One of the most frequent questions we get is how can I resolve my Wi-Fi troubleshooting problems? People lose signal or their device stops connecting. In order to answer that question with any authority, I decided to look a little bit further into this whole Wi-Fi thing: what is it, how does it work, what type of signals are being broadcast, are they directional, how much power do you need? I thought about the potential side effects of the transmitters. What type of radio frequencies do they use? How much power do they need? How do they affect our health? Is your smartphone’s radiation harmful?
Back in 2017, we explored Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi signals and dug into a little bit of radio frequency too, just in case you were sleeping during your physics classes in high school like we were.
RF and EMF RADIATION
Let’s first look in an oversimplified view of the electromagnetic field or EMF radiation spectrum. EMF radiation can be classified from very low frequency which has a long wavelength to very high frequency which has a short wavelength. On the low frequency side, you’ll find things like AM and shortwave radio. On the high frequency end you can find things like x-rays and gamma-rays with a wavelength smaller than an atom. Radio waves and microwaves are forms of electromagnetic energy that are collectively described by the term radio frequency or RF.
RF emissions are discussed in terms of energy, radiation, or fields. Radiation is defined as energy travelling through the air in form of waves or particles. Electromagnetic radiation can be described as waves of electric and magnetic energy moving together or radiating through space.
These radiation waves are generated by the movement of electrical charges through a conductive metal object, like an antenna. The movement of energy in a radio or television or cellular base station antenna generates electromagnetic waves that radiate away from the antenna and are eventually intercepted by a receiving antenna such as a TV antenna, a car radio antenna, or an antenna integrated into a computer or handheld device such as a cellular telephone. As a matter of fact, with the impending IOT movement, or ‘internet of things”, appliances like lightbulbs, coffee makers, washers, dryers, ovens, and even dishwashers have built-in antennas for wireless communication.
Frequency is the number of electromagnetic waves passing any given point in one second. For example, a typical radio wave transmitted by your an average FM radio station has a wavelength of about 10 feet or 3 meters in a frequency of about 100 million cycles or waves per second, known as 100 megahertz. Your favorite FM radio station sends about 100 million ten-foot-long RF electromagnetic waves into the air and through buildings and human bodies every second.
Telecommunication services cannot exist without EMF. Microwave ovens, commercial heating, manufacturing, diagnostic medical services, some medical techniques, and radar are also uses of RF energy. There’s also natural RF produced by earth and space, so no matter how hard you try to hide, we’re permanently surrounded by radiation.
EMF radiation is classified as non-ionizing or ionizing. Ionizing EMF radiation like certain UV rays and x-rays can break chemical bonds, which is not great. That means they can cause cell damage and living things, which is obviously bad for us. RF radiation typically found in radio, TV, cell phone, and Wi-Fi transmissions is considered non-ionizing. Some sort of EMF radiation is emitted by all technical equipment or devices – basically anything that gets plugged in or runs on a battery. Power lines, radar systems, communication towers, cell phones, cordless phones, Wi-Fi routers, iPads, TVs, computers, gaming consoles all produce some sort of EMF radiation.
IS EMF HARMFUL TO HUMANS?
Here’s where it gets interesting: all EMF radiation has an effect on the human body, but the question is whether it’s a negligible effect or a negative effect, and to what degree.
Microwaves are a specific category of radio waves. They can be defined as radio frequency radiation with frequencies from several megahertz to several gigahertz or thousands of megahertz. One of the most familiar and widespread uses of microwave energy is found in household microwave ovens, which operate at a frequency of about 2450 megahertz or 2.45 gigahertz. Sound familiar? That’s right, the same frequency your microwave oven uses to heat your food is also used for most cordless phones and Wi-Fi routers. Technically, Wi-Fi channels typically range from 2.412 to 2.472 gigahertz, right in that spectrum.
Circling back to my original problem the WiFi interference, I thought microwave ovens were causing Wi-Fi interference. But most microwave ovens are well-shielded and will not emit enough radiation to interfere with wireless communications even when they’re on. If your microwave is very old or was dropped or damaged in a move, it might have a damaged shield. To be safe, it’s a good idea to replace it.
Research continues on the possible effects of exposure to RF and microwave radiation. 2.4 gigahertz is far from ionizing radiation, the type that can quickly harm human tissue and cause bad things like cancer. However, it can cause an increase in the temperature of water in our bodies. It would take an unlikely amount of microwave energy to cause harm to a human body, but as scientists are beginning to study the effects more closely, some people are beginning to change their minds.
MEDICAL STUDIES ON RF AND EMF
In 2011, the WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans. They cited a potential increased risk of glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer associated with wireless phone use. Also, eyes and testes are vulnerable to heating by RF energy because of the relative lack of available blood flow to dissipate the excessive heat. Laboratory experiments have shown that 30 minutes to 1 hour of considerably high levels of RF radiation, that’s much more than any human would likely experience, can cause cataracts and sterility in rabbits.
Typical environmental levels of RF energy routinely encountered by the general public are far below levels necessary to produce significant heating and increase body temperature. However, there may be situations, particularly workplace environments near high powered RF sources, where recommended limits for safe exposure of human beings to RF energy could be exceeded.
Some people are more sensitive to EMF than others. There’s a more recently discovered illness known as electronic hypersensitivity. Symptoms include unexplained fatigue, sleep disturbances, headaches, difficulty concentrating, depression, memory loss, visual and hearing disruptions, irritability, unexplained tinnitus, irregular heartbeat, dizziness, and nausea. When electrically hypersensitive people go into an electromagnetically clean environment, many of their symptoms seem to diminish or disappear. Placebo effect? It’s still unclear. Studies predicted that by 2017 almost 50% of the population may be complaining of this illness, but it didn’t happen. Some countries have withdrawn Wi-Fi from public areas and even creating radiation-free refuges for people with electrosensitivity.
Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to avoid most microwave radiation in high doses. Move wireless routers and cellphones further away from people. The further they are away, the less RF you’ll absorb. Use headphones or the speakerphone when you talk on your phone to keep it away from your brain. Don’t sleep with your cell phone under your pillow. Don’t put your cell phone in your front pockets. And turn things off when you’re not using them. Unplug your Wi-Fi router and turn off your phone if you don’t need it at night.
ARE SMARTPHONES PRODUCING HARMFUL RADIATION?
The truth is we don’t have a lot of empirical evidence regarding the effects of non-ionizing radiation since it’s relatively recent. Cellphones have been around for nearly 50 years but only becoming mainstream in the last 20. Since smartphones took off, RF is everywhere. Wi-Fi routers emit a beacon signal that is continuous as long as the device is powered on. In other words, you don’t have to be connected to the Internet to be exposed to the radiation generated by a wireless router. When information is either uploaded or downloaded, the radiation levels increase both at the router end of the computer. The same is true for cordless phones and wireless baby monitors. Due to the slow growth of cancer and other diseases, it will likely take several decades to collect and analyze medical information regarding non-ionizing radiation and its effects on our bodies.
Smart meters installed by your local electric company have been transmitting pulses of pretty concerning power for about ten years, causing many people to take notice. It takes quite a while to formulate a statistically significant health finding and up to now there’s not a whole lot of evidence or research.
I can’t offer any medical advice, but I can provide you with some information about the potential risks of exposure to RF radiation.
RF radiation is a type of non-ionizing radiation that can come from sources like cell phones, microwaves, and wireless routers. Non-ionizing radiation does not have enough energy to break chemical bonds in DNA, so it is not considered to be a carcinogen. However, some studies have shown that exposure to RF radiation may be linked to other health problems, such as headaches, sleep problems, and changes in the immune system.
The amount of RF radiation that is considered safe to exposure to varies depending on the source of the radiation and the length of exposure. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has set limits on the amount of RF radiation that is allowed to be emitted from cell phones and other electronic devices. However, the FCC’s limits are based on the amount of radiation that is necessary to cause heating in the body, and they do not take into account other potential health risks.
The bottom line on RF radiation and its effect on us is that the jury is still out. But it’s not looking great. In the meantime, until we all know for sure, it might be prudent to take a few precautionary steps. For example, you can:
- Keep your cell phone away from your body when you are not using it.
- Use a headset or speakerphone when you are talking on your cell phone.
- Turn off your Wi-Fi router and other wireless devices when you are not using them.
- Move your wireless router away from common areas where people spend a lot of time, such as the living room and bedroom.
- Consider using a Faraday cage to block RF radiation.
It is important to note that there is still a lot of research that needs to be done on the potential risks of exposure to RF radiation. If you are concerned about your health, you should talk to your doctor.