Panorama Wi-Fi scare: BT and others speak out

Wi-Fi, Wireless home

bthomehub.jpgMore on the Wi-Fi / radiation story, in advance of the BBC’s Panorama show to be screened later this evening. As one of the companies putting Wi-Fi into the homes of millions of Brits, you’d expect BT to have views. And so they do.

“BT is absolutely committed to ensuring the technology we install is safe,” says Steve Andrews, the company’s chief of mobility and convergence. “Speculation about health issues in relation to mobile phones, mobile base stations and related wireless products is still very much in the public eye and we take these concerns surrounding very seriously, ensuring we monitor the latest research available.”

He goes on to point out that BT’s work with local councils in the creation of ‘Wireless Cities’ shows that the company is “very conscious of our responsibility to the public, employees and customers”.

Steve also highlights a recent fact sheet from the World Health Organisation clarifying its view on electromagnetic fields and public health, which you can read here.

I’ve been gathering the views of other firms with a stake in the emerging Wi-Fi industry too, to see what they make of the issues being investigated in tonight’s Panorama. Jake Benson, of mobile VoIP firm IP Drum, thinks that more research is needed.

“It seems to me from that there is still not enough known about the dangers of radiation created by WiFi, and it obviously goes hand in hand with the fears about the dangers of mobile phones,” he says.

“It is clear to me, that before any real statistics can be considered, a huge amount of research needs to be carried out. I personally feel that I don’t really know enough about the risks to advise whether or not people should take precautions when considering the use of WiFi.”

However, he does say that until more is known about the dangers, a knee-jerk reaction is a bad idea. “Panorama obviously believe that there is some credence to the findings of the tests. However, from my point of view it is still to early to judge the impact of this kind of technology.”

Broadband applications firm Westell’s director Vaughn Armstrong makes the distinction between Europe and North America.

“It is worth highlighting that Europe is currently seen to be playing it safe when it comes to Wi-Fi regulations, in comparison with the United States. Over in the US, where regulations are invariably stringent when it comes to technology, Wi-Fi signalling can be 4x more powerful than that transmitted here in the Europe.”

His conclusion? Although we should be aware of the issues surrounding Wi-Fi signalling, at four times less power than is being used in the US, we must be further away from suffering any detrimental effects. He also says new technical developments could reduce the risks even further.

“There is now some development being made into ‘directional technology’ – which, instead of spreading the WiFi signal universally, a ‘smart antennae’ can send the signal directly to wireless devices reducing exposure to people within the area any further.”

Finally, Peter Blampied, VP of international sales for tech vendor USRobotics, points out that under current European law, “a mobile phone can and does transmit up to 1000mW”, but that “Wireless LANS are not permitted to emit at more than 100mW, which is 10 times less power than the maximum allowed for mobile phones. Furthermore, the mobile phone is held close to the head or body – far closer than a WLAN device.”

He also quotes from a 1992 statement by the IEEE United States Activity Board, which says that “Measurements have shown that routine exposure of users and other persons to low power portable and mobile transceivers and cellular telephones do not induce rates of [radio frequency] absorption that exceed any of the maximum permissible rates of energy absorption defined by these guidelines”

Our view: Is Wi-Fi safe?
Poll: What are your thoughts on the Wi-Fi scare?
Exradia boss says the industry should be taking the lead on Wi-Fi fears
Academic experts dismiss fears over Wi-Fi

Stuart Dredge
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