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Special report radio for understanding radio

Radio is at the heart of our activities at Axione, which is why we are offering you the opportunity to learn more about this technology and 5G in a special report.

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Understanding the origins of radio in telecommunications

Radio plays an important role in telecommunications. Initially used for long-distance communications and broadcasting services, shortly after the first radio transmission by Italian inventor and engineer – Guglielmo Marconi – in 1895, radio has gradually spread to all areas of telecommunications, through to modern-day mobile telephony. *

Radio refers to the entire network of masts that can pick up and transmit a signal, allowing users to make phone calls, surf the web and exchange files from your smartphone. This is also what we refer to as mobile networks.

These masts mainly form the radio network and transmit 3G, 4G and soon 5G communications.

Radio: technology that can spark controversy  

It is highly likely that you have attended a dinner party with friends and when you talk about your job at Axione, in telecommunications, the topic of 5G spontaneously creeps into the discussion between the main course and dessert. At first, you do not have a considered opinion on the matter. Shortly after, you provide factual evidence but this requires education on the subject to fully explain things to your audience who seem concerned or eager to ask you questions.

The controversy surrounding mobile telephony is certainly one of the most important issues when people are asked about technological risks or the degree of trust placed in public authorities, experts and health authorities.

However, despite more than a decade of scientific publications and reports on radio frequencies and more than half a century of electromagnetic fields, the voices of associations and ordinary citizens are increasingly being heard, denouncing a risk that is feared, or even felt, but which is yet to be determined. Health concerns are frequently foregrounded with untold amounts of scientific data.

However, despite more than a decade of scientific publications* [1] and reports on radio frequencies and more than half a century of electromagnetic fields, the voices of associations and ordinary citizens are increasingly being heard, denouncing a risk that is feared, or even felt, but which is yet to be determined.

Health concerns are frequently foregrounded with untold amounts of scientific data.

Each and every one of us must listen carefully to one another. What’s more it is our role to calmly communicate the facts rather than spreading doubt. With this in mind, we drafted the special report in an endeavour to provide objective and scientific data and spark a fully transparent debate that showcases additional expertise.

[1] *Over the last 30 years, considerable knowledge has been gathered regarding the effects of radio frequencies on living organisms. The EMF Portal80 database, dedicated to the effects of radio frequencies, contains more than 28,000 English- and German-published studies in peer-reviewed journals, with 4,600 focused on mobile telephony. Output is even increasing, with 1,000 articles listed annually in the early 2010s and over 2,000 in 2019.

3 core missions at Axione
Axione's role
Deployment of new sites
After a study and design phase, Axione negotiates directly with stakeholders to deploy new masts to connect residents and businesses to modern communications networks.
The development of existing sites
Our teams oversee the implementation of technical improvements requested by our customers as well as technological upgrades necessary for the deployment of new networks such as 5G. This is to continually ensure that our solutions cater to users' expectations as much as possible.
Network maintenance and servicing
This is carried out through preventive maintenance – by conducting annual checks on our facilities – in addition to curative maintenance, whenever customers request to complete an operation to restore service quality.
3 main missions in the field of radio infrastructure development.
Electromagnetic waves

1 - What is an electromagnetic wave?

A wave is a disturbance that moves energy, not matter.

Visually speaking, if we take the example of a stone thrown into the water, it creates a disturbance which, by absorbing part of the stone’s energy, will spread it around.
The height, distance and duration of the waves depend on the energy initially transmitted; in other words, the mass of the stone and the force with which it was thrown.

These ‘ripples’ on the surface of the water are the easiest and most direct way to ‘visualise’ waves. However, waves take many forms, which follow the same principle but are invisible to the naked eye.
An electromagnetic wave is a class of waves that can travel in a propagation environment such as a vacuum or air. Its speed is close to that of light, i.e., nearly 300,000 kilometres (186,000 miles) per second. These waves are produced by moving electric charges.

In practice, electromagnetic waves are used to operate smartphones, radios, or to take X-Rays of the human body. 
The term ‘radio frequency’ (often abbreviated to ‘RF’) represents an electromagnetic wave frequency. This includes frequencies used by various radio communication platforms, including mobile phones, Wi-Fi, and signals for other purposes such as radars and microwaves. Waves using such frequencies are called radio waves.

2 – Limit value of waves  
French regulations impose an overall maximum level of public exposure to electromagnetic fields. Since 1998, exposure limit values have been defined by the European Union (EU) and by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP).

For instance, in the case of a mobile phone base station, the entire infrastructure is exposed. The measuring parameter is the electric field level.

Wave exposure limits for various types of electronic devices

An additional indicator is used to measure the rate at which the energy produced by connected devices such as mobile phones is absorbed by the human body. This is what we call the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR). The SAR is measured over part of or the entire body and is calculated in watts per kilogram (W/kg). In the case of head exposure, as is the case with mobile phones positioned next to the ear, the SAR is limited to 2 W/kg.

Since 1 July 2020, the display of SAR has become mandatory for electronic devices that may be used close to the body. This applies to connected watches with SIM cards, walkie-talkies, and Bluetooth headphones.

Current exposure limit values (in volts per metre, V/m)

3 – Propagation mode for electromagnetic waves

“Danger that is felt, but which is invisible is the most disturbing kind”– Jules César


People are naturally afraid of the unknown. Their sense of fear is only exacerbated in the face of invisibility. The same applies to people’s grasp of the electromagnetic waves emitted by radiotelephony relays.
Against this backdrop, it is easier to explain their propagation mode through metaphor, with the lighthouse representing the antenna tower (or generally speaking, the mast structure) and lamps, our masts.

As such, it is easier to understand that being at the foot of the lighthouse (let alone in the lighthouse), people are unaffected by the light beams transmitted in the surrounding areas. Our radio relays serve the same purpose which is to provide radio coverage around the structure.

Factoring in the propagation of radio waves (in a direct line), masts are usually installed from a height, either or on the roofs of buildings or on top of antenna towers, for instance. This means that their beam travels like that of a lighthouse illuminating the sea, only reaching the ground at a distance of 50 to 200 metres from the mast, depending on its height.

The above diagram illustrates the specific characteristics of electromagnetic waves. The high attenuation of wave intensity depending on distance from relay masts should be noted.

In fact, contrary to popular belief, the biggest exposure to emitted radio frequency waves does not occur when you are closest to a mobile phone relay mast. In the air, the power of a radio signal considerably decreases based on distance and, for the same power, the higher the frequency used, the less distance carried.

Like a lighthouse, masts have a slanted emitting beam at an angle that is always the same. In urban areas, masts are lower and “run through” a radius of about 300 metres. Conversely, in suburban areas, they are higher with the beam touching the ground further, at 1,000 metres.

Electromagnetic wave intensity covered by a radio mast depending on distance

4 – Ways of measuring electromagnetic fields

A person may request an electromagnetic field exposure measurement for residential premises, but also for public places such as schools. This request is free of charge and must be made using a form available with an explanatory note on the public services website: https://www.service-public.fr/. This request must be sent to the Agence Nationale des Fréquences (French Frequency Agency – ANFR) and exclusively made through authorised organisations including local authorities, prefectures and approved associations.

Strict protocol is adopted to measure public exposure to electromagnetic waves. It is developed by ANFR engineers and technicians and through public consultation with stakeholders.

Commissioning of the first New Deal radio site in France’s Var department

The effects of radio frequencies on human health have sparked a great deal of controversy for several years. Scientists agree that acute exposure to high intensity electromagnetic fields can have thermal effects on the body with a local rise in body temperature.

1 – Health organisations point to the carcinogenic effects of electromagnetic waves

In May 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified radio waves transmitted from mobile devices as potentially having “carcinogenic” effects on humans.
The classification of radio frequency waves as potentially carcinogenic does not refer to radiotelephony relays; rather, the waves emitted by the telephone.

Experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) and IARC based their findings on studies showing an increased risk of glioma (a specific type of malignant brain tumour) linked to the use of cordless phones (mobile and home) for a total usage time of more than half an hour per day for over ten years.
In response to such uncertainty, French law has introduced several information and restriction policies – one of which is France’s law of 12 July 2010.

The latter prohibits promotional advertising of mobile phone use to children aged under 14, whilst obliging vendors to provide a hands-free kit in order to limit exposure to waves, particularly among young children.
Equally, in response to this uncertainty, the WHO recommends phone use in the best possible mobile reception conditions, with at least three bars displayed on the screen. The lower the mobile reception, the more the mobile phone increases its emitting power to connect with a supposedly distant mast.

Summing up, then, evidence singles out potential health risks linked to mobile phone use through transmitted waves. However, the best solution centres on the deployment of a high-quality network. This involves the installation of radiotelephony relays such as antenna towers and relay masts. In short, the higher the network performance, the lower the power emitted by phones.

2 – Electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS) caused by electromagnetic waves

Electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS) is one of the “electromagnetic” pollution effects on health. Between 2 and 8% of the population claim to be “sensitive to electromagnetic pollution.” Since 2004, this condition has been classified by the WHO as an Idiopathic Environmental Intolerance (IEI), with no established explanation or cause. In France, the Agence Nationale Sécurité Sanitaire Alimentaire Nationale, (French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety – ANSSAN) issued an opinion in 2017, concluding that there was no solid evidence to establish a causal link between exposure to electromagnetic fields and the symptoms described by people claiming to be electromagnetic hypersensitive.

3 - Precautionary measures adopted by the French government in an effort to reduce the risk of health effects 
In a report published by the French Government entitled “Les téléphones mobiles, leurs stations de base et la santé” (“Mobile phones, their base stations and health”), although not accepting a health risk scenario for populations living near base stations, experts recommend that certain buildings, considered sensitive and located less than 100 metres from a base station, should not come into direct contact with the beams of a mast. The main purpose of this recommendation is to “lessen some of the concerns expressed by the general public, which to this day, are unfounded on the grounds of health."
This recommendation only applies to outdoor sites (schools, hospitals and nurseries) where children or patients, who are considered more sensitive, could spend up to several hours a day. As such, It does not apply to enclosed premises, since the area is highly attenuated by the structure of the building, nor in a building located directly below the mast as it remains outside the reach of the beam. In other words, the building is either unaffected or marginally affected by radiation from the mast.

5G sites authorised by the Agence Nationale des Fréquences (ANFR) by 27/11/2020
Source : www.igen.fr


Axione protects the safety of radio site employees by deploying devices to monitor electromagnetic field levels
Axione’s teams use a “dosimeter” device to measure electromagnetic field levels and to detect radio site employees’ exposure (antenna towers and rooftop surfaces). A dosimeter is a measuring instrument designed to measure the radioactive or equivalent dose received by a person exposed to waves.

In the event of excessively high area levels, the device automatically detects the affected individual. Site employees have the option of carrying the dosimeter in the pocket of a special work suit in order to limit the electromagnetic field.

By using this device, employees ensure that masts are switched off, thereby eradicating any danger of exposure.

Example dosimeter used by Axione teams

Environmental effects of electromagnetic waves
1 – Raising collective awareness and spotlighting initiatives introduced by the French government and operators

The development of the mobile telephony network has increased the number of devices which adversely affect the environment. Burial operations for digital networks made for fibre optics (for instance, in pavement ducts) cannot be carried out for mobile radiotelephony. In fact, radio devices require vertical structures located from a height to enable mast wave transmission. The challenge of integrating a relay into the environment lies in the need to combine technical, regulatory and landscaping considerations on a project basis.

Electromagnetic pollution occurs both outside and inside buildings. By way of example, vital outdoor source include high-voltage lines, telecommunication masts and radars. Parallel to this, indoor pollution sources are mainly found in electrical appliances such as TVs, computers, microwaves and induction hobs, not forgetting electrical circuits and sockets and wireless communication technologies (Wi-Fi and mobile phones). A case in point is that more than 70 different materials are used to make smartphones. These include precious metals. And smartphones alone use nearly 10% of the world’s cobalt production.

On 12 July 1999, the French government and mobile operators signed a binding national charter of environmental recommendations. This not only influenced their location choices, but also their device design methods in compliance with environmental restrictions linked to the quality and fragility of natural environments. French government services undertook to provide a methodological guidebook in an effort to better integrate radiotelephony devices into the landscape.

2 – Materials used to design devices are considered to pollute more than the transmitted waves

According to the Agence de l'environnement et de la maîtrise de l'énergie (French Agency for Ecological Transition), the manufacture of telecoms devices using non-renewable raw materials (oil, zinc, etc.) is the most harmful process to the environment. On most occasions, these materials are extracted from mines and pollute the soil and water since they are generally not or hardly recyclable. This combined technology is energy-intensive, requiring a substantial amount of rare and toxic materials.

User benefits from Axione solutions

Meeting users’ increased connectivity needs by deploying radio infrastructure

A report published in 2021 by Hootsuite and We Are Social Digital showed that more than 117 million people have started using mobile phones this past year. The total number of users increased by 2.3% over the period. The figures are even higher when factoring in the number of cellular connections. Between July 2020 and July 2021, around 670 million people started using a cellular connection, including IoT, with the total number climbing to 10.4 billion worldwide.

Europe has by far the largest number of citizens who use mobile phones. Last year, 86% of Europeans owned a mobile phone. By 2025, the penetration rate in the European market is expected to be 87%.

Hootsuite data confirmed that most people use smartphones to access mobile networks and the mobile Internet. In July, smartphones accounted for 6.4 billion or 79% of all mobile connections worldwide.

Axione teams crane an antenna tower at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport
87 %
European market penetration rate
6,4 billion
Number of smartphones in the world

The spectacular growth in the number of smartphone users has been accompanied by an increase in mobile traffic data:
  • significantly improved upload speeds (telephone to masts);
  • improved downstream speeds (masts to telephone);
  • reduced transmitting capabilities for mobile phones, in turn decreasing users’ exposure to mobile-emitted waves whilst boosting device autonomy.

Heli-transportation with landscape integration of a cross-shaped antenna tower in France’s Haute-Corse department

Focus 5G

5G is the fifth generation of standards for mobile telephony. It stands out through its speed and low latency, coupled with an ability to connect to multiple objects. 5G was developed with the aim of avoiding the network saturation announced for 2022. It also enables the creation of specialised service interfaces for industry.

5G is a scalable technology, which is still undergoing definition and standardisation at the global level. 5G features will be gradually introduced with specific performance gains materialising in a few years.

5G waves are measured in millimetres (mmWave), which are smaller than the wavelengths in metres or kilometres traditionally used for radio waves.

The crucial difference between 5G and previous mobile network generations is the substantially larger amount of data that can be exchanged without network congestion.

2 – 5G deployment in France

On 13 December 2013, the European Commission launched a public-private partnership on 5G. By 2020, the EU will have invested €700 million in this partnership.
5G was deployed in Paris on 19 March 2021 by the four French operators. It arrived late in the French capital compared with the very first cities equipped as early as December 2020. That said, Paris is now the most covered city, with 438 5G masts as of June 2021.

3 – User benefits

5G deployment is focused on effectively “facilitating” the digitalisation of society, by ensuring the development of new uses: virtual reality, autonomous and connected vehicles, smart cities (road traffic control, energy optimisation), the industry of the future (remote control of production facilities, machine connectivity), and the management of a large number of connected objects. Low power consumption will enable connected object operations for months or years without the need for human assistance.

Gauthier Roussilhe, author of the report entitled “La controverse 5G” (“5G controversies”)

4 – Health effects

To date, the exposure to electromagnetic fields resulting from 5G deployment in France (in the frequency band around 3.5 GHz) is sufficiently representative to identify tangible health effects.

Nevertheless, the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSSAN) has investigated whether exposure to different electromagnetic radiation frequencies causes different biological effects or alters intensity. The Agency deems it unlikely that 5G deployment poses any health risks as things stand.

A public consultation on “Exposure to electromagnetic fields linked to 5G deployment communications technology with potential health side effects” took place from 20 April to 1 June 2021. Additional results from this consultation will be published in due course.

5G's benefits


5 – Environmental effects
As was previously the case for 4G, smartphones and other devices are not compatible with next-generation telecommunications infrastructure. This scenario necessitates large-scale user upgrades to new devices. From an environmental standpoint, this involves considerable production costs.

More than 70 different materials are used to make smartphones. These include precious metals. Smartphones alone use nearly 10% of the world’s cobalt production, with cobalt considered a strategic material for industry. On top of this, smartphones also make use of plastics which often include chemical product mixtures for electronic boards and accessories such as chargers and the protective film and glass. In particularly, this applies to smartphone screens which comprises several layers of metal including copper and aluminium.
Each stage in the smartphone lifecycle – from raw material extraction to manufacturing, transport and use through to end-of-life – increases toxic and greenhouse gas emissions. The manufacturing stage is followed by distribution and use which both require substantial sources of energy, particularly when it comes to transport. Lastly, the decision to use a second-hand smartphone helps to reduce environmental effects.

Weight distribution of the materials used in a smartphone

Oeko-Institut, EcoInfo et Sénat

6 – Security risks

Experts’ predicted risks of 5G also concern cyber-attacks and cyber-threats. Its highly complex infrastructure and extensive virtualisation make it easier for hacking activities. Researchers have identified eleven exploitable vulnerabilities on the 5G network, from obtaining device locations to sending false alerts. The surge in connected objects (12 billion in 2022 versus 9 billion in 2017 according to Cisco) and mobile connections (422 million in 2022) will be a key sticking point.



Electromagnetic waves are now central to our daily activities. They are not only transmitted indoors through our domestic appliances but also outdoors through points located from a height (relay masts, antenna towers).

The distance of propagation influences our rate of exposure. Government institutions and organisations working to limit health risks fully recognise the health effects of radio waves. To that end, it is recommended that we reduce our use of electronic devices (smartphones, etc.) to avoid the risk of developing serious diseases.

Individual precautions should be taken, but conditions such as electromagnetic hypersensitivity have not yet been proven. With its arrival, 5G is sparking fresh controversy, from both a health and political standpoint. It is still much too early for authorities to communicate reliable results on the potential effects.

Radio maintenance on a rooftop surface located in the Greater Paris region
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Contact : Cyril PUISEUX
Production Director at Axione
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