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FAQs

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1. Mobile Phone Base Stations And The Network:
   
Q What is a base station?
   

A

Radio base stations enable mobile phones to work. Base stations receive signals from mobiles - which are low-powered two-way radios - and transmit them to other mobile or fixed networks. Commonly called 'masts', their antennas can be attached to a freestanding mast or existing structures such as roof tops or water towers.

Q How many are there and will this number increase?
 

 

A

There are approximately 52,500 mobile phone base station sites in the UK. This infrastructure supports the growth in accessing the internet through mobile phones, and other enabled devices such as tablets and e Readers; there are now over 82.7 million mobile subscriptions in the UK. Operators are increasingly sharing sites but the advent of 4G means that some new masts will be needed to reach small rural communities, although operators will reuse and upgrade existing sites as much as possible.

Q

Why do we need them?

 

 

A

Without base stations, calls cannot be made. If base stations are too far away from each other, holes in coverage appear and calls are interrupted 'or dropped' when mobile users are on the move.


Q

Why do we need more?
   
A

Radio waves only travel a certain distance and base stations can only carry a limited number of calls at the one time. To meet increasingly high demand in busy areas, more base stations are needed.

 

 


Q

Why is there not just one network which all operators could use?
   
A

There are currently four mobile phone network operators in the UK. When licences were granted by the Government, under the Telecommunications Act 1984 and Wireless Telegraph Act (1949 and 1998) to operators it was to promote effective and sustainable competition. The operators are required to build and operate independent mobile phone networks. It would require changes by Government to the regulations associated with telecoms before individual operator networks could consider being combined into one.

 

 


Q

Will new technologies, such as 4G, result in even more base stations?
   
A

The number of base stations required in the future depends on a number of factors, these include the technology used, the transmission frequency and power, the amount of radio spectrum made available to each operator and the use and reuse of infrastructure. While some new base stations will be required, it is unlikely that the introduction of new technologies will have a significant increase in site requirements since the existing 2G and 3G infrastructure will be reused as much as possible to constrain the high costs associated with acquisition and deployment of new sites.

 

 


Q

Why do they have to be outside my house?
   
A

Base stations are built where customers need coverage. They are usually placed about 200-500m apart in towns and 2-5km apart in rural areas, but operators do all they can to ensure they are sensitively placed. Under siting procedures called "The Ten Commitments", operators have put in place procedures to consult local planners and local communities before a planning application is lodged.

 

 

 Q

 Why is my reception worse in a rural area than in a city?

 A

 Though coverage across the UK is good, lower population density and challenging topography limits coverage in some rural areas. Operators are committed to working to extend the benefits of mobile communications as widely as possible and are keen to work with local communities to do so.  

 

 

 Q

 What is stopping improvement to coverage in rural areas?

 A

 Connecting a base station to the rest of the network is more expensive in rural areas than urban ones. Getting an electricity supply and telephone lines to rural sites can cost four times as much as in urban areas. Maintence costs are also higher. In areas of low population density the consequent lack of revenue available to cover capital expenditure and operating costs makes sites commercially unviable. 

   
 Q  What are operators doing to improve coverage for rural areas?
 A Mobile network operators are working with Ofcom and Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK), with other public bodies and stakeholders in local areas to bring together relevant expertise to find creative solutions to resolve lack of coverage in areas where commercial solutions ase unviable. 
   

Q

Why can't you share the mast down the road?
   
A

Operators share masts whenever they can, but this is not always possible. Site sharing means more than one antenna is on a mast, making it taller and more visually intrusive. In some cases, the community and local planners may prefer several smaller masts rather than one large one. Also, different radio frequencies used by separate operators may interfere with each other and prevent site sharing.

 

 


Q
Why can't base stations be more attractive?
   
A

Where possible, operators try to prevent masts from blotting the landscape. Slim line versions with a smaller head frames are being introduced. They can be painted to blend in with their surroundings, disguised as trees or placed on street lamps. Base station antennas can also be put on structures like roof tops, high voltage electricity pylons or large radio communication masts.

 

 


Q

Why are antennas hidden behind street signs, shop fronts etc?
   
A

Microcells - tiny radio base station antennas - help operators meet high customer demand in busy areas. They are usually mounted at street level on external walls, lamp posts or neon shop signs and can often be disguised as building features. Microcells are typically about 300m-1km apart and have lower radio wave outputs than larger base stations.

 

 


Q

What can I do if I don't like where a base station is going to be built?
   
A

Your first point of call should be the local planning authority, which represents the local community and is kept up to date about mast development by network operators. On top of this, each operator has pledged to respond to enquiries and complaints about radio base stations within 10 working days. Contact numbers for operators are:

  • O2: 0113 272 2000
  • T-mobile: 08454 124 124
  • Orange: 07980 261 071
  • Vodafone: 08454 450450
  • Three: 0845 604 3000
 

 


Q

Who do the operators consult when planning a new base station?
   
A

It depends on the type of development. The operators want to strike a proper balance between access to popular mobile services in the UK and the need to be environmentally and socially responsible when building the networks that support them. To this end, clear procedures are in place for consulting the public, community groups, schools, parish councils or local planning authorities about proposed mobile base station sites.

 

 

2. Health Issues:
Q Is living near a base station bad for my health?
   
A

In December 2003, the NRPB's Independent Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation (AGNIR) published a report that concluded that exposure levels from living near to mobile phone base stations are extremely low, and the overall evidence indicates that they are unlikely to pose a risk to health. The full report is available at www.hpa.org.uk Similarly, the World Health Organisation in its ‘Base stations and wireless technologies’ fact sheet issued in May 2006, concludes 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.” The full text of the fact sheet is available at www.who.int/peh-emf/en/


In September 2007 the MTHR Programme Management Committee published a progress report on the programme and concluded that: “None of the research supported by the Programme and published so far demonstrates that biological or adverse health effects are produced by radiofrequency exposure from mobile phones.” The report also notes that measurements of radio signals from base stations show that exposures are well below international guidelines. A full copy of the report can be downloaded at: http://www.mthr.org.uk/documents/MTHR_report_2007.pdf

 

 

Q What about cancer clusters being reported near base stations?
   
A

Media or anecdotal reports of cancer clusters around mobile phone base stations have heightened public concern. The World Health Organisation in its ‘Base stations and wireless technologies’ fact sheet issued in May 2006, state that: “It should be noted that geographically, cancers are unevenly distributed among any population. Given the widespread presence of base stations in the environment, it is expected that possible cancer clusters will occur near base stations merely by chance. Moreover, the reported cancers in these clusters are often a collection of different types of cancer with no common characteristics and hence unlikely to have a common cause.” The full text of the fact sheet is available at www.who.int/peh-emf/en/

 

 

Q Then why is more research being conducted?
   
A

Although concluding that  the balance of evidence does not suggest that  mobile phones and base stations operating within international health and safety radiofrequency exposure guidelines adversely affect human health, the Stewart Report called for a precautionary approach until gaps in scientific knowledge are filled. The operators backed this call and, in conjunction with other companies in the mobile phone industry, funded half of a three-year £7.4 million independent research programme into mobile phones and health. The programme was known as the Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research (MTHR) Programme. Details of the programme  and its independent Management Committee can be found at www.mthr.org.uk

 

 

Q Have any results of the MTHR programme been published?
   
A

Yes. In September 2007 the MTHR Programme Management Committee published a progress report on the programme and concluded that:“None of the research supported by the Programme and published so far demonstrates that biological or adverse health effects are produced by radiofrequency exposure from mobile phones.” The report also notes that measurements of radio signals from base stations show that exposures are well below international guidelines. A full copy of the report can be downloaded at: http://www.mthr.org.uk/documents/MTHR_report_2007.pdf

 

 

Q Is any further research required?
   
A

Commenting on the results of the MTHR programme the then Chairman of the Programme Management Committee, Professor Lawrie Challis, said that, "the results are so far re-assuring but there is still a need for more research, especially to check that no effects emerge from longer-term phone use from adults and from use by children". As a result,  a second MTHR programme has been established and the four mobile phone network operators, along with government and other companies in the industry, have agreed to provide funding  to it. Information on the second MTHR programme can be found at www.mthr.org.uk

 

 

Q

Should under 16’s use mobile phones?

 

 

A

The use of mobile phones by the under 16s is a matter of parental choice and responsibility.  Mobile technology offers reassurance to parents and children who value being able to stay in touch with one another.  Parents are able to weigh up these benefits against any concerns when making choices about their children’s mobile phone use.

All mobile phones sold in the UK comply with international health and safety exposure guidelines set by independent experts and adopted for use by the European Council of Health Ministers in 1999.  The guidelines apply to all sections of the population including children.

 

 

Q Why are masts still being built on schools when a precautionary approach has been adopted?
   
A

To date, the balance of evidence from scientific research does not suggest that living near a base station causes adverse health effects. But in the light of continuing concern by some members of the community, operators who wish to build near or on a school must consult local planners, carry out extra public consultation and contact the school's governing body before applying to doing so.

 

 

3. Emissions From Base Stations:

Q
Who monitors the levels of radio frequency emissions from base stations?
   
A

The Office of Communications – Ofcom, (previously the Radiocommunications Agency) since December 2000 has been conducting random audits in the UK to confirm that radio frequency emissions from mobile phone base stations comply with public exposure guidelines, which are set by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation (ICNIRP). These audits are ongoing. So far, the surveys of base stations have shown than even maximum levels of exposure are tiny fractions of the guidelines. More information can be found on the Ofcom website.

The National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB), now part of Public Health England (PHE), has also carried out some measurement surveys of radio frequency emissions in the vicinity of mobile phone base stations and other transmitters. More information can be found on the HPA website

 

 

 

Q If more than one operator is sharing or is co-located on a site/mast, are the emission levels increased?
   
A

Generally, yes, but not by very much. A shared site is likely to have higher emission levels than a single operator site, although each operator might be transmitting at different power levels, different frequencies and different antenna heights and directions. Shared sites are checked and certified for compliance with the international health and safety public exposure guidelines (ICNIRP) and the resulting emission levels will still be many times below them.

Since 2000, Ofcom has undertaken more than 700 random audits of base station emissions; some of these sites were shared or co-located. The measurements from these audits show that emission levels from base stations are typically small fractions of the international health and safety public exposure guidelines (ICNIRP). The results of these audits can be found at: http://www.ofcom.org.uk/sitefinder/audits/

 

 

Q When 3G or 4G antennas are added to a 2G base station site/mast, do emissions increase?
   
A

As with a shared site, the emissions increase slightly but the resultant levels will still be a small fraction of the ICNIRP health and safety public exposure guidelines. As an example, a site adapted for 3G by an operator went from being 830 times below the guidelines to 770 times below.

 

 

Q What about the cumulative emissions from base stations that are closely distributed, for example a number of operators put up antennas on the floodlight pylons of a sports club?
   
A

All co-located sites, including closely distributed masts, are included within the process used by the network operators to ensure compliance with the international health and safety public exposure guidelines (ICNIRP). As a result of radiowaves decreasing rapidly with distance, (as an approximation, each doubling of distance reduces the field by a quarter), antenna structures can be within a few metres of each other and areas where the public can gain free and reasonable access will still remain well below the ICNIRP health and safety public exposure guidelines.

 

 

Q How can the operators be so sure that shared sites and co-locations are compliant with the ICNIRP health and safety public exposure guidelines?
   
A

The network operators design safety zones around the antennas at shared base station sites assuming worst-case conditions, i.e. maximum power levels. In practice, the cumulative power levels are a lot less due to a number of factors including the orientation and height of the antennas and variations in different operators’ mobile phone traffic levels at any given time.

 

 

Q If I still have concerns regarding the cumulative emission levels from a co-located or shared site what can I do?
   
A

Ofcom has been auditing radiowave emission levels from base station sites since 2000 and if approached, will consider carrying out a measurement audit of the emissions from a base station site. A request can be made to Ofcom via their website at
https://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/tell-us/base-station-audit

 

 

4. New Technology:
Q What is 4G technology?
   
A

As technology has evolved, we’ve been able to do more and more with our mobiles. Second Generation (2G) technology gave us voice calls and text messages, Third Generation (3G) technology gives us access to the internet and other data on the go. 4G brings us superfast broadband on our phones at roughly equivalent speeds to those you would expect from your home broadband connection.

   
5. Miscellaneous:
Q What are the regulations in the UK regarding the use of signal boosters, sometimes also referred to as repeaters or cell enhancers? Can these be purchased and installed by phone users to improve the local mobile phone reception?
   
A

In the UK the use of any radio transmitting device is required to be either licensed or specifically exempted from licensing under the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1949 (WT Act 1949). Installation or use of repeater devices for mobile telephony by anyone other than the licensed mobile network operators, or under a written authorisation from such operators, is a criminal offence under Section 1 of the WT Act 1949. Any person found guilty of installing or using such devices without a licence would be liable on conviction to a fine or imprisonment. Anyone wishing to improve coverage in a particular area is advised to contact the network provider in the first instance.

For further information see http://www.ofcom.org.uk/radiocomms/ifi/enforcement/jammers

 

 

Q

What are the regulations in the UK regarding the use of jammers? Can these be legally deployed?

 

 

A

Under the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1949 (WT Act 1949) and the Electromagnetic Compatibility Regulations 1992 (Sl 1992/2372) installation or use of jammers is a criminal offence. Any person found guilty of installing or using such devices would be liable on conviction to a fine or imprisonment.

For further information see http://www.ofcom.org.uk/radiocomms/ifi/enforcement/jammers

 

89.9 Million Mobile Subscriptions

Mobile telecommunications are vital for the UK’s economic competitiveness and in promoting social inclusion. There are now 89.9 million subscriptions in the UK. In Q1 2015 61% of UK adults used their mobile phone for internet access. Tablet ownership is 54% of UK households. Operators are working with Ofcom to extend the benefits of mobile communications as widely as possible; 99.7% of UK premises (homes and businesses) had outdoor 2G coverage from at least one operator; 3G coverage is slightly lower at 99.3% and 4G has reached 89.5%.

Smartphone ownership 

Two thirds of all adults (66%) now own a smartphone, this is on a par with laptop ownership. The proportion of adults that accessed the internet on a mobile handset increased to 61%. Over half of households (54%) had a tablet computer. Twenty eight percent of individuals now own an e-reader.