Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Buffer zones around base stations would halve mobile phone coverage in Melbourne finds study

  peter mac small


The study found buffer zone policies in Melbourne would severely restrict mobile coverage and the development of new community facilities, such as hospitals.

Mobile phone coverage would be halved in Melbourne if local authorities enacted a policy to restrict mobile phone base stations within 500m of schools, child care centres and medical facilities, a new study has found.


The case study to investigate the impact of hypothetical buffer zone policies on a metropolitan city showed more than 3,000 mobile network antennas in the Melbourne area would need to be relocated and the development of new community facilities would be severely restricted.
“The impact on existing radio base stations of a 500 m exclusion zone if applied around community facilities...would cover 14.5% of the geographic area of Melbourne,” the report Impact of exclusion zone policies on siting base stations said.
“However, because there is a clear relationship between population, community facilities and the positions of radio base station, we found that 54.1% of all existing radio base stations in that area (3,102 sites) would be impacted by such an exclusion zone.”
“The analysis demonstrates that such a policy is unworkable and may actually have an adverse effect on community development both in regard to access to mobile services and the ability to locate new community facilities.”
Senior Director of Research and Sustainability for the GSMA Dr Jack Rowley – who commissioned the study – said there is no science-based rationale for distance-based exclusion zone policies around community facilities, which are sometimes proposed by local councils and governments in response to public opposition to mobile base stations.
“Research has shown that phone masts create exposures in public areas that are well below the exposure limit in international safety guidelines and setting arbitrary distances from network equipment does not guarantee that public exposures will be reduced,” Dr Rowley said.
“In fact, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency have said (PDF) infrastructure sited further from a community sensitive area may need to operate at a higher power and may result in higher EME [electromagnetic energy] exposures in that sensitive area.”
“That’s because if a network antenna is placed further from a school or hospital, it may in fact need to transmit at a higher power level to provide quality coverage and this could result in higher exposures.”
“In most cases the best location for network antennas in order to minimise exposure to their signals is closest to where the services are required, including near schools and residential areas.”
Dr Rowley also said policies that single out mobile network facilities in an attempt to protect community sensitive areas often have little regard for other sources of RF in the community, such as emergency services radio, broadcast AM/FM and television.
“Typical exposure levels associated with mobile base station antennas are comparable to radio and TV broadcasts, which means singling out radio base stations would have little impact on typical levels of exposure to radio signals from these other common sources,” Dr Rowley said.
The case study used the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association’s (AMTA) publicly accessible RFNSA website that shows the location of all mobile network sites in Australia and compared them to the location of community facilities including primary and secondary schools, pre-schools, and medical centres including hospitals.
The report also includes data on the impact of 100m, 300m, 500m and 1km hypothetical buffer zones in the built-up inner urban Melbourne suburb of South Yarra and the lower density outer suburb of Berwick.
An exclusion zone of 500 m around all community facilities in South Yarra would cover 87.5% of the area of that suburb, affecting virtually all existing antennas sites.
While in Berwick a policy of planning-based exclusion zones would not achieve the intended policy outcomes, because 39.1% of all community facilities are already within 500 m of a radio base station.
GSMA table
Source: GSMA health

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