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Electromagnetic Fields

Mobile phones and health

New technology raises new questions. For instance, about the implications of rolling out 5G. There were similar concerns with the introduction of 3G. Research into the potential effects of electromagnetic fields (EMF), or radiation, from mobile networks has been going on for some time now.

A safe mobile network

We are aware of the concerns in society about EMF emitted by mobile networks. It is crucial that health concerns about 5G are addressed carefully. As a supplier of vital infrastructure, KPN guarantees a mobile network that is safe for people and the environment. As mobile technology and research into its effects are constantly evolving, it is important to keep a close eye on developments.

That is why we keep abreast of the scientific publications of leading bodies such as the Gezondheidsraad (Health Council of the Netherlands), Kennisplatform EMF (EMF Knowledge Platform) and the RIVM (National Institute for Public Health and the Environment). We comply with all the advisory guidelines and recommendations. We also provide data to scientists to support their research in the area of EMF and health. KPN acts immediately when the government updates standards or advisory guidelines based on new scientific information.

Transmission masts and antennas

To be able to offer mobile telephony and internet, KPN has a nationwide mobile network of transmission masts. For this purpose, we make use of licenses for frequencies allotted by the Dutch government. The signal between the transmission mast and the mobile phone is carried through the air by radio waves, which consist of an electromagnetic field. Mobile providers, including KPN, have reached agreement with the government about maximum radiation levels. These norms were revised in March of 2020 and are based on the latest scientific insights.

Electromagnetic Fields (EMF)

Broadly speaking, there are two types of electromagnetic fields: ionizing and non-ionizing radiation. This distinction is important.

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X-rays and gamma rays are examples of ionizing radiation. This contrasts with the non-ionizing radiation associated with all lowfrequency electromagnetic fields (between 10 kHz and 300 GHz). These radio-frequency fields are used for radio, television, mobile telephones and other appliances and have no ionizing effect.

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Always well within the norm

Mobile phones and transmitter masts may not generate fields that exceed exposure limits. The ICNIRP (International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection) has determined the exposure limits for non-ionizing radiation. This commission consists of an international group of independent scientists.


In scientific research involving exposure to transmission signals below the exposure limits, no evidence of possible adverse health effects has been found. According to the ICNIRP, there is also no scientific evidence indicating that other effects (known as ‘non-thermal effects’) have an adverse effect on health.

The first ICNIRP guidelines were published in 1998 and adopted by the European Commission in 1999 in the form of a recommendation to all European Member States advocating adoption of these exposure limits in each State’s national legislation. In the Netherlands, these guidelines are specified in a covenant between the government and the mobile providers. The ICNIRP recently revised its guidelines based of scientific research. The Dutch government intends to incorporate these new guidelines in new legislation.

KPN always remains well within the exposure limits. The government checks this continuously as well. In the Netherlands, Agentschap Telecom measures the field strengths and the Antennebureau issues information on antennas and EMF. The information published by the Antennebureau (see below) indicates that the ICNIRP guidelines include a generous safety margin: the exposure limits defined by the ICNIRP are 50 times lower than the point at which thermal effects occur (maximum temperature increase of 1 °C).

KPN acts immediately when the government updates standards or advisory guidelines based on new scientific information

Frequently asked questions

The electromagnetic fields generated by 5G antennas are similar to those of 2G, 3G and 4G antennas because 5G uses the same basic transmission techniques. Some scientists expect 5G to lead to higher exposure, because the increase in mobile communications (more data use) will require a greater number of antennas and an extension of the number of spectrum bands used per transmitter mast.

On the other hand, 5G makes use of more energy-efficient techniques, meaning that some antennas are able to send extremely focused signals to devices. This could lead to reduced bystander exposure. In any case, even after the introduction of 5G, the total exposure to electromagnetic fields must remain below the ICNIRP exposure limits and compliance will be closely monitored.

KPN is currently upgrading its entire mobile network. This upgrade includes the use of technology-neutral antennas. In other words, the antennas we use are not specifically designed for 5G, but can also support 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G. Initially, KPN will use the existing, roughly 5,000 antennas for 5G. In the coming years, the number of antennas will increase by roughly 10% in order to ensure good coverage and sufficient capacity throughout the Netherlands.

In the longer term, smaller, less powerful 5G antennas may also be added. These units are known as small cells. These small antennas are likely to be incorporated in street furniture such as bus shelters and lamp posts, and are designed to provide extra network capacity in very busy locations (such as a main railway station and a stadium). At the moment KPN does not have any small cells in use and also has no solid plans to install them. However, we do expect small cells to be introduced when the most appropriate spectrum bands for this type of unit become available; i.e. the 3.5 GHz band and the 26 GHz band. This is not expected to happen in the Netherlands for a few years yet. Even when they are available, mobile operators are not expected to roll out their networks nationwide in these bands.

On behalf of Dutch mobile operators, Monet consults with (national and local) governments about the installation of antennas for mobile communication. For more information, read Monet's factsheet.

For the time being, these ‘5G frequencies’ are not yet available in the Netherlands for 5G applications. The 3.5 GHz band will only be made available after September 2022. As for the 26 GHz band, the Dutch government does not yet have concrete plans for making these frequencies available. For example, the 3.5 GHz band is used for local applications in the south of the Netherlands (in the north of the country, this band is reserved for the satellite ground station in Burum) and the 26 GHz band is used for point-to-point connections (radio relay connections), which are also subject to EMF guidelines.

Obviously KPN will cooperate fully with measurement tests of these bands performed by the regulatory authorities and with properly organized scientific research. However, experiments with these bands are already being conducted in the Netherlands, based on experimental licenses. Inspectors from Agentschap Telecom, the radio communications regulator, are invited to take EMF measurements every time these experimental licenses are put into operation for the first time. This condition is stated in the experimental license. In addition, KPN facilitates testing by scientists in the mmWave bands, such as the 26 GHz band, when using them for experiments with 5G. This approach ensures that scientific research in these new 5G bands can be carried out faster and more efficiently.

The WHO and Kennisplatform EMV have published several tips for users who wish to take additional action to reduce their personal exposure to radiation while making calls.

Institutions involved in Electromagnetic Fields (EMF)

The ICNIRP (International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection) is an international group of scientists who, in 1998, determined the maximum permitted electromagnetic field strength, referred to as the exposure limits or ICNIRP guidelines. The ICNIRP regularly assesses whether the exposure limits need to be amended. These limits were reviewed extensively in 2020 and amended to reflect the results of all scientific studies carried out during the past twenty years. The new ICNIRP guidelines also apply specifically to all the frequency bands where 5G can be used (for example, greater attention is paid to the higher ‘mmWave’ frequency bands).

Following the publication of the ICNIRP guidelines, The European Commission issued a recommendation to all Member States in 1999, urging them to adopt these guidelines in national legislation. These ICNIRP guidelines are also referred to in the product standards for transmitter masts and mobile phones. The European commission is currently investigating whether a new recommendation is required in order to ensure application of the 2020 ICNIRP guidelines in all European countries. (The European Commission is not authorized to enforce the ICNIRP guidelines as a mandatory requirement; it can only recommend their adoption.)

The Dutch government intends to incorporate the new ICNIRP guidelines in legislation in 2020 to ensure official monitoring. At present, the 1998 ICNIRP guidelines are referred to in the Antenna Covenant, which has been signed by all providers of mobile telecommunication services in the Netherlands, the government and the VNG (the Association of Dutch Municipalities).

The Agentschap Telecom (Radiocommunications Agency Netherlands) is the regulatory body for radio communication frequencies and performs random checks to measure EMF levels and ensure that they comply with the agreements stated in the Antenna Covenant, i.e. the (old) ICNIRP guidelines. To date, all field strength measurements carried out by Agentschap Telecom indicate that KPN and the other providers of mobile telephony fall comfortably within these limits. Click here for more information.

The Antennebureau (Dutch Antenna Monitoring Agency) is the government agency responsible for publishing information about antennas for wireless and mobile communication. The Antennebureau informs citizens about the health effects of antennas and provides information on EMF.

The Kennisplatform EMV (the Dutch EMF Knowledge Platform) brings together institutions that have scientific knowledge related to EMF with organizations that have first-line contacts in connection with this topic. The knowledge platform sees itself as an intermediary between science and the general public, and interprets scientific research for citizens. The following parties are members of Kennisplatform EMV: RIVM, TNO, DNV GL, GGD GHOR Nederland, Agentschap Telecom and ZonMw. The Gezondheidsraad has an advisory role within the knowledge platform.

The ‘commissie EM-velden’ of the Gezondheidsraad (EM fields committee of the Health Council of the Netherlands) is a multidisciplinary committee that assesses published research results. Some research studies are rejected because they do not meet the scientific requirements, meaning that the evidential value of the study is too low to draw any conclusions based on it. Click here for more information.

The RIVM (Dutch National Institute of Public Health and Environmental Protection) helps the government protect citizens, patients and employees against the harmful effects of radiation. At the instruction of Agentschap Telecom, the RIVM has analyzed the relevant peer-reviewed scientific literature to gain information on exposure to and the possible health effects of 5G systems. Click here for more information. In addition, Agentschap Telecom and the RIVM have performed field strength measurements at 5G test sites.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has a separate website that provides information about 5G and health, and also publishes tips on the use of mobile phones.

The Scientific Committee on Health, Environmental and Emerging Risks (SCHEER) is an independent committee that advises the European Commission on health, the environment and emerging risks. Click here for more information. SCHEER also includes 5G in its research program.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is an intergovernmental agency and part of the United Nations’ World Health Organization. This agency investigates the cause of cancer based on the mechanisms of carcinogenesis and engages in epidemiological and toxicological research. Click here for more information.

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5G: new generation, new revolution

The best is yet to come, because over the coming years we will make the transition to 5G. This new generation mobile network is much faster and more reliable than its predecessor 4G. It also has a much larger capacity and there is hardly any delay in the connection. As a result, 5G will connect the whole of society.

Augmented reality, smart sensors in devices, vehicles and objects, agricultural drones: 5G makes it all possible. Tests in our 5G Field Labs demonstrate the amazing potential of 5G, both for businesses and consumers. We expect 5G to become available from 2020.

See also

At the heart of society

Connecting the Netherlands