Protocol for personal RF-EMF exposure measurement studies in 5th generation telecommunication networks.

Velghe M, Aerts S, Martens L, Joseph W, Thielens A. Protocol for personal RF-EMF exposure measurement studies in 5th generation telecommunication networks. Environmental Health : a Global Access Science Source. 2021 Apr;20(1):36. DOI: 10.1186/s12940-021-00719-w.



The general population is exposed to Radio-Frequency Electromagnetic Fields (RF-EMFs) used by telecommunication networks. Previous studies developed methods to assess this exposure. These methods will be inadequate to accurately assess exposure in 5G technologies or other wireless technologies using adaptive antennas. This is due to the fact that 5G NR (new radio) base stations will focus actively on connected users, resulting in a high spatio-temporal variations in the RF-EMFs. This increases the measurement uncertainty in personal measurements of RF-EMF exposure. Furthermore, a user’s exposure from base stations will be dependent on the amount of data usage, adding a new component to the auto-induced exposure, which is often omitted in current studies.


The objective of this paper is to develop a general study protocol for future personal RF-EMF exposure research adapted to 5G technologies. This protocol will include the assessment of auto-induced exposure of both a user’s own devices and the networks’ base stations.


This study draws from lessons learned from previous RF-EMF exposure research and current knowledge on 5G technologies, including studies simulating 5G NR base stations and measurements around 5G NR test sites.


To account for auto-induced exposure, an activity-based approach is introduced. In survey studies, an RF-EMF sensor is fixed on the participants’ mobile device(s). Based on the measured power density, GPS data and movement and proximity sensors, different activities can be clustered and the exposure during each activity is evaluated. In microenvironmental measurements, a trained researcher performs measurements in predefined microenvironments with a mobile device equipped with the RF-EMF sensor. The mobile device is programmed to repeat a sequence of data transmission scenarios (different amounts of uplink and downlink data transmissions). Based on simulations, the amount of exposure induced in the body when the user device is at a certain location relative to the body, can be evaluated.


Our protocol addresses the main challenges to personal exposure measurement introduced by 5G NR. A systematic method to evaluate a user’s auto-induced exposure is introduced.


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