environment, recognising telecom equipment as having a significant impact on the environment, reports Telepolis.pl. If approved, the decision could hold back the deployment and upgrade of mobile base stations and TV transmitters, due to hold-ups from environmental institutions.

-October 2019: ‘No rush’ to bring 5G network to Brussels, says Environment Minister

The Brussels Minister for the Environment, Alain Maron, does not want to rush the launch of the 5G network in Brussels.“Until now, Brussels Environment and the operators were unable to measure the 5G network objectively,” Maron said in the Environment Committee, reports Bruzz. “In any case, I will not take any further steps in this matter as long as Brussels Environment cannot offer me the necessary technical guarantees.The 5G network cannot be established in Brussels, or Belgium, for as long as the Federal government is not putting up the 5G licences for sale,” said Maron. “And as long as the licences are not for sale, there is no rush,” he added.

-October 2019: Poland starts working on new electromagnetic radiation norms

New ceilings of electromagnetic radiation will be higher by comparison to current levels. The 0.1 W/m2 threshold is currently in force in Poland. At these levels, it forms an obstacle to the deployment of 5G. The new thresholds should be similar to those used across the EU: up to 2 W/m2 on the 10-400 MHz band, 2-10 W/m2 on the 400-2,000 MHz band; and 10 W/m2 on the 2,000 MHz-300 GHz band.

In February 2014, the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSMA) published a report “Arbitrary Radio Frequency exposure limits: Impact on 4G networks deployment”, analysing cases where national/local legislations have negatively affected the rollout of faster mobile broadband: Brussels, Italy, Lithuania, Paris and Poland.

The GSMA called for:

  • The European Commission to promote good practice by Member States through harmonization of Electromagnetic Fields/Radio Frequency (EMF/RF) exposure limit policies based on the international guidelines.
  • The Member States to follow the EC 1999 recommendation and latest SCENIHR opinion that exposure limit policies should be based on the international guidelines.

The report stated that the GSMA supports a consistent application of the ICNIRP guidelines by all member states (1)

RF-EMF exposure limits have become problematic for further deployment of wireless networks, especially in countries, regions and even specific cities where RF-EMF limits are significantly stricter than the ICNIRP or IEEE guidelines. In countries with EMF limits significantly below the ICNIRP limits, the rollout of 5G networks will be a major problem. (2) (3)

In China, India, Poland, Russia, Italy and Switzerland, Belgium and cities like Paris, RF- EMF limits are stricter than the guidelines by the International Commission for Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) or Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). These guidelines are currently under review. Because disparities in EMF standards around the world have caused increasing public anxiety about EMF exposures from the introduction of new technologies, WHO commenced a process of harmonization of electromagnetic fields (EMF) standards worldwide). (4)

Some of the technologies essential for 5G deployment (5-7) are:

The EMF exposure limits below ICNIRP or IEEE guidelines do not, in most cases, allow mobile network operators to fully utilize the above technologies. Beamforming might exceed the current EMF exposure limits. Small cells in hot spot areas are problematic, as the current EMF exposure limits prevent placing a large number of small cells due to the short distance between antenna and people. In dense urban areas beamforming and small cells would be essential to provide more capacity. (8 -10)

Telstra states that EMF levels in public areas will be far below current safety standards – even with many more people using wireless connections. (11)

Orange: Environmental EMF levels may increase slightly near to sites with the addition of 5G networks (in the first stage of implementation). 5G systems may increase the exposure level (it will operate in parallel with older one), but final exposure to RF EMF should be similar to the current level (12)

Could ICNIRP be considering increasing the current exposure levels for 5G in countries and regions that do not follow ICNIRP guidelines?  (see notes from Rodney Croft talk).  ACEBR and ICNIRP (13)

Croft is the chair of the Project group that aims to revise the existing guidelines on limiting exposure to radiofrequency fields in the range (100 kHz – 300 GHz) based on the latest  reviews available, including in particular the ICNIRP Reviews, the WHO EHC, and the IARC monograph. (14)

Croft is also part of this group: Data Gaps ICNIRP PG on “data gaps identified during guidelines development”. The task is to draft a research agenda for the whole NIR spectrum, based in particular on the gaps identified during guidelines development. The ICNIRP research agenda claims at identifying knowledge gaps relevant for giving protection guidance. (15)

The consultation process on the draft of the ICNIRP Guidelines on Limiting Exposure to Time-Varying Electric, Magnetic and Electromagnetic Fields (100kHz to 300 GHz) terminated on 9 October 2019.  Information regarding the publication date will be displayed on the ICNIRP website in due course.  (17)

The IEEE has just published (October 2019) its “Standard for Safety Levels with Respect to Human Exposure to Electric, Magnetic, and Electromagnetic Fields, 0 Hz to 300 GHz”. The WHO and ICNIRP has not done the same yet.  https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/8859679/versions#versions

The WHO has issued the following however:

WHO Call for Expression of Interest for systematic reviews on RF and specific health outcomes



Regulatory issues impacting 4G deployment

2. Impact of EMF limits on 5G network roll-out Christer Törnevik Senior Expert, EMF and Health Ericsson Research, StockholmITU Workshop on5G, EMF & Health. Warsaw December 5 2017 https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-T/Workshops-and-Seminars/20171205/Documents/S3_Christer_Tornevik.pdf

3. https://www.gsma.com/publicpolicy/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/GSMA_DigitalTransformation_Delivering-the-Digital-Revolution.pdf

4. http://www.who.int/peh-emf/standards/en/

5. https://5g.ieee.org/tech-focus/march-2017/massive-mimo-for-5g

6. http://www.analog.com/en/analog-dialogue/articles/massive-mimo-and-beamforming-the-signal-processing-behind-the-5g-buzzwords.html

7.  https://www.qualcomm.com/news/onq/2018/04/12/fcc-takes-action-accelerate-small-cell-deployments-and-strengthen-5g-readiness are essential for future 5G mobile networks

8. The impact of RF-EMF exposure limits stricter than the ICNIRP or IEEE guidelines on 4G and 5G mobile network deployment International Telecommunication Union Supplement 14 (05/2018)

9. Implications of EMF Exposure Limits on Output Power Levels for 5G Devices above 6 GHz https://www.researchgate.net/publication/273185927_Implications_of_EMF_Exposure_Limits_on_Output_Power_Levels_for_5G_Devices_above_6_GHz and https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-T/Workshops-and-Seminars/20171205/Documents/S3_Christer_Tornevik.pdf

10. https://www.gsma.com/publicpolicy/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/GSMA_DigitalTransformation_Delivering-the-Digital-Revolution.pdf

11. https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-T/Workshops-and-Seminars/20171205/Documents/Keynote_Mike%20Wood.pdf

12. https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-T/Workshops-and-Seminars/20171205/Documents/Fryderyk_Lewicki.pdf

13. Brief Report from the 5G session at the EMERG meeting in Australia https://betweenrockandhardplace.wordpress.com/2018/06/27/brief-report-from-the-emerg-meeting-in-australia/

14. https://www.icnirp.org/en/about-icnirp/project-groups/index.html

15. https://www.icnirp.org/en/about-icnirp/project-groups/index.html

16. Switzerland: Doris Leuthard: “Our Economy Needs the Thechnologies Made Possible by 5G” http://mieuxprevenir.blogspot.com/2018/08/switzerland-doris-leuthard-our-economy.html

17. https://www.icnirp.org/en/activities/public-consultation/consultation-1.html

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