Epidemiological studies of mobile phone use and risk of brain cancer have relied on self-reported use, years as a subscriber, and billing records as exposure surrogates without addressing the level of radiofrequency (RF) power output. The objective of this study was to measure environmental, behavioral and engineering factors affecting the RF power output of GSM mobile phones during operation. We estimated the RF-field exposure of volunteer subjects who made mobile phone calls using software-modified phones (SMPs) that recorded output power settings. Subjects recruited from three geographic areas in the U.S. were instructed to log information (place, time, etc.) for each call made and received during a 5-day period. The largest factor affecting energy output was study area, followed by user movement and location (inside or outside), use of a hands-free device, and urbanicity, although the two latter factors accounted for trivial parts of overall variance. Although some highly statistically significant differences were identified, the effects on average energy output rate were usually less than 50% and were generally comparable to the standard deviation. These results provide information applicable to improving the precision of exposure metrics for epidemiological studies of GSM mobile phones and may have broader application for other mobile phone systems and geographic locations.