The availability of the first working mobile phone model in 1984 sparked a revolution in the world of electronic communications. People were no longer restricted to the home, office, or phone booths to make and receive phone calls. Advances in communication networks in the first-generation 1G network, the second-generation 2G network, etc., resulted in mobile phones becoming an attractive proposition to stay in touch on the go, 24/7.
New Awareness of Cell Phone Radiation Risks
The effect of radiation from mobile phones has been of particular interest to scientists since these devices unlike any other are kept in close proximity to the human body. The spectacular explosive increase in the use of mobile phones since the advent of the modern smartphone in the mid-2000s, as also the fourth-generation 4G wireless standards becoming more widespread post-2010 has made the topic of mobile phones and radiation of great interest to researchers. Let’s delve in and explore a few facets as this topic affects every one of us in a big way.
How Do Mobile Phones Communicate?
Mobile phones communicate with other phones by sending and receiving signals through radio frequency (RF) waves, using signal towers (called base stations) located nearby. This is made possible by miniaturized radio receivers embedded in the phone which captures electromagnetic waves in a specific wavelength band. These radio waves fall between FM radio waves and microwaves. Most mobile phones to date use the 450 MHz – 3000 MHz bandwidth while future models will use the 24GHz – 80 GHz bandwidth in the upcoming fifth-generation network standard 5G.
Mobile Phones and Radiation Emission
We’ve already seen that mobile phones work in a particular bandwidth however your handset only transmits power when it’s turned on. The radiation is generated by the antenna which in most phone models surrounds the phone forming its outer body. Depending on how you use your phone, the power transmission i.e. radio waves either lessen or increase. For example, since you keep the phone away from your body while texting or browsing the internet, the radiation strength decreases significantly. Similarly is the case when attending to phone calls ‘hands-free’. On the other hand, every time you raise the phone to speak, by keeping it close to your body the intensity including the total dosage significantly increases. Also in an area where there are no base stations, mobile phones end up using a lot more power to connect to the nearest tower which causes a spike in radiation emission.
Mobile Phone Radiation and Cancer Risks
Mobile phone radiation is ‘non-ionizing’ which means that they are of low energy thus causing little or no harm. ‘Ionising’ radiation such as gamma rays, x-rays, etc., are high energy particles that can damage ‘DNA’, increasing the chances for developing some form of cancer. So at-most non-ionizing radiation can cause the tissues in the body to heat up but even that would require continuous exposure to high levels of this radiation. Many studies and research has gone into investigating the potential health hazards of radiation emitted by mobile phones. While the studies are as of yet inconclusive, scientists now have a fair idea of both the possible short term and long term impact. Let’s look at the short term impact. As said earlier, the radiation emitted by mobile phones is of the low energy type, which means at most there is only a slight negligible temperature rise in the brain and a more pronounced rise in the area where the phone was closest. This is because the tissue heats a little on absorbing some of the radiation. As said earlier most research on this topic is still inconclusive. This is more so when it concerns the long term impact of mobile phone usage. Long term studies done on animals using radiation fields have shown no occurrences of cancer on them. Similarly, medical research on the links between tumors and mobile phones has also been inconclusive since cancer isn’t detected until the later stages of its growth.
One particularly large scale research into this subject was the one conducted by Interphone, coordinated by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). This study used a large group of test subjects to find out possible cases of cancer on the neck and head. Geographically spread across thirteen countries with a window of ten years, the study found no links between mobile phone usage and meningioma i.e. brain tumor. However, the IARC has based on this study said that radio-frequency waves are possibly carcinogenic in the long run.
Radiation Emission and the Environment
While several studies have shown that mobile phone radiation has minimal impact on humans, the effect on the environment appears to be a little more pronounced. This is truer of cell phone towers/base stations. A cell phone tower is made up of many large antennas, and because it is used as a focal point for many cell phones, the radiation output is larger though not by a huge degree. It has been observed that water bodies close to base station absorb more of the radiation. This can have a possible impact on the health of living beings. It appears that the radiation emission has a pronounced impact on migratory birds. As these birds use the earth’s magnetic field migrate from one place to the other, the radiation from base stations and cell phones does seem to interfere with their sense of direction. A short exposure period to this radiation reduces the reproductive capacity of insects by as much as 50%.
Precautions and Control Measures
While most research on the subject is still inconclusive, there are some simple safety measures one can take to reduce exposure to mobile phone radiation. Some of these are:
- Try using your phone hands-free. This can be done by either using headphones or speaker mode to attend to phone calls. Wireless headsets are also much more convenient as it frees you from restricting yourself to the phone thus minimizing radiation exposure.
- Send a text message instead of calling. This means that the phone is further away from your body. Also, this is a much better way to attend to calls while driving.
- Try to cut down on mobile phone use especially before bedtime. In addition to radiation exposure, the blue light from the screen can affect sleep. Keep the phone away from yourself to reduce radiation exposure during sleep.
One can’t deny that mobile phones have taken centre stage in our lives. However, we also seem to not understand how they truly work and this prevents us from understanding their side effects. More research into the connection between cancers, tumors, and other possible medical conditions and mobile phone radiation is getting progressive as days pass. A few long term studies are already underway in many countries. Research is also underway into the use of mobile phones by children and the health implications thereof. In the end, the key to reducing the impact of radiation emission is to learn to use them cautiously and wisely.