Your call cannot be connected due to stupidity

November 27, 2009

Disclaimer: I work for a phone company. A big one. Plus I heart science BUT I do not claim to represent the company views with this post…

Just so we’re clear – this is me speaking.

Just me.

OK? Still with me?

Right: cellphones do not give you cancer.

Whew. Glad I got that off my chest.

It really bugs me that there’s so much misinformation about cellphones and how they work. Bandy about terms like “radiation” and “electro magnetic frequency” and people seem to think about CT scanners, X-Ray machines and death rays.

It’s just radio people. Radio. The same radio we’ve had for a hundred years, the same radio that sat in the corner of your grandmother’s parlour so she could listen to Churchill declare war, the same radio that has been bouncing content around the globe for a hundred years.

Radio.

And yet… there is a group of people who think cellphones and cellphone towers are somehow different. That they somehow put out a different kind of radio, that somehow, despite no evidence to prove it, that cellphones and cellphone towers create cancerous growths because they use “radiation”.

Where to begin.

Cellphone towers – let’s start with those.

I found this lovely site – EMF Explained – which has a lovely picture that compares the various transmitters and their power output.

Let’s start at the top, shall we?

TV transmitters: 100,000 Watts.
FM radio: 20-100,000 Watts.

Then you come down a long way to:

Two-way radio base stations: 50-100 Watts.
Cellphone base stations: 2-50 Watts.
micro-cell sites: 2 Watts.

So, assuming there is some cause for concern (and I refute that) and that radio waves are a killer and must be blocked (again, I refute that) then we must immediately turn off the TV and radio masts based on impact to the environment.

What’s that? TV and radio are important and you’ve only just got good signal and you don’t want to miss Celebrity Master Chef?

Now to be reasonable, TV and radio masts are one-way beasts. They stand in the hills and blast radiation (sorry, radio) out to the masses. They don’t get built on your street.

Cellphones are two way devices – they need to be closer to the tiny little units that will send and receive the signal so there are more of them and some of them are very ugly. But some look like rubbish bins or lamposts or chimney pots so it’s all good.

Incidentally, I’ve just installed a 3G booster in my house. It’s sitting in the kitchen. I live in the shadow of a hill so get poor coverage but with this thing (which looks like a wi-fi box and acts like a wi-fi box and generally just sits there with no buttons but a red light saying it’s on) I can actually make and receive phone calls. This is good.

So what about cellphones themselves? You hold them up to YOUR HEAD! ZOMG THE RADIATION IT BURNS OH IT BURNS!

Let’s compare, shall we. Again, EMF Explains er, explains.

Walkie Talkies 0.1 – 5 Watts
Mobile phones 0.002 – 0.2 Watts
Wi-Fi modem 0.1 Watts
Cordless phones 0.01 – 0.2 Watts
Baby monitors 0.01 – 0.1 Watts
Car remote control 0.001 – 0.1

In effect, cellphones can put out up to 0.2 Watts of power. The further away from a cellsite they are, the more power they use, so if you REALLY want to minimise the power output of your phone, have a cellsite close at hand.

Let me say that again – if you’re concerned about cellphones giving you cancer, make sure you’re close to a cellphone tower when you’re talking on the phone. Oh the irony.

Chris Barton has been mentioned in this pages before (more often than I would like frankly) but he’s here again because he’s written a well reasoned piece for the Herald on Sunday about all of this.

The World Health Organisation is putting out a report called Interphone which looks at a large number of studies from around the world reviewing cellphones and whether they cause adverse medical side effects.

Let me give you the short version: they do not.

Let me give you the slightly longer version: low levels of use of a cellphone appear to give you fewer brain tumours than NOT using a cellphone.

Take your time and read that again.

Chris has the longer version here (On Hold: The cellphone tumour rumour) and it makes for great reading. Sadly, I’m sure this won’t be the end of it all.

Check out the New Zealand information here (WARNING: PDF).

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8 Responses to “Your call cannot be connected due to stupidity”

  1. Robbie Mackay Says:

    I agree with you this whole thing is mostly (if not totally) hype, but I don’t think the basic power output comparison is the full story. The different frequencies of radiation/radio waves have different effects, ie. if your microwave used FM your food would probably stay cold.

  2. Robbie Mackay Says:

    sorry – should correct myself… if a microwave used the save frequency range as FM… not if it actually used frequency modulation. I’m sure theres a better comparison but best I could think of right now

  3. audent Says:

    And there you see you’ve exceeded my ability to respond with any proper capability I’m afraid. I just don’t know enough about this area to say whether the different frequency levels have different properties beyond obvious wave length.

    We measure using SAR (specific absorption rate) for handsets and we never get over a fraction of the recommended max…

    Vodafone does get the National Radiation Lab to test around cellsites (bearing in mind that not all EMF comes from that site in particular)… results are posted at http://www.vodafone.co.nz/about/corporate-responsibility/mobile-phones-health.jsp

  4. Simon Young Says:

    It was Chamberlain who declared war

  5. Mysterious Dave Mather Says:

    That’s right Chamberlain did declare war.

    Well, just when I gave up coming here, you go and post again. Twice.

  6. Paul Brislen Says:

    I won’t let it happen again. Too Much to DO!

  7. Luke Says:

    Naughty, naughty! Powered boosters were officially prohbited on both the duopolies networks when I last checked. Doesn’t stop them working damn good though.


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