Objectives: The output power of a mobile phone is directly related to its radiofrequency (RF) electromagnetic field strength, and may theoretically vary substantially in different networks and phone use circumstances due to power control technologies. To improve indices of RF exposure for epidemiological studies, we assessed determinants of mobile phone output power in a multinational study.
Methods: More than 500 volunteers in 12 countries used Global System for Mobile communications software-modified phones (GSM SMPs) for approximately 1 month each. The SMPs recorded date, time, and duration of each call, and the frequency band and output power at fixed sampling intervals throughout each call. Questionnaires provided information on the typical circumstances of an individual's phone use. Linear regression models were used to analyse the influence of possible explanatory variables on the average output power and the percentage call time at maximum power for each call.
Results: Measurements of over 60,000 phone calls showed that the average output power was approximately 50% of the maximum, and that output power varied by a factor of up to 2 to 3 between study centres and network operators. Maximum power was used during a considerable proportion of call time (39% on average). Output power decreased with increasing call duration, but showed little variation in relation to reported frequency of use while in a moving vehicle or inside buildings. Higher output powers for rural compared with urban use of the SMP were observed principally in Sweden where the study covered very sparsely populated areas.
Conclusions: Average power levels are substantially higher than the minimum levels theoretically achievable in GSM networks. Exposure indices could be improved by accounting for average power levels of different telecommunications systems. There appears to be little value in gathering information on circumstances of phone use other than use in very sparsely populated regions.