Mobiles, masts and health FAQ's

More frequently asked questions

We designed this page to provide straightforward information about mobile devices, masts and health for customers and the public. If you couldn’t find what you were looking for, these commonly asked questions may help.

Are mobile devices and masts safe?

There is no evidence to convince experts that the use of mobile devices and the masts that make them work carries health risks, when they are operated within the guideline limits set by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). The World Health Organization (WHO) supports this position.

More specifically, experts see the possibility of health effects from living or working near a base station as extremely low. The WHO fact sheet Base stations and wireless technologies, published in 2006, discusses the scientific evidence for cancer clusters and symptoms such as sleep and cardiovascular problems around base stations. It concludes that “considering the very low exposure levels and research results collected to date, there is no convincing scientific evidence that the weak radiofrequency signals from base stations and wireless networks cause adverse health effects”.

Why do we need masts?

Mobile devices use radio frequency (RF) fields to send and receive calls and data via the nearest base station (often called masts or antennas). Many other everyday items also use RF fields to send and receive information, such as television &, radio broadcasting and two-way radio communications.

Mobile devices won’t work without a network of base stations to connect them. Each base station only covers a certain area and can only handle a limited number of calls at once, and so a large number are needed for more people to use mobile devices, from more locations, and for coverage to be continuous when moving around. We expand the Vodacom mobile network to ensure we continue to meet customer demand.

If the scientific evidence says devices and masts are safe, why are there still high levels of public concern?

We recognise that some people are concerned about potential health effects of mobile devices and base stations, and about the siting of base stations in local communities. We’re committed to understanding and addressing these concerns. We also know that the majority of people have no concerns.

We want to provide those concerned with useful information and do soon our website.

Along with other mobile operators, we consult those local communities where concerns are high about siting our base stations. The majority of experts say there is no scientific reason to distance base stations from places where people live and work.

What if I am still concerned?

People concerned about the health effects of mobile devices or base stations may find the World Health Organization’s (WHO) guidance helpful. The WHO concludes that the thousands of scientific studies carried out do not confirm that exposure to radiofrequency fields from mobile devices and base stations has any health effects.

The WHO also provides information on how to effectively reduce mobile device exposure:

“In addition to using "hands-free" devices, which keep mobile phones away from the head and body during phone calls, exposure is also reduced by limiting the number and length of calls. Using the phone in areas of good reception also decreases exposure as it allows the phone to transmit at reduced power.”

(WHO Fact Sheet 193 May 2010 - Electromagnetic fields and public health: mobile devices).

What is Vodacom doing to address the public’s concerns?

We recognise that some people are concerned about potential health effects of mobile devices and base stations, and about the siting of base stations in local communities. We’re committed to understanding and addressing these concerns. We also know that the majority of people have no concerns.

We want to provide those concerned with useful information and do so on our website

Along with other mobile operators, we consult those local communities where concerns are high about siting our base stations. The majority of experts say there is no scientific reason to distance base stations from places where people live and work.

Are mobile devices safe for children?

Experts from the World Health Organization, the European Commission Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR), and national bodies in Ireland, the Netherlands and the UK advise that there is no scientific evidence that using a mobile device can damage a child’s health. The ICNIRP (International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection) guidelines on radiofrequency exposure from mobile devices and base stations include a very large safety margin to ensure this is the case.

We aim to give parents the knowledge they need to make an informed decision regarding their child’s mobile device use. They may choose to balance their children’s access to and use of mobile devices with the security benefits.

Is exposure greater from a mobile device or a base station?

A handset operates at a maximum of 0.25 watts and a base station generally between 2–150 watts, so the power from the base station is greater. However, exposure decreases rapidly with distance, so exposure from the mobile device is greater because it is closer to the body – although still well within guideline levels.

What exactly are the emissions from mobile device masts?

Mobile devices and base stations use radiofrequency (RF) fields to send and receive calls and data. RF fields are a form of low-energy electromagnetic field (EMF) – energy transmitted as waves through space. EMFs surround us all the time. They occur naturally as well as from artificial sources.

EMFs are created whenever an electric current flows. In nature, they are created by lightning and also occur in the human nervous system. Light from the sun is a form of EMF. They are also created whenever an electrical appliance is connected to the mains supply, including many in daily use such as refrigerators, hairdryers and computers.

Many electrical appliances don’t just create EMF – they rely on it to work. Television, radio, cordless devices, remote control handsets, baby monitors and the communication systems used by emergency services all communicate using EMF. So do wireless technologies such as WiFi, which is increasingly used by computer networks, to connect to the internet and to connect different electronic items.

There are many forms of EMF operating at different frequencies. Frequency is related to wavelength – the distance between one wave and the next. The closer together the waves are, the higher the frequency will be.

Some very short electromagnetic wavelengths carry so much energy they can cause molecules to change. Examples include the x-rays used for medical diagnosis and radiotherapy treatment. These are known as ionising fields. Other wavelengths, such as those used by mobile devices and base stations, do not have enough energy to cause molecules to change. These are non-ionising fields. All types of EMF fall into these two categories.

What is a SAR value?

SAR stands for specific absorption rate, which is the standard way of measuring exposure to radiofrequency (RF) fields from mobile devices. It measures the amount of energy from an RF field the human body absorbs. The maximum SAR value, as established under standard test conditions, for each mobile device is provided when it is bought. Many manufacturers also make this information available on their own website or the Mobile Manufacturers Forum website. The SAR experienced at any given time by a person will depend on how and where they use their mobile device.

Is it safe to carry a mobile device close to your body?

There is no evidence to suggest that holding a mobile device close to your body has any harmful effect, provided the device meets the recommended ICNIRP (International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection) guidelines.

SAR values currently measure exposure to the head. We recognise that mobile devices are increasingly worn on a belt or in a pocket, so we have asked manufacturers to supply us with a SAR measurement based on the US test protocol for testing close to the body which is managed by the Federal Communications Commission.

Some manufacturers are updating their User Guides with information for use close to the body and customers who purchase a new mobile device or mobile device may notice a sticker and/or a leaflet in the box requesting that they read the information provided with the device before using it.

What are the health impacts of continuous mobile device usage over a long period of time?

Research into potential health effects of radiofrequency fields has been going on for almost 70 years, and there has been more specific research into mobile devices in the last few decades. Independent bodies regularly review all the available evidence.

There is no evidence to convince experts that the use of mobile devices carries health risks, when they are operated within the guideline limits for RF exposure set by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). The World Health Organization (WHO) supports this position.

We look to the WHO to define health research needs and it has identified long-term (more than 10 years) exposure as a priority for additional research. Such studies are now underway. For example, the COSMOS study in Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK aims to observe the health of 250,000 European mobile device users to look for possible long-term risks.

How long is it safe to use a mobile device for?

In its fact sheet Mobile phones and their base stations, the World Health Organization (WHO) states there is no need for any special precautions when using a mobile device, because the radiofrequency fields people are exposed to are below the limits for continuous exposure of the general public specified by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP).

However, we want to provide those concerned with useful information. People who personally want to can take simple steps to reduce their exposure:

When in use, keep the mobile device away from the head and body by:

  • Using an earpiece (wired or Bluetooth)
  • Using the loudspeaker function (including video calls)
  • Placing the device on a surface when sending data files.
  • Texting instead of calling.

The WHO says: “If individuals are concerned, they might choose to limit their own or their children's' RF exposure by limiting the length of calls”.

Although it is claimed masts and mobile devices may be safe now, what about the future?

Mobile technology is expanding all the time and many items now use RF fields to provide a wireless connection, such as laptop and handheld computers and access points for mobiles devices and broadband. The ICNIRP (International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection) guidelines cover these and future technologies as well as mobile devices and base stations. Our policies and commitments on mobile devices, masts and health also apply to new wireless technologies.

We review the findings of research into RF fields taking place around the world and take the advice of recognised expert scientific review panels and health authorities on mobile devices, masts and health. We will consider new research findings to be significant if one of these panels or authorities advises that the findings change the overall weight of scientific evidence, and changes its position accordingly.


Frequently asked questions