FCC re-examining iPhone RF levels after controversial report

Posted:
in iPhone edited August 21
Testing commissioned by the Chicago Tribune suggests that Apple's iPhone has radio frequency broadcasts slightly above a legal limit, which has spawned a new range of testing by the federal government but this is not a crisis, nor a health hazard in any way, and here's why.

Sample Cellphone tower
Sample cellphone tower that you can probably see from your house right now


Cellphone radio frequency testing by the Chicago Tribune has gone on for over a year, according to the publication. The eponymous RF Exposure Lab was selected for the testing, and took one sample from 11 different smartphones, and positioned them between a sensor and a container of fluid with RF absorption properties the same as human flesh.

Tests were performed in accordance to what the manufacturers use for a spec as mandated by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC). In the case of Apple, that is 5mm from the surface of the skin. An additional test was performed at 2mm, chosen by the third party as an average of pants pocket fabric thickness.

Samsung tests at 10mm and 15mm. Regardless of 5mm, 10mm, or 15mm, the FCC requires that at the point of closest exposure, users cannot absorb more than 1.6 watts per kilogram, averaged over one gram of tissue -- this is called the "specific absorption rate" or SAR.

Tests are performed with a probe immersed in tissue simulating fluid. A base station simulator is used, with a tester placing a call to the phone being tested, with settings on the base station adjusted so that everything is on the same band, frequency, and channel. The highest radio frequency radiation is used for the maximum over a range of tests during the regulatory approval process.

In a worst-case scenario, from 5mm away, the probe embedded in the ersatz tissue received 2.64 watts per kilogram during the third-party tests with an iPhone 8. An iPhone 7 delivered 2.81 W/kg, and a different iPhone 7 got a similar result of 2.50 W/kg.

Motorola told the lab that they believed that a proximity sensor hadn't been properly engaged. When the lab followed Motorola's directions, a phone which exceeded the SAR limit by over three times, passed the test at 5mm.

A cellphone is tested at RF Exposure Lab in October 2018. Photo credit Brian Cassella of the Chicago Tribune
A cellphone is tested at RF Exposure Lab in October 2018. Photo credit Brian Cassella of the Chicago Tribune


Similarly, when an iPhone 8 was grasped, it too was under the limit at 5mm -- but the iPhone 7 was not. When pressed for more information on how the initial testing was performed, and how the lab could further improve the testing, Apple wouldn't comment.

"We take seriously any claims on non-compliance with the RF (radiofrequency) exposure standards and will be obtaining and testing the subject phones for compliance with FCC rules," FCC spokesman Neil Grace told the Chicago Tribune following the test report.

Apple took issue with the testing by the newspaper, and issued a statement saying that the tests "were inaccurate due to the test setup not being in accordance with procedures necessary to properly assess the iPhone models."

"All iPhone models, including iPhone 7, are fully certified by the FCC and in every other country where iPhone is sold," Apple said. "After careful review and subsequent validation of all iPhone models tested in the (Tribune) report, we confirmed we are in compliance and meet all applicable exposure guidelines and limits."

Apple refused comment on further questions by the Chicago Tribune.

It isn't clear why the lab wasn't aware of a proximity sensor in an iPhone that at this point is three years old. AppleInsider has emailed the lab asking that, and some other questions, about the testing.

Every cellphone manufacturer in the US has to test devices pre-sale for RF SAR. However, the manufacturer generally gets to choose their own devices.

Apple says that the SAR in the iPhone 7 us 1.19 Watts per kilogram in the head or body. The iPhone 8 has a SAR of 1.20 Watts per kilogram.

Still not a cause for panic

We're not excited about the results of the testing. Independent testing claiming that Apple is under-reporting SAR isn't good for anybody. But this isn't a health crisis, or an actual giant drama regardless of what speculative headlines in the coming days will lead you to believe.

Federal limits for RF exposure to the populace are extremely conservative, and the testing is performed in absolute worst-case conditions. While the levels seen by the testing are above that limit, the iPhone models in question do not pose any imminent safety hazard.

The US government sets several limits on exposure to just about everything. One is a safe limit, a second is an occupational limit, and the third is a non-occupational limit. In the case of radio frequency exposure like from the iPhone the occupational limit for industry workers is 10% of the safe limit, with the non-occupational limit set at 2% of the safe limit.

So, even with the proximity sensor on the iPhone 7 in question disengaged, at worst, the exposure is 3% of the safe limit, according to FCC exposure mandates.

And, like we said before, RF is not ionizing radiation. With RF, beyond thermal effects, there are different alleged mechanisms for damage -- which is part of the current controversy surrounding RF.

Proponents of the limits as they stand say that there is no increase in cancers or other observable health effects in the population that is not attributable to better diagnostic methods -- which, ironically, use various wavelengths of RF or radiation exposure to find. Opponents claim that the SAR limit isn't sufficient, and fails to incorporate other possible vectors of damage, or lacks sufficient study.

Research on radio frequencies

The US Food and Drug administration is continuing study. In a document detailing research published in May 2019, the agency points out that RF is classified in the International Agency for Research on Cancer's Group 2B and is "possibly carcinogenic to humans."

Other materials classified in the 2B grouping include the metal nickel, ginkgo biloba extract, nearly every food coloring, aloe vera, gas engine exhaust, and pickled vegetables.

The American Cancer Society has also not found a link to RF exposure and leukemia and lymphoma. The group has also pointed out that exposure of single-celled animals to RF is not the same as exposing a complex organism with skin, nor is exposure in mice or other small mammals equivalent to human exposure.

The World Health Organization declares tissue heating the "principal mechanism of interaction between radio frequency energy and the human body" predominantly because of the frequencies used by mobile phones. A study found no increased risk of glioma or meningioma with mobile phone use of more than 10 years, but is advocating for continued study given the prevalence of modern cellphone usage.

Studies will continue until our sun extinguishes, in all likelihood -- and they should. But, given the inherent variances of studies involving living creatures, proponents of the existing limits won't change their minds by contrary results, nor will detractors be ameliorated by results confirming existing figures, unless something really dramatic is discovered.

That seems unlikely given that humanity has been generating its own radio frequencies for over a century.

Do the math

This exposure measured by the lab, or any radiative source, is impacted by what is called the inverse square law. Basically, the intensity of an effect like RF or ionizing radiation changes in inverse proportion to the square of the distance from the source.

Without delving into the difference and mathematics involved in considering a line source and a point source, practically, every doubling of distance from the source, cuts the exposure from that source to 25% of what it was at the closer range.

There is no limit for RF at 2mm. And, even if the same limit at 5mm was applied, it would only be approached or possibly exceeded if a call was received, accepted, and actively in progress. There is a difference between a phone pressed up against a leg, and against an ear. While the phone next to the ear is in fact next to your head, it has a big, bony structure between it and the brain -- your skull.

To that end, as we've recommended before, if you're concerned about radio frequency exposure from your iPhone, use the speaker feature on the device. More specifically related to the results of this study, if you're concerned about it, don't take a call with the iPhone in your pocket.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 38
    maestro64maestro64 Posts: 4,658member
    I said this before when this topic keeps coming up. Before you freak out about radio waves from phone, keep in mind every day just walking outside your are bombarded with radio waves from DC to light and you are hit with all levels of intensity. Just living every day you are at risk of being hit with radiation. There are lots of sources of radiation which will not go away.
    radarthekatlolliverjbdragonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 38
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,881administrator
    maestro64 said:
    I said this before when this topic keeps coming up. Before you freak out about radio waves from phone, keep in mind every day just walking outside your are bombarded with radio waves from DC to light and you are hit with all levels of intensity. Just living every day you are at risk of being hit with radiation. There are lots of sources of radiation which will not go away.
    Yeah, this is going to be a fun one. As a reminder to forum-goers, we do have forum rules for a reason. Given that we've had a rash of profoundly bad behavior as of late, it might be worth a review before you post.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 38
    taddtadd Posts: 116member
    what really bugs me about all of these discussions is that in the 1990s we had car-kits.  I'd take my digital StarTac into the car and immediately would plug it into a module sticking out next to my car-stereo/AC-controls.  Now the phone has an antenna on the roof of the car with gobs of range.  This puts the RF up out of the car so it can see cell-sites further away, a boon if you live in a place with mountains or big trees, and also takes the RF away from the passengers.  Verizon was so hot to trot on these things they'd sell you the car-kit with hands-free capability, and the antenna, and the installation, for $70. 

    Then... around 2003, that all went away.  No more car kits.  My understanding (conspiracy theory?) was that the cell companies realized that with the phone all comfortable on the dash-board that I'd be less likely to have it with me away from the car, thus missing the opportunity to consume minutes.    Much later i was told that it was "too hard" to support multi-band cell-phones. (I know that's BS, the StarTac was at least 2 bands).  RF connector technology has gotten better, not worse. 


  • Reply 4 of 38
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 8,582member
    maestro64 said:
    I said this before when this topic keeps coming up. Before you freak out about radio waves from phone, keep in mind every day just walking outside your are bombarded with radio waves from DC to light and you are hit with all levels of intensity. Just living every day you are at risk of being hit with radiation. There are lots of sources of radiation which will not go away.
    Indeed, we'd die if they did -- the sun itself is a source of radiation. 
    DAalsethlolliverjbdragonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 38
    taddtadd Posts: 116member
    maestro64 said:
    I said this before when this topic keeps coming up. Before you freak out about radio waves from phone, keep in mind every day just walking outside your are bombarded with radio waves from DC to light and you are hit with all levels of intensity. Just living every day you are at risk of being hit with radiation. There are lots of sources of radiation which will not go away.
    Keep in mind the inverse-square affect on signal intensity.  The article had that correct.  A 100watt transmitter 100 feet away will have no where near the affect on the body as a 1 watt transmitter at 1 foot.  And the article was talking about millimeters for their test cases.   It is completely unlikely that a non-radio-professional will ever find themselves bathed by as much RF energy, as they will with a hand-held transceiver, unless you lay your head down on top of your MIMO WiFi base station.  Don't do that.   Looking down the throat of a police radar gun at point blank range is another thing not to do.  If you have a 2-way radio transceiver (CB, ham, fire, etc.)  with external antenna, don't make adjustments to the 2-way radio's antenna itself while transmitting from the radio.  That's also a no-no. 

    edited August 21 dysamoriajbdragonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 38
    entropysentropys Posts: 1,850member

    In a worst-case scenario, from 5mm away, the probe embedded in the ersatz tissue received 2.64 watts per kilogram during the third-party tests. An iPhone 7 delivered 2.81 W/kg, and a different iPhone 7 got a similar result of 2.50 W/kg.
    Motorola told the lab that they believed that a proximity sensor hadn't been properly engaged. When the lab followed Motorola's directions, a phone which exceeded the SAR limit by over three times, passed the test at 5mm.

    Ok then.
  • Reply 7 of 38
    maestro64 said:
    I said this before when this topic keeps coming up. Before you freak out about radio waves from phone, keep in mind every day just walking outside your are bombarded with radio waves from DC to light and you are hit with all levels of intensity. Just living every day you are at risk of being hit with radiation. There are lots of sources of radiation which will not go away.
    I’m not saying radio waves from phones are bad, but science is not on anyone’s side since no conclusive studies have been presented either way. There have been plenty of things even in recent history which ‘common sense’ have said are fine which end up not being fine because we learned new things. 

    Naturally occurring radio waves are fine in proper doses, but that doesn’t automatically mean that ‘artificially’ produced radio waves are benign, especially at relatively close proximity.
    dysamoria
  • Reply 8 of 38
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 4,701member
    It doesn't matter how much of a non-issue this is in the real world.  Expect armies of ambulance-chasing lawyers to assemble and start filing class-action lawsuits against Apple because some nobody in the middle of BumF*ckinstan got sweet-talked and convinced to be the plaintiff in a frivolous lawsuit. 

    I get into very heated arguments with people that flat-out believe that cell phones will give them brain tumors.  Putting aside the fact that these same people fearing for their safety still use the devices they claim will give them cancer, I always point to granite countertops in their kitchen and calmly tell them that they will get more radiation from the naturally-occurring uranium present in granite countertops than they will ever get from cell phones.  Oddly, these people try looking at the squirrel running across the room.

    ignorants.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 38
    radarthekatradarthekat Posts: 3,133moderator
    In addition to all the good points presented I the article and comments, you’d think the researchers/journalists at the Chicago Tribune would be curious to shove a few phones from Samsung, Hauwei, and other brands in their test rig.  A bit of intellectual dishonestly and perhaps click baiting to focus only on iPhone.  I bet they’d have been forced to address the rig config and methodology if they found the same levels across every major brand.  
    StrangeDaysjbdragonrevenantwatto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 38
    dysamoriadysamoria Posts: 2,283member
    In addition to all the good points presented I the article and comments, you’d think the researchers/journalists at the Chicago Tribune would be curious to shove a few phones from Samsung, Hauwei, and other brands in their test rig.  A bit of intellectual dishonestly and perhaps click baiting to focus only on iPhone.  I bet they’d have been forced to address the rig config and methodology if they found the same levels across every major brand.  
    How do you know they didn’t? If the issue is their results with the iPhone, then that’s what they talk about. 
  • Reply 11 of 38
    dysamoriadysamoria Posts: 2,283member
    sflocal said:
    It doesn't matter how much of a non-issue this is in the real world.  Expect armies of ambulance-chasing lawyers to assemble and start filing class-action lawsuits against Apple because some nobody in the middle of BumF*ckinstan got sweet-talked and convinced to be the plaintiff in a frivolous lawsuit. 

    I get into very heated arguments with people that flat-out believe that cell phones will give them brain tumors.  Putting aside the fact that these same people fearing for their safety still use the devices they claim will give them cancer, I always point to granite countertops in their kitchen and calmly tell them that they will get more radiation from the naturally-occurring uranium present in granite countertops than they will ever get from cell phones.  Oddly, these people try looking at the squirrel running across the room.

    ignorants.
    Try cooling your rage. You’re not going to reach people well if you are heated about the subject. You’re going to trigger their self-defensiveness by being aggressive, let alone insulting and hostile.

    Some people won’t listen to facts. In that case, just walk away and let it go.
    gatorguymuthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 12 of 38
    dysamoriadysamoria Posts: 2,283member
    I’ll be watching this subject for the rest of my life, probably. Science is slow. But I don’t think it’s as bad as “when the sun burns out”.
  • Reply 13 of 38
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 4,701member
    bigmike said:
    This pertains to 5G and others, so if anyone is interested:

    <blah>
    I stopped reading after the above sentence.

    Waiting for your white paper on the correlation between alien abductions and tin-foil hats on the flat-earth model.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 38
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 4,701member
    dysamoria said:
    sflocal said:
    It doesn't matter how much of a non-issue this is in the real world.  Expect armies of ambulance-chasing lawyers to assemble and start filing class-action lawsuits against Apple because some nobody in the middle of BumF*ckinstan got sweet-talked and convinced to be the plaintiff in a frivolous lawsuit. 

    I get into very heated arguments with people that flat-out believe that cell phones will give them brain tumors.  Putting aside the fact that these same people fearing for their safety still use the devices they claim will give them cancer, I always point to granite countertops in their kitchen and calmly tell them that they will get more radiation from the naturally-occurring uranium present in granite countertops than they will ever get from cell phones.  Oddly, these people try looking at the squirrel running across the room.

    ignorants.
    Try cooling your rage. You’re not going to reach people well if you are heated about the subject. You’re going to trigger their self-defensiveness by being aggressive, let alone insulting and hostile.

    Some people won’t listen to facts. In that case, just walk away and let it go.
    Please explain how better to reach people like anti-vaxxers, flat-earthers, phone-radiation, and the slew of other conspiracy-whackjobs that dispel proper science because the truth offends them is some way?

    Truths and facts do not care about a person's feelings.  If it gets them upset, I'll cry them a river.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 38
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,881administrator
    BigMike, I've deleted your post, because you've copied and pasted it multiple times in the forums previously. Feel free to repost a 4-6 paragraph summary, keeping it to a reasonable length, and a link to your source from whence it came.

    Your copy and paste violates rule 12 of the forum guidelines.

    And, this article has exactly nothing to do with 5G.
    edited August 21 fastasleepentropyswatto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 38
    There really are people in this world with may to much time on their hands. :p

    MIke
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 38
    radarthekatradarthekat Posts: 3,133moderator
    dysamoria said:
    In addition to all the good points presented I the article and comments, you’d think the researchers/journalists at the Chicago Tribune would be curious to shove a few phones from Samsung, Hauwei, and other brands in their test rig.  A bit of intellectual dishonestly and perhaps click baiting to focus only on iPhone.  I bet they’d have been forced to address the rig config and methodology if they found the same levels across every major brand.  
    How do you know they didn’t? If the issue is their results with the iPhone, then that’s what they talk about. 
    Common sense.  If they had comparative results they’d have presented them in order to draw the comparison and validate that their test rig/procedure was appropriate.  You surely recognize that doing so would make the story stronger and even more compelling.  Ergo, they didn’t test others.  
    edited August 22 watto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 38
    tadd said:

    Then... around 2003, that all went away.  No more car kits.  My understanding (conspiracy theory?) was that the cell companies realized that with the phone all comfortable on the dash-board that I'd be less likely to have it with me away from the car, thus missing the opportunity to consume minutes.    Much later i was told that it was "too hard" to support multi-band cell-phones. (I know that's BS, the StarTac was at least 2 bands).  RF connector technology has gotten better, not worse. 


    Don't many cars these days have built-in Cellular systems? I know mine does. That allows me to pull up web pages, use maps etc on the centre display. My phone connects to the network via this system when it is in the car (via WiFi).
    Well, that is if I don't put it into flight mode first. While I use Car Play to play music (not streamed) I try not to have my phone on while driving. There are enough distractions as it is.
    And it might be that even using hands free while in motion may be outlawed here due to safety concerns.
  • Reply 19 of 38
    CongressiveCongressive Posts: 2unconfirmed, member
    Ajit Pai will get right on that.
  • Reply 20 of 38
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 21,112member
    dysamoria said:
    In addition to all the good points presented I the article and comments, you’d think the researchers/journalists at the Chicago Tribune would be curious to shove a few phones from Samsung, Hauwei, and other brands in their test rig.  A bit of intellectual dishonestly and perhaps click baiting to focus only on iPhone.  I bet they’d have been forced to address the rig config and methodology if they found the same levels across every major brand.  
    How do you know they didn’t? If the issue is their results with the iPhone, then that’s what they talk about. 
    Common sense.  If they had comparative results they’d have presented them in order to draw the comparison and validate that their test rig/procedure was appropriate.  You surely recognize that doing so would make the story stronger and even more compelling.  Ergo, they didn’t test others.  
    No, ergo you didn't read very carefully.

    This is the third sentence down in the AI article you're commenting on:
    "The eponymous RF Exposure Lab was selected for the testing, and took one sample from 11 different smartphones, and positioned them between a sensor and a container of fluid with RF absorption properties the same as human flesh."

    Those phones were the 
    iPhone 7, iPhone X, iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, Samsung Galaxy S9, S8 and J3, Moto E5 Play and G6 Play, Moto E5, and the BLU Vivo5 Mini for the cheap example. 

    FWIW there was one phone spewing more radiation at its closest test point (2mm) than Apple, and that was the Galaxy S8. In a pants pocket scenario it was well over the allowable RF limits as was the iPhone 7.

    The Tribune claims, and tests tend to support it, that the FCC procedures are flawed and allowing readings from a good distance from flesh as tho the phone was clipped to a belt pouch. They don't test for a phone put in a pocket for instance. As one publication mentioned a very '90's thing and no longer common. Phone Arena has a pretty thorough summary of the Herald's finding and a relatively quick read too.
    https://www.phonearena.com/news/FCC-to-investigate-after-test-shows-phones-emitting-high-levels-of-RF-radiation_id118369

    Of note Apple's iPhones have traditionally been on the high end of smartphone RF emissions even based on the 2 decade old FCC test procedures. This isn't something new and was reported elsewhere even before the Tribune did their more hi-profile article. 

     

    https://brinkcase.com/blogs/brinkcase/rf-exposure-of-iphone-xs-xs-max-and-xr

    The way people actually carry their phones is not the way the FCC tests for radiation. 





    edited August 22 muthuk_vanalingamFileMakerFellerrevenant
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