Cellsites communicate with nearby cellphones using radio signals. These radio signals are made up of radiofrequency fields.
So that people aren’t exposed to strong radiofrequency fields, cellsites must operate within the limits set out under the New Zealand radiofrequency field exposure standard.
Radiofrequency field levels near cellsites
People living near cellsites are only exposed to weak radiofrequency fields. This is because cellsites:
- are designed to send most of the radio signals away from the site, not to the area right next to it
- automatically adjust their power, so they use just enough to handle calls going through the site
- can’t transmit above a maximum power level.
Measurements of radiofrequency fields around towers
Measurements have been taken around several hundred cellsites in New Zealand.
- At most sites, the highest exposure is less than 1% of the limit in the New Zealand exposure standard.
- Where exposures are higher, they are rarely more than a few percent of the limit. None has exceeded the limit.
- Exposures are even lower if there is no direct line of sight to the cellsite.
Overall, the research evidence does not show that such low exposures can harm your health.
Exposure levels around multiple cellsites
Maximum exposures generally aren’t any stronger even where cellsites are close together. Each cellsite only has a small area where the exposure is highest. Radiofrequency fields quickly get weaker outside that area. It would be unusual for 2 or more sites to have those areas fall close together.
Finding out about local cellsites
If you want to find out about exposures from a specific cellsite, you could ask:
- the company which operates the site
- the planning department of your local council – they may have received exposure estimates before a site was installed, or requested measurements once it was operating.
Cellphone technology has evolved over the years as the numbers of users and demand for data has increased. 5G, the next iteration of cellphone technology, will increase the capacity of cellphone networks by allowing more efficient and faster data transmission.
How 5G works
The way information is encoded onto the 5G radio signal is similar to 4G.
- Cellsites using 5G have to comply with the New Zealand exposure standard.
- Current 5G sites in New Zealand use frequencies similar to those already used by cellsites. Eventually higher frequencies will be used. The existing New Zealand exposure standard covers all these frequencies, and research published since the standard was adopted still supports the limits set in the standard.
- Measurements on New Zealand 5G sites show that exposures from 5G transmitters are be similar to those from the current technologies.
- As happens already, if demand increases then more sites will be needed, each covering a smaller area. As they cover a smaller area, they will need less power, so exposures should be no greater than around existing sites.
Questions and answers about 5G
Find out more
You can download independent monitoring reports commissioned by companies that operate cellsites at Cellsite monitoring.
An interagency committee monitors research into the health effects of radiofrequency fields. Find out more at Research into non-ionising fields.
NZS 2772.1:1999 Radiofrequency fields – Maximum exposure levels sets out limits for exposure to the radiofrequency radiation. Find out more at Radiofrequency field exposure standard.
Exposures to radiofrequency fields near 5G cellsites: This report presents the results of measurements of exposures to radiofrequency (RF) fields near 5G cellsites in Queenstown and Auckland.
Exposures to radiofrequency fields near Spark 5G sites in Palmerston North: This report presents the results of measurements of exposures to radiofrequency (RF) fields near Spark 5G cellsites in Palmerston North.
- Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor - The Office provides independent advice to the Prime Minister on scientific matters.
- Ministry for the Environment - The Ministry responsible for the Resource Management Act, which sets rules about where cellsites can be put up.
- World Health Organization – Electromagnetic Fields - The World Health Organization investigates the possible health effects of electromagnetic fields, including radiofrequency fields.
- The Australian Centre for Electromagnetic Bioeffects Research (ACEBR) - The ACEBR, a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Centre of Research Excellence, has published a fact sheet on 5G.
- Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency - The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency has warned people to be cautious about claims of health effects from 5G networks.
- Public Health England: 5G technologies: radio waves and health - Public Health England is an agency of the UK Department of Health and Social Care, that provides government, local government, the NHS, Parliament, industry and the public with evidence-based professional, scientific expertise and support.