Written by, Ryan McCaughey, PhD
How does the RF exposure from the new iPhones compare to previous generations and other phones?
The FCC maintains a database of SAR (Specific Absorption Rate) reports for RF transmitting devices, with every device given a unique FCC ID for reference. Each SAR report[i] contains extensive information (hundreds of pages) about the RF exposure from all the phone’s antennas (including cellular, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth), all the technologies (e.g. 2G, 3G and LTE), all the frequency bands, and all the use case scenarios (e.g. against the head, worn on the body, in hotspot mode, etc.). On their website[ii] or in their user manuals manufacturers often only note the highest measured values of SAR.
The following chart shows the peak head SAR from the FCC SAR report of some popular phones:
The iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR all fall well below the FCC limit and have slightly lower maximum head SAR than previous iPhone models, but they are still significantly higher than some other popular phones.
The FCC has adopted limits for “safe” exposure to radiofrequency (RF) energy. The limit for public exposure from cellular telephones is a SAR level of 1.6 watts per kilogram (W/kg). It should be noted that the FCC claim that any phone at or below 1.6 W/kg is “safe” is highly controversial. The limit was set in 1996 and only accounts for thermal effects of RF radiation. Since then many studies have shown non-thermal biological effects at much lower SAR[i]. For example, 1.0 W/kg is sufficient to cause reduced motility, sperm count, sperm morphology, and viability.
And even though all phones meet the FCC’s requirement, if you hold your phone closer to your body than the tested distance (for iPhones it is 5mm) you can exceed the limit. The City of Berkeley’s "Right to Know" ordinance addresses this by requiring that cellphone retailers display the following notification:
“To assure safety, the Federal Government requires that cellphones meet radiofrequency (RF) exposure guidelines. If you carry or use your phone in pants or shirt pocket or tucked into a bra when the phone is on and connected to a wireless network, you may exceed the federal guidelines for exposure to RF radiation. Refer to the instructions in your phone or user manual for information about how to use your phone safely.”