Current technologies

Introducing new services means we have to expand our network to handle the increased traffic. This often involves installing new base stations, but where possible these are on existing structures such as buildings and pylons, to minimise visual impact. All new mobile devices and base stations comply with the international guidelines for public exposure to radiofrequency (RF) fields set by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP).

Wireless networks are commonly used to create cable-free computer networks, to connect to the internet and to connect electronic items from mobile devices and games consoles to TVs and DVD players. This is clearly much more convenient than using a cable, because people are much freer to use their equipment in different places. Wi-Fi and wireless devices use similar RF signals to mobiles and base stations, and the same concerns over health and well-being have been raised.

The World Health Organization factsheet on base stations and wireless technologies states that:

“Considering the very low exposure levels and research results collected to date, there is no convincing scientific evidence that the weak RF signals from base stations and wireless networks cause adverse health effects.”

If you would personally like to, the WHO suggests the same steps can be taken to reduce exposure when using a wireless device as when using a mobile device, such as keeping it away from your head and body.

In the UK, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) is undertaking an investigation into RF exposure from Wi-Fi networks in schools. A progress update published in October 2010 is available here.

A femtocell is a low-power wireless access point that provides localised 3G coverage. ‘Femto’ means one quadrillionth in the metric measurement system, in the same way that ‘deci’ means a tenth and ‘centi’ means one hundredth. Femtocells do not literally cover an area a quadrillionth of the size of a regular base station, but are essentially very small versions of the same thing. They look similar to a wireless internet router and are straightforward to install at home or the office.

Radio signals inside buildings are sometimes weaker than outside because buildings and walls hinder the radio waves being transmitted to and from the base station. This can sometimes reduce the signal quality, and mobiles have to use more power to connect to the base station.

Femtocells can improve coverage by connecting to the Vodafone network using an existing broadband connection. They then create a local mobile device signal that allows connection with 3G mobile devices. Typically, several mobiles will be able to transmit data and calls through one femtocell at the same time.

For Vodafone, femtocells are a great way to increase our network coverage and capacity without necessarily installing more base stations. They provide a high-quality, high-speed signal, giving improved voice calls and faster data downloads when using a mobile inside, enabling people to access the latest services when at home or at the office. What’s more, thanks to the improved connection to the Vodafone network, the mobile will use less power, so the battery may last longer and RF exposure may reduce.

Like mobiles, base stations and Wi-Fi, femtocells use very low level radiofrequency (RF) fields to receive and transmit data. They comply with the same safety limits for exposure to RF fields that apply to other wireless devices, which are set by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). As with mobiles, there is no scientific evidence that the very low levels of RF exposure from femtocells can be harmful to health.

The RF power output that femtocells use is less than 0.1 watt, similar to other wireless home network equipment, such as a Wi-Fi DSL router. Mobiles connected to a femtocell typically operate at a similar power level to other wireless phones used in the home.

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