ITU says strict electromagnetic radiation exposure limits may negatively impact 5G roll-out
telecompaper.com, 2 July 2018
Radiofrequency electromagnetic field (RF-EMF) exposure limits have become a critical concern for further deployment of wireless networks, especially in certain countries, regions and even specific cities, according to the ITU document 'The impact of RF-EMF exposure limits stricter than the ICNIRP or IEEE guidelines on 4G and 5G mobile network deployment'. This problem affects countries such as China, India, Poland, Russia, Italy and Switzerland, regions like Brussels and cities like Paris.
The document refers to an analysis by the Boston Consulting Group of the unfavourable effects of different EMF exposure limits on network roll-out, i.e. deployment of spectrum, technology and sites, which have been simulated in Poland and can also serve as an illustrative example for other countries with power density limits stricter than the ICNIRP or IEEE guidelines, e.g., Russia, India, China, Italy, Switzerland, Paris and regions of Belgium.
Additional radio frequencies, e.g. 60 MHz (FDD – 2x30 MHz) in the 700 MHz spectrum band, 100 MHz in the 2300 MHz band and 400 MHz in the 3.4-3.8 GHz spectrum range, have or will become available for 4G and 5G mobile communications in the near future. This would double the available spectrum and capacity in mobile networks for the case of Poland.
However, deploying more spectrum and consequently increasing the transmitted power on an existing site increases the EMF exposure and hence the power density levels. In dense urban areas and urban areas where distances between antennae and people are short already, the strict Polish EMF exposure limits do not allow mobile network operators to use the extra spectrum on most sites. In dense urban areas, it is already the case that some of today's spectrum cannot be used and is wasted.
The EMF exposure limits below INCIRP or IEEE guidelines, as shown in the case of Poland, do not in most cases allow mobile network operators to fully leverage new antenna technologies, such as Massive MIMO and beamforming, or small cells, which are a key element of future 5G mobile networks.
Densifying the mobile network grid by adding new sites would be the third, but the most expensive and time-consuming, way to increase capacity in mobile networks. In order to cope with the data traffic explosion and assuming that spectrum and technology levers cannot be exploited, mobile network operators would have to have 3.5-fold the number of sites in urban areas by 2025 and almost seven-fold the number of sites in dense urban areas by 2025.
Given the limitations for deployment of new spectrum, technology and the very restricted growth of a number of sites (assuming 20 percent more sites than the status quo), as a result of the strict EMF exposure limits, the gap between capacity supply and data traffic demand will grow very quickly. Polish data traffic is estimated to have a CAGR of 36 percent until 2020, 29 percent until 2025 and 15 percent until 2030 (24x network data traffic in 2030 versus 2016).
For example, in the case of Poland, in 2020, 22 percent of available total mobile data traffic demand can already not be served, whereof 31 percent of urban traffic demand and 63 percent of dense urban traffic demand will remain unserved. In 2025, this rate will increase to 41 percent and in 2030 to up to 56 percent. In dense urban and urban areas with almost half of the Polish population, the numbers are even more dramatic.