Mobile Communications and Health


How mobile telephony works

Today, people take it for granted that they can make phone calls or transmit data wherever they are and whenever they want. What is the technology behind this?

What impact do electromagnetic fields have

Mobile communications uses electromagnetic fields to transmit information. But what impact do electromagnetic fields have on human beings?

What is being researched today

Is research being carried out into mobile communications and health? What issues are addressed in the latest studies?

Glossary Mobile communications and Health

A - B

Agreement concluded in 2001 between the local government central associations – the German Association of Cities and Towns, the German County Association, and the German Association of Towns and Municipalities – and the mobile network operators, giving communities a say in mobile network expansion.

Denotes the maximum permissible value with which electromagnetic fields may have an effect on human beings. The basic limit is expressed as the “Specific Absorption Rate” (SAR). Since it is hard to measure in practice, reference limits are preferred. In order to take the protection of highly sensitive people into account, the basic limit includes a safety margin.

Transmitting and receiving system for mobile communications, serving a limited area (radio cell).

Regulation on the procedure for providing evidence of the limitation of electromagnetic fields.

Bundesamt für Strahlenschutz (Federal Office for Radiation Protection).

Bundesimmissionsschutzverordnung Federal immission control ordinance (EMF Ordinance in Germany).

Bundesministerium für Umwelt, Naturschutz, Bau und Reaktorsicherheit (Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety).

Short form: Bundesumweltministerium (Federal Environment Ministry).

Bundesnetzagentur. As a higher federal authority, the “Federal Network Agency for electricity, gas, telecommunications, post and railways” regulates such sectors as the post and telecommunications markets.

Its area of responsibility includes promoting further development of the telecommunications market through liberalization and deregulation. It is also responsible for site approval procedures when mobile communications networks are expanded.


Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications: This transmission standard for cordless home phones ratified by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) in 1992 offers more reliable transmission and greater protection against eavesdropping than previous analog cordless phone systems. DECT phones operate in the microwave frequency range from 1.88 GHz to 1.9 GHz and have a transmit power of 0.25 W.

The frequency spectrum from 790 to 862 MHz has been freed up thanks to the digitization of radio and TV broadcasting and by re-allocating military radio frequencies - this is referred to as the "digital dividend".

This frequency spectrum is especially suitable for mobile broadband provision in rural areas. Propagation of radio signals in the low frequency range is better and a base station can therefore cover a larger area. This means that fewer base stations are required for a given surface area and networks can be set up economically.

In contrast to analog transmission, digital networks transmit information (voice, images, sound) using the binary digits 0 and 1.

These networks include Germany's D-Netz and E-Netz, which are used in mobile communications.

The term "downlink" denotes the radio link from a base station to a mobile device (e.g., cell phone or smart phone).

Digital Subscriber Line: A technology that can be used to provide domestic users and small businesses with greater transmission bandwidth over conventional copper-wire telephone lines. See also ADSL.

In mobile communications, base stations and mobile devices automatically adjust their transmitting power to suit individual transmission scenarios.


Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution (EDGE) - refers to technology used to increase the data rates in GSM mobile communications networks by introducing an additional modulation technique. EDGE upgrades GPRS to E-GPRS (Enhanced GPRS) and upgrades HSCSD to ECSD (Enhanced Circuit Switched Data).

Electroencephalogram, method used to measure the brain's electrical impulses.

Electromagnetic fields.

In mobile communications, emission refers to the sending out of radio waves or electromagnetic fields.

Germany's EMC Act relating to the electromagnetic compatibility (irradiation immunity) of technical devices, dated Sep. 18, 1998.

EU Directives on the electromagnetic compatibility of technical devices (89/336/EEC) dated May 3, 1989.

Electromagnetic Environmental Compatibility. Analyzes and evaluates the impact of electromagnetic fields on people and the environment.

The (intended or unintended) exposure of an organism or its substructures to external influences (in mobile communications: electromagnetic fields).

F - H

Measures the strength of an electromagnetic field; measured in volt per meter (electric field) and ampere per meter (magnetic field).

EMC database at Germany's Research Center for Bioelectromagnetic Interaction (FEMU) at the Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen.

Measures the change in electromagnetic fields over time; measured in cycles per second (Hz).

The available frequency bandwidth used to transmit data. Generally speaking: The broader the spectrum, the higher the data rate that can be achieved if the same transmission technologies and parameters are used.

General Packet Radio Service is a data transmission technology for mobile communications networks, e.g., for transmitting Internet pages to cell phones. Billing is usually based on the volume of data.

Global System for Mobile Communications (formerly Groupe Spéciale Mobile (GSM)) is a standard for full-digital mobile communications networks that are mainly used for telephony as well as for line-switched and packet-switched data transmission and for text messages (SMS). It is the most widely used worldwide mobile communications standard.

HotSpots are locations that provide users with high-speed Internet access via WLAN. Deutsche Telekom alone operates around 11,000 HotSpots in Germany and 50,000 worldwide, including at airports, hotels, trade fairs, and conference centers. All HotSpots can be found at

High Speed Downlink Packet Access.

Mobile communications technology which increases transmission rates in the UMTS network. This further development of UMTS enables data transmission on downlinks at realistic data rates of up to 14.4 Mbit/s.

High Speed Uplink Packet Access - Increases the transmission rates on uplinks in the UMTS network, thereby allowing shorter latency (delay times). Data can be transmitted at speeds of up to 5.8 Mbit/s.

I - M

Electrical appliances are built so that they cannot be interfered with by other devices outside legally prescribed safety areas. For medical devices, the DIN-EN 60601-1-2 standard specifies electromagnetic compatibility (irradiation immunity) of 3 V/m, for life-sustaining medical devices there is a standard of 10 V/m. The minimum recommended distance between a cell phone and a non life-sustaining device is three meters.

International Agency for Research on Cancer – an institute of the World Health Organization (WHO).

International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection.

The impact of factors such as noise or electromagnetic fields on the organism.

Measures the degree to which a system is influenced by electromagnetic fields (see also Irradiation immunity).

Process whereby one or more electrons are removed from an atom or molecule. Ionization can be caused by high temperature, electrical discharges, radiation or chemical reactions.

Radiation is referred to as ionizing once exposure can damage cell material. Electrons are removed from the cell's molecular structure, thus damaging the cell. Only electromagnetic fields with wavelengths shorter than UV light can have an ionizing effect.

Informationszentrum für Mobilfunk (Information Center for Mobile Communications).

As a provider of information services, the IZMF is a point of contact for residents, the media, and public and private institutions for issues relating to mobile communications.

Legally specified value below which, according to current scientific findings, effects on people's health can be precluded. The purpose of limit values is to protect people's health. In mobile communications, there are basic and reference limits.

Long Term Evolution.

Fourth-generation mobile communications standard and further development of UMTS. LTE is based on the transmission method which digital broadcasting, for instance, also uses and enables data rates of up to 100 Megabit/s on the downlink.

Multiple Input, Multiple Output is a multiple antenna technology used with LTE. It makes it possible to increase both the data rate and the quality of the service.

Process during signal transmission whereby low-frequency information (e.g., music, voice, data) is modulated to a suitable high frequency, known as the carrier.

N - T

Next Generation Mobile Networks is a consortium in which various mobile communications providers have joined forces to drive the further development of UMTS to the next generation. One development in this context is LTE.

Covers all fields of the electromagnetic spectrum which do not have enough energy to cause ionization. These include radio waves, microwaves, infrared and visible light.

Possible effects of electromagnetic fields causing no, or a non-measurable, rise in body temperature. Their existence is the subject of controversial discussion amongst scientists and is not considered to be scientifically proven.

Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing.

Radio transmission method which – for example in LTE – divides the frequency spectrum into narrowband subchannels to transmit data over these channels in parallel. This makes it possible to adjust the radio channel optimally to the signal propagation conditions and to increase transmission capacity.

Measures the intensity of an electromagnetic field; measured in watt per square meter.

Used in D-Netz and E-Netz. Voice and data signals are transmitted at defined intervals known as time slots. A pulsed signal is switched on and off following a certain pattern.

Each base station only serves a narrowly defined area, the radio cell. Seen together, adjacent radio cells form a full-coverage network structure.

Since basic limits are often hard to measure and examine, limit values are derived for their "inducing factors” instead. These reference limits apply to the electric and magnetic field in the free space outside the body. They guarantee that under no circumstances are the basic SAR limits exceeded within the body.

Specific Absorption Rate.

It measures the electromagnetic fields absorbed by the body. It is represented in watt per kilogram of body weight.

An effect is only deemed scientifically proven when this effect can be reproduced and endorsed in several experiments by different independent research groups. SSK (Commission on Radiological Protection) refers to scientific proof in cases "when scientific studies performed by independent research groups show that a connection can be reproduced, and the overall scientific picture confirms the causal connection."

Approval granted by the Federal Network Agency to set up a base station. This process is specified in the Ordinance on the Method of Proof for the Limitation of Electromagnetic Fields (BEMfV).

Deutsche Strahlenschutzkommission.

German Commission on Radiological Protection; advises the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMU) on all matters relating to radiation protection.

Effects caused by electromagnetic fields which lead to a rise in body temperature.

Firmly assigned period of time within a transmission frame. In the GSM network voice and data signals are transmitted as data packets at regular intervals - known as "time slots".

U - Z

Universal Mobile Telecommunications System is a third-generation (3G) mobile communications standard.

UMTS has enhanced performance and has superseded mobile communications using GSM. UMTS supports high-performance multimedia services. These include, besides voice and audio services, high-speed data, graphics and text transmission and the transmission of moving images and video.

Radio link from a mobile device (e.g., cell or smart phone) to the base station.

Voluntary commitment by carriers in 2001 toward the Federal Government to implement various measures to improve safety and protection with regards to consumers, the environment and public health.

Regions (e.g., cities and municipalities) that the States of Germany have reported to the Federal Network Agency as having inadequate broadband Internet coverage (fixed network or mobile communications) are referred to as "white spots." These regions are mainly located in rural areas; coverage is being expanded as part of Telekom’s "More Broadband for Germany" project.

Wireless Local Area Network is a radio standard for wireless data transmission in a small-scale local radio network. A WLAN includes an access point - a WLAN router. The router establishes a connection to the Internet. A WLAN-capable device, for example a laptop with a WLAN adapter, is also required.

World Health Organization.

Deutsche Telekom Technik GmbH

EMF, Environment & Sustainability

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