Wi-Fi, smart meters and similar low-powered telecommunication devices use radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF) to transmit information over short distances (up to around 100 meters). The levels of RF-EMF emitted by these devices is very low and well below recommended exposure limits (EMF Guidelines). There is no established scientific evidence that exposure to RF-EMF at these low levels adversely affects the health of the general population, including children.
What is Wi-Fi?
Wi-Fi, short for Wireless Fidelity, is a technology which allows high-speed wireless connection between devices over short distances, such as a laptop and a Wi-Fi router or modem. They allow access to services such as internet without using cables (wirelessly). Wi-Fi networks are common in domestic as well as public indoor and outdoor environments (buildings such as offices and schools, streets and parks etc). Wi-Fi is the most popular technology used within wireless local area networks (WLAN). These networks require all connected devices, such as Wi-Fi routers and laptops, to have one or more antennas that emit and receive RF-EMF.
Wi-Fi devices typically use 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz frequency bands. Dual-band Wi-Fi devices emit RF-EMF in both frequencies. The so-called 5G Wi-Fi, not to be confused with the new mobile 5G technology [Link to our page on 5G], uses the 5 GHz band and provides higher and faster data transfer (bandwidth) but has a shorter range (~10m indoors and ~30m outdoors), compared with the more common 2.4 GHz band which can reach ~30m indoors and ~100m outdoors.
Is Wi-Fi regulated in Ireland?
Wi-Fi and other WLAN technologies operating in the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands are “licence exempt”, which means that these frequencies can be freely used and shared by users. Compliance with specific international (IEEE), European (ETSI) and Irish (NSAI) Standards ensures that problems of compatibility and interference are avoided, and that RF emissions comply with the recommendations issued by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). At the national level, the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) requires compliance with maximum transmit power, which for devices operating indoors is 100 mW at the frequency band of 2.4 GHz and 200 mW for the 5 GHz band. Limiting the maximum transmit power ensures that RF levels from these devices remain below the ICNIRP recommended exposure limits.
RF-EMF exposure levels from Wi-Fi
Measurements carried out in various countries show that RF-EMF levels from Wi-Fi devices are very low and well below the recommended exposure limits issued by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) (EMF Guidelines). Typical exposure levels indoors range between ~2 V/m at 1m and ~5 V/m at half a meter from the Wi-Fi router. Users of outdoor Wi-Fi networks are usually several metres from the devices. Therefore, exposure levels from Wi-Fi outdoors are typically below 1 V/m. These values are well below the recommended exposure limits for both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands (61 V/m).
Smart meters allow real-time recording, management and transmission of consumption information such as gas and electricity. In Ireland, smart meters are being rolled out throughout the country by ESB Networks since 2019. It is expected that every premise will have a new smart electricity meter by 2024 (see CRU website on smart metering for more details).
RF exposure levels from Smart Meters
Smart meters use various technologies to monitor electricity and/or gas consumption, which involve networking several devices in the household premises. Smart meters also transmit and receive data wirelessly from and to a central server. Connections with other devices within the house typically use Wi-Fi like signals. Wireless signals similar to 2G mobile technology (text messaging) are used to communicate with the central server. Measurements carried out in various countries show that exposure levels from smart meters range between 8 V/m at 30cm and 3 V/m at 2m from the device. The EMF levels are even lower several metres from the devices. These values are well below the recommended exposure limits for the frequencies used by these devices (41-58 V/m).
What is known about the health effects from exposure to Wi-Fi, smart meters and similar RF devices?
People using Wi-Fi equipment, such as routers or modems, and Wi-Fi enabled devices, such as phones or laptops, are exposed to the RF signals emitted by these devices.
However, the levels of RF-EMF emitted by these wireless devices is very low and well below the recommended exposure limits issued by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). Therefore, it is the assessment of the World Health Organization (WHO) and most Public Health Agencies worldwide that the there are no established health effects associated with exposure to the RF emissions from Wi-Fi and smart meters.