COAI says TRAI’s tough EMF radiation rules hurt 5G rollouts

COAI says TRAI’s tough EMF radiation rules hurt 5G rollouts

The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) has reportedly asked the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to relax its electromagnetic field (EMF) radiation rules to help lower the cost of 5G rollouts.

According to The Hindu Business Line, COAI has sent a letter to TRAI complaining that its standards for limiting radiation exposure levels are 10 times more stringent than global standards set by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP).

This impacts the cost of rollouts because 5G uses higher frequency bands, which means 5G base stations need more power to transmit signals, which means higher EMF radiation levels, the letter said. Under TRAI’s EMF standards, 5G base stations would have to transmit at lower power. That means less coverage, which in turn means deploying more base stations to fill the gaps.

That, plus the very limited use cases for 5G (and therefore limited revenue streams), is making it hard for operators to recoup their 5G investments, which so far has totalled over INR1 trillion (US$12 billion), the letter said.

“It is important to note here that the current EMF exposure limits in India are significantly stricter (10 times) than the ICNIRP norms, and if not revised, will severely harm consumer experience and expectations from 5G in India,” the COAI letter said. “This will adversely deteriorate 5G leading to slower internet speed, lower network quality and inferior signal strength. In addition, this will also impact all potential aspects to enhance the wireless infrastructure and deployment of 5G, including spectral efficiency and network topology.”

The ICNIRP’s guidelines for 5G, issued in 2020, account for the fact that the higher frequencies for 5G do not penetrate the human body as deeply as lower frequencies. The ICNIRP also noted that 5G’s use of beamforming can reduce overall exposure to EMF radiation in a given cell.

At the time, ICNIRP said that while 5G generally complied with its original 1998 EMF guidelines, 5G is still an evolving technology. As such, the ICNIRP’s updated 2020 guidelines are set well below minimum safety levels to protect health, and add a few changes, including “whole body average restrictions for frequencies above 6 GHz, restrictions for brief (less than 6 minutes) exposures for frequencies above 6 GHz, and the reduction of the averaging area for frequencies above 6 GHz.”


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