Skip Navigation

Wednesday July 23rd, 2014

Cell Site Safety

August 10, 2001

[From the Federal Communications Commission Web Site:]

Are Cellular, PCS Towers and Antennas Safe?

Base Stations

Cellular radio services transmit using frequencies between 800 and 900 megahertz (MHz). Transmitters in the Personal Communications Service (PCS) use frequencies in the range of 1850-1990 MHz. Antennas used for cellular and PCS transmissions are typically located on towers, water tanks or other elevated structures including rooftops and the sides of buildings. The combination of antennas and associated electronic equipment is referred to as a cellular or PCS "base station" or "cell site". Typical heights for freestanding base station towers or structures are 50-200 feet. A cellular base station may utilize several "omni-directional" antennas that look like poles, 10 to 15 feet in length, although these types of antennas are becoming less common in urban areas.

Sector Antennas

In urban and suburban areas, cellular and PCS service providers now more commonly use "sector" antennas for their base stations. These antennas are rectangular panels, e.g., about 1 by 4 feet in dimension, typically mounted on a rooftop or other structure, but they are also mounted on towers or poles. The antennas are usually arranged in three groups of three each. One antenna in each group is used to transmit signals to mobile units (car phones or handheld phones), and the other two antennas in each group are used to receive signals from mobile units.

Typical Number of Transmitters

At a given cell or PCS site, the total RF power that could be transmitted from each transmitting antenna at a cell site depends on the number of radio channels (transmitters) that have been authorized and the power of each transmitter. Typically, for a cellular base station, a maximum of 21 channels per sector (depending on the system) could be used. Thus, for a typical cell site utilizing sector antennas, each of the three transmitting antennas could be connected to up to 21 transmitters for a total of 63 transmitters per site. When omni-directional antennas are used, up to 96 transmitters could be implemented at a cell site, but this would be very unusual. Furthermore, while a typical base station could have as many as 63 transmitters, not all of the transmitters would be expected to operate simultaneously thus reducing overall emission levels. For the case of PCS base stations, fewer transmitters are normally required due to the relatively greater number of base stations.

Ground Level Radiation

The signals from a cellular or PCS base station antenna are essentially directed toward the horizon in a relatively narrow pattern in the vertical plane. The radiation pattern for an omni-directional antenna might be compared to a thin doughnut or pancake centered around the antenna while the pattern for a sector antenna is fan-shaped, like a wedge cut from a pie. As with all forms of electromagnetic energy, the power density from a cellular or PCS transmitter decreases rapidly as one moves away from the antenna. Consequently, normal ground-level exposure is much less than exposures that might be encountered if one were very close to the antenna and in its main transmitted beam.

RF Levels Thousands Times Less than FCC Limits

Measurements made near typical cellular and PCS installations, especially those with tower- mounted antennas, have shown that ground-level power densities are thousands of times less than the FCC's limits for safe exposure. In fact, in order to be exposed to levels at or near the FCC limits for cellular or PCS frequencies an individual would essentially have to remain in the main transmitting beam (at the height of the antenna) and within a few feet from the antenna. This makes it extremely unlikely that a member of the general public could be exposed to RF levels in excess of these guidelines due to cellular or PCS base station transmitters.

When cellular and PCS antennas are mounted at rooftop locations it is possible that ambient RF levels could be greater than those typically encountered on the ground. However, once again, exposures approaching or exceeding the safety guidelines are only likely to be encountered very close to or directly in front of the antennas. For sector-type antennas RF levels to the side and in back of these antennas are insignificant.

Return to Top

Are Cellular and Other Radio Towers Located Near Homes or Schools Safe for Residents and Students?

Levels Deemed Safe

As discussed above, radio frequency emissions from antennas used for wireless transmissions such as cellular and PCS signals result in exposure levels on the ground that are typically thousands of times less than safety limits. These safety limits were adopted by the FCC based on the recommendations of expert organizations and endorsed by agencies of the Federal Government responsible for health and safety. Therefore, there is no reason to believe that such towers could constitute a potential health hazard to nearby residents or students.

Radio and Television Transmitters

Other antennas, such as those used for radio and television broadcast transmissions, use power levels that are generally higher than those used for cellular and PCS antennas. Therefore, in some cases there could be a potential for higher levels of exposure on the ground. However, all broadcast stations are required to demonstrate compliance with FCC safety guidelines, and ambient exposures to nearby persons from such stations are typically well below FCC safety limits.

Return to Top

More Info

This information is provided by UCI's EH&S Department.