Do you ever wonder what it would be like if you could see all the radio signals that pass by and through you each day from the Wi-Fi in your home, office or even your local coffee shop? Every day, you live amongst a swirl of radio signals being emitted from and received by these Wi-Fi devices—Wi-Fi routers, smartphones, laptops, tablets, and even a smart thermostat. Yet you count on them to do things like watch movies, do our jobs, read the news, and connect with social media.
But can those signals in some way impact your health? Some people and researchers believe that yes, it can. In this post, you’ll get a better sense of how Wi-Fi works and learn about research that shows how and if Wi-Fi signal exposure, particularly that from cell phones, can harm your health.
How Does Wi-Fi Work?
Wi-Fi is a radio signal that operates in the 2.4 gigahertz (GHz) or 5GHz bands. Think of a radio signal as a wave that starts at a device and goes outward, weakening the further it gets from its source.
For comparative purposes, your FM radio signal uses radio signal frequencies between 87.5 megahertz (MHz) and 108.0 MHz. Think of frequency as how quickly the device forms and sends each wave. One gigahertz (GHz) is equivalent to 1000 megahertz (MHz). That means that Wi-Fi uses signals that are 1000 times as frequent as that used by your radio. True fact: your Wi-Fi signal is about the same signal strength as that of your microwave (2.45GHz). It’s also of a non-ionizing form, just as a microwave uses—this is different from the more dangerous ionizing forms used in X-rays and gamma rays.
Now that you understand what a Wi-Fi signal is, you probably understand why people prefer higher frequency Wi-Fi—the higher the signal frequency, the faster the data flows in and out. For example, consider the data heavy activity of streaming a movie. When you have a low frequency Wi-Fi connection, movies may either stop while the video data loads, play haltingly, or play with lower quality. With a high frequency signal, your movie typically streams smoothly and is of high quality.
To complete the explanation of Wi-Fi, you need to understand how that Wi-Fi signal gets used by your router and devices. Your W-Fi router receives data through either a phone line (DSL) or cable connection. It then transmits that signal from an antenna to an electronic device like your smartphone or tablet that has a wireless receiver and that is in range of the signal. That receiver is a network card on your device or router that translates the signal into its contents for use on your device—whether that’s voice, video and audio, image, and so on.
Possible Concerns over Cancer and Other Issues
For years, research has been conducted on the impact on health due to the radiation from cell phones. As noted in Time magazine, based on his research, Joel Moskowitz, director of the Center for Family and Community Health at the University of California, Berkeley, believes that constant low radiation from radio waves like those emitted from your cell phone can indeed cause negative health effects—leading to cancer, neurodevelopmental, and reproductive problems.
Moskowitz is not alone. Even the World Health Organization (WHO), based on assertions by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), cautions that mobile phones may be a carcinogen. However, as Forbes observes, the carcinogen level associated with cell phone use by the IARC is the same as pickled vegetables, Styrofoam cups, and coffee.
A Danish study with results published in 2006 showed that compared to the general population, cell phone users had no increase in the risk of these cancers: brain and nervous system, salivary gland tumors, eye tumors, or leukemia. It is worth noting that while women did not have an increase in the risk of these cancers, they did have increased risk compared to the general population with smoking-related cancers, uterine cervix cancer, and kidney cancer. Of the 450, 095 study participants, 62,542 were female, and on average, study participants had used cell phones for 8.5 years.
Take a Deep Breath and Consider Your Exposure
Although most evidence points to little connection to health issues from cell phones, it is important to look at how you use cell phones compared to a Wi-Fi router or even a laptop or tablet. First of all, a cell phone is close to your body, and when you speak into it or hear someone on it, unless you are using a wired headset, you hold it right next to your head. At this point, the source of those Wi-Fi radio waves—where those waves are most intense—is right by your head. Secondly, the flow of data during a conversation, while not exactly continuous, is somewhat constant.
Now think about your Wi-fi router. The signal gets weaker the further away from it you are. It’s diluted, if you will. In addition, as a chief technical officer (CTO) explains in response to a Quora question, your Wi-Fi router is not sending out a signal continuously; it sends it out when it has data to send. Similarly, when you’re on a laptop, it’s sending or receiving data when you stream a video, send an email, or load a web page. It’s not happening continuously.
Cell phones may be your biggest source of concern when it comes to health issues from Wi-Fi radio signals. It makes sense to be a bit more cautious and to keep up with the latest studies on the impact of cell phone radiation on health. Simply enough, until more high-quality studies get conducted, particularly ones that span decades, you won’t really be able to determine if Wi-Fi and cell phone use damage your health. One such study has been underway for years on an international scale—the COSMOS study. Learn more about the study by visiting the UK branch of the COSMOS study.
What Can You Do?
Clearly you can do things to minimize your exposure if you have concerns. For example, don’t sit right next to the router when you work or use your electronic devices. With cell phones, create distance between you and the cell phone by using wired, not wireless, headsets when you take or make calls.
In many ways, though, the real danger of Wi-Fi seems to be how much time we spend using it rather than living in the physical world. Ask yourself if you really need to be so connected all the time. Take a break from social media. Get outside. Go for a hike. Walk the dog. Go to an art class. Get out in the real world. It’s probably the healthiest place to be.