Learn about Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Energy (RF EME) and how it is researched to make sure it is safe.

17 June 2021

Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Energy (RF EME) is one of the most studied and scrutinised types of energy in the world.

Scientists have been studying RF EME for years. And health authorities have an intimate knowledge of the effects, and standards for what can be considered safe.

When new technologies come along, it's natural for some people to become concerned. Some people are worried about the levels of EME they're exposed to, particularly with advances like the rollout of the 5G network.

When you understand more about RF EME, and how it is researched and regulated, you'll soon realise that it is safe.

What is radiofrequency electromagnetic energy (RF EME)?

RF EME is used to send and receive information.

Used below 300 GHz, it sits at the lower end of the electromagnetic spectrum and is characterised by long wavelengths and low frequencies to carry information for a distance. The distance information can be carried varies depending on the frequency range used by the service or device.

This type of EME is non-ionising. It is found in everyday devices like your radio, TV and mobile phone.

EME at the other end of the electromagnetic spectrum, above 300 GHz, behaves very differently and is found in things like X-ray machines and gamma rays. The very high frequencies used produce shorter wavelengths.

This type of EME is ionising and has enough energy to break up chemical bonds. The effect can result in damage to living tissue.

How RF EME is used

German physicist Heinrich Hertz made a big breakthrough in artificially creating radio waves in 1887, confirming the earlier theory of Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell and opening up RF EME for a wide range of practical uses.

Many devices that emit safe levels of RF EME are now a part of day-to-day life, including televisions, radios and mobile phones.

How RF EME is regulated

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) sets rules to make sure devices and transmitters operate using safe levels of EME. These devices and transmitters include:

  • individual phones and other handheld devices
  • Wi-fi  modems and routers
  • two-way radios
  • baby monitors
  • remote controls
  • smart meters
  • mobile phone towers and NBN wireless towers
  • small cells delivering both 4G and 5G
  • TV and broadcast radio towers
  • mobile phone base stations and antennae.

ACMA puts conditions about EME safety in the licences it issues to operators, like telecommunications carriers and broadcasters. Licensees must be able to demonstrate compliance with these licence conditions to ACMA when required.  Equipment suppliers must also demonstrate compliance with regulations about EME by applying regulatory compliance marks (RCM) to devices so consumers know they are safe to use.

The regulations are based on the exposure standard set by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA). ARPANSA is an independent authority that provides expert advice on radiation protection to the Government.

ARPANSA's research is updated regularly and reflects international best practice.

RF EME is a safe part of day-to-day life

RF EME has been part of day-to-day life for hundreds of years.

And there is no verifiable evidence linking the kind of RF EME that's used in telecommunications to adverse short- or long-term health effects.

Scientists have an intimate understanding of how RF EME works and how it can be safely used.

Knowing more about the history and science of RF EME should give you confidence in the standards that are applied to make sure it is safe.