Cisco Switzerland Technology Blog

WiFi networks : Are you immune to RF Fields exposure ? (part 1)

- Friday, 6 October 2017 10:23 CEST


Today’s world is mobile, and most of our modern devices are permanently linked to the Internet by the use of radio waves.

Since we sometimes receive alarming messages about the consequences of being exposed to RF fields from WiFi or mobile base stations, you may wonder how to behave when you are potentially subject to such emissions, and whether or not there are some preventive actions you could consider.

All rights reserved to Sandra Cifo

What are we discussing here?

The first part of this blog will give some inputs from well known health organisations’ studies and reports to better understand what the potential risks, and the current medical stance are regarding RF exposure.

Since there isn’t any definitive study or evidence on this question, the idea of this article is rather to describe how wireless devices work, and based on this, what are the effective prevention actions that anybody can take as an individual or an organisation.

Why should we care about?

There isn’t any real specific WiFi regulation for Switzerland: the country relies on the European ETSI standard for frequencies and power emissions. And based on the limited amount of resources the confederation can engage for health studies, the only existing references are coming from neighbour EU countries or international organisations like OMS/WHO or IARC in France.

What does WHO say regarding the impact of RF fields on the human body?

../.. due to their lower frequency, at similar RF exposure levels, the body absorbs up to five times more of the signal from FM radio and television than from base stations. This is because the frequencies used in FM radio (around 100 MHz) and in TV broadcasting (around 300 to 400 MHz) are lower than those employed in mobile telephony (900 MHz and 1800 MHz) and because a person’s height makes the body an efficient receiving antenna. Further, radio and television broadcast stations have been in operation for the past 50 or more years without any adverse health consequence being established.

Note that WiFi technologies use 2.4 GHz as the legacy frequency range, and a range above 5.1 GHz for the latest high speed WiFi equipment (like with the 802.11ac standard). That means the comment given above is even more relevant for a WiFi device, because the higher the frequencies are, the lower the impact is.

Is it harmless?

Ok, nothing has been formally established, but is there any known effect of RF fields on the human body?

Well, nothing proven, but IARC researchers consider there “may be” some effects (IARC is the International Agency on Research on Cancer, depending on WHO).

So, they came up with this statement:

‘Limited evidence of carcinogenicity’: A positive association has been observed between exposure to the agent and cancer for which a causal interpretation is considered by the Working Group to be credible, but chance, bias or confounding could not be ruled out with reasonable confidence.

The conclusion is written by experts, so don’t worry, there is nothing wrong with you if you have the need to read it several times; however it doesn’t look very good…

Let’s check how IARC classifies cancer root causes:


Group 1 Carcinogenic to humans 120 agents
Group 2A Probably carcinogenic to humans 81
Group 2B Possibly carcinogenic to humans 299
Group 3 Not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans 502

WiFi emissions are part of the Group “2B”: “Possibly carcinogenic to humans”. If I’m not wrong (English isn’t my native language) “possibly” does mean exactly like “sûrement” in french, that is: nobody knows. (i.e either yes or even no).

Any example of a well known cause classified also in this list?

Let’s try with the sun light or ultraviolet devices:

Ultraviolet-emitting tanning devices




The scientists put the ultraviolet emissions in group 1 (carcinogenic to humans), but anyway, everyone knows you have to be careful about the sun in general.

Then, are you going to cancel you next summer holidays in this nice sunny island?

Probably not, because the sun has a lot of favourable effects, too, and because you know that a reasonable exposition time combined with a pair of sun glasses and a good sunscreen will keep you safe from the most serious consequences.

This is the idea when dealing with RF emissions: do not overestimate the effects, but do not expose yourself unnecessarily.

All rights reserved to Sandra Cifo

In a next article, we will provide you with a basic understanding on the way WiFi devices are spreading RF signals, and a pragmatic approach to limit the RF exposition as much as possible.

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