The technological benefits of Wireless Fidelity (WiFi) technology versus the wireless hazards is a hot debate in many different countries. In the United States, a class action lawsuit has been brought against a school board who use the technology in their classrooms. In Britain, it has been removed from some classrooms altogether. Are these precautionary measures necessary, or simply the reaction of a public frightened by a technology they do not fully understand?
What is WiFi?
It is possible to form a somewhat informed opinion on the safety or potential risks of this new technology without actually being a physicist yourself.
Quite simply, Wi-Fi or WiFi is the wireless technology most commonly used to connect people to the internet in schools, coffee shops, hotels and other network locations, or to connect cell phone users to one another. Wi-Fi is certainly convenient for travellers and students, but is it dangerous? Many believe that the low-level electromagentic waves that radiate from the wireless internet source to each individual user can be harmful to your health, even causing cellular changes and possibly cancer.
The area covered by a Wi-Fi internet connection is known as a “hotspot”; this is the area in which the waves radiate to give users access to the internet. It can span several kilometers, although the waves cannot pass through treed areas. While in the hotspot, a laptop user can simply connect to the network, access the internet, and check their email or do their other business on the run.
A wireless network uses radio waves to send communications across a two-way network. A computer’s wireless adapter translates the internet connection data into a radio wave and sends it to the wireless router – the one in your laptop. This process works in reverse as well, sending a radio signal back to the host computer.
Hotspots a Hot Topic
Some report an unusual sensitivity to the waves emitted in these hotspots. Officially, the levels of WiFi electromagnetic radiation emitted into the environment in a hotspot are well below recommended levels and there is no evidence of any risk to humans. Yet some people blame Wi-Fi exposure for everything from sleep disturbances, headaches and blurred vision, to heart and breathing problems.
Because no study has ever shown a conclusive risk to human health from exposure to these low-frequency radio transmissions, many simply shrug off the complaints of these people, choosing to believe their symptoms are coincidental or caused by another source.
So just how high are the levels of radiation in a hotspot? According to Dr. Michael Clark of the HPA, the published research on mobile phones and wireless networks does not indicate a risk to human health. “All the expert reviews done here and abroad indicate that there is unlikely to be a health risk from wireless networks,” he says. “The few studies on mobile phone masts that have appeared in peer-reviewed journals claiming to observe health effects are not at all conclusive. The real problem is deciding what level of precaution is appropriate.
“When we have conducted measurements in schools, typical exposures from wi-fi are around 20 millionths of the international guideline levels of exposure to radiation. As a comparison, a child on a mobile phone receives up to 50 per cent of guideline levels. So a year sitting in a classroom near a wireless network is roughly equivalent to 20 minutes on a mobile. If wi-fi should be taken out of schools, then the mobile phone network should be shut down, too – and FM radio and TV, as the strength of their signals is similar to that from wi-fi in classrooms.”
The Future of Wi-Fi
While the debate rages on, most simply choose to use the technology until a conclusive study tells them that it is unsafe. Experts are paying attention to the concerns of those who claim to be affected by WiFi radiation; in September, 30 scientists from all over the world signed a resolution calling for a “full and independent review of the scientific evidence that points to hazards from current electromagnetic field exposure conditions worldwide.”
Wifi is a technology which is used daily in a number of environments. Schools, colleges and universities, offices and public places such as libraries all contain Wifi connections. There is no denying that Wifi makes communication a lot simpler, but the radiation emitted within a wireless network could pose potential health risks.
Why Wifi Radiation Could be a Problem
Over the last few years, experts have become concerned over the amount of Wifi radiation we are exposed to on a daily basis. Wireless networks use radio waves to transmit information between different devices such as computers. In a classroom setting, a WiFi connection could be used to link each student’s individual computer to the others, enabling the teacher to share an online lesson with the entire class. In an office setting, users could collaborate in real time over a single document, each from the comfort of their own desk.
While this is certainly convenient, it has raised concerns over the amount of radiation people are exposed to unknowingly as they go about their business. People claiming to be sensitive to radio waves have experienced headaches, nausea, dizziness and other ill effects after exposure to WiFi radiation. More disturbing, though, is some scientists’ speculation that these waves may actually cause changes in human cells at the molecular level, increasing the risk of certain types of cancers.
These waves have a frequency of around 2.4 Gigahertz and in comparison to ionizing radiation, have a much lower radiation level. This means that when you are using a Wifi connection, you are less likely to become ill than you would be if you were exposed to an X-Ray machine. However, the moral dilemma arises when one considers the amount of radiation people are exposed to without even realizing it. Simply being present in an area with a WiFi connection puts a person at risk. With the growing popularity of these networks, it is impossible to know when you are being exposed and to what degree.
Protecting Yourself from WiFi Radiation
Although many feel that WiFi radiation is dangerous, there are no definitive studies that prove what level of radiation is safe over a given period of time. Because it is hard to pinpoint the actual level at which this radiation becomes dangerous, governments find it difficult to regulate their use.
Another issue is that safety regulations are based on the level of radiation transmitted within one network. However, people living and working in densely populated areas may be in range of hundreds of networks. The effects of 2.4 Gigahertz are not thought to be dangerous, but no one knows what happens when a person is exposed to that level from a hundred different sources over an extended period of time.
As a result, a number of products have been developed to help people protect themselves from Wifi technology. These include beads, which the person will wear in order to stop the radiation from absorbing into the skin.
Overall the most effective way to limit the wireless internet dangers is by limiting your use of them. In your home, use cables to connect to a broadband internet connection instead of opting for wireless. This is obviously not always possible, especially if you work in an environment where there are constant Wifi connections, but limiting your exposure is the best option.