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Don't dump your mobile... just yet

Pratap Ravindran

MUMBAI, June 21

IF you're rushing out to turn in your mobile for a loud hailer because you've read media reports that a Finnish study has said cell-phones weaken the brain's defences against toxins and infections — hold on.

For one thing, the scientist who headed the two-year study at Finland's Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority, Prof Darius Leszczynski, has gone on record saying his research, involving mobile level radiation beamed at human brain cells cultured in Petri dishes, does not establish beyond doubt that mobiles are dangerous. All that his research has indicated, he says, is that more money has to be pumped into studies to explore whether cell-phones do, in fact, represent a real danger to users.

For another, Prof Leszczynski has made it quite clear that he intends to continue using cell phones....

The cell-phone industry, which says it has spent millions of dollars investigating the safety of handsets, insists that absolutely no links have been established between cell-phones and adverse health effects. No big surprise — the industry can hardly be expected to confess that it has been frying your brain cells all along.

Laboratory tests on mice have indicated that cell-phones can and do adversely affect their health, leading to speculation as to whether the electromagnetic radiation emitted by handsets could mess up human cells, the brain and the immune system, increasing the risk of diseases ranging from Alzheimer's to cancer. But then, it's not clear whether findings derived from studies on mice can validly be applied to human beings.

However, the general consensus among those involved in studying the health implications of the use of cell-phones is that there's no harm at all in following some basic precautions:

  • Keep cell-phone conversations short;

  • Use hands-free kits as they reduce the amount of electromagnetic radiation entering the brain;

  • Select cell-phones with a long talk time, as they are more efficient and, therefore, produce less powerful emissions;

  • Avoid handsets with high SAR (Specific Absorption Rate) values as they emit more radiation; and

  • Buy phones with external aerials so that you can hold them a fair distance from your head during use. Exploiting research in GPS (Global Positioning System) location-based technology, scientists at Loughborough University's Centre for Mobile Communications Research (CMCR) in the UK have claimed a breakthrough in antenna design that could lead to safer mobiles.

    According to the CMCR head, Mr Yiannis Vardaxoglou, the centre has discovered that a small-scale antenna that it had designed for devices receiving GPS has a low SAR.

    A reduction of roughly 85 per cent in the SAR has been achieved through the creation of an antenna, which uses helical or spiral copper tracks etched into a minute ceramic cylinder.

    The GeoHelix Antenna, as it is called, is favoured by manufacturers of GPS handsets and wireless location devices as the low, near-field technology allows weak satellite signals to be received, even when the equipment is near a building or the signal is blocked by the user's body.

    The downside, however, is that if the signal power is reduced beyond a point, the base station will just step up its power.

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