Surveying the RF landscape

By Mark Leckenby, ICOMMS
Friday, 04 May, 2007

I recall in 1979 during my university years my colleague giving a presentation on future advancements in wireless communications; and how distant at that time the thought of a totally wireless society seemed.

This was back in the days where an FM radio was considered 'an extra' in the Holden Kingswood, and the only mobile service was the phone box on the side of the road.

Today my children remind me the future is well and truly here as they await the next text message from a friend. Anywhere, anytime communications has definitely arrived bringing tremendous benefits to society.

Around the globe mobile masts have emerged like a pin cushion effect to create a wireless canopy that's penetrating deeper everyday into the crevices of society. Along with the massive growth, regulations concerning RF safety are emerging globally.

As part of my role in ICOMMS, over the last five years I have travelled extensively throughout Asia Pacific, Europe and the US to find the processes pioneered in Australia particularly by Telstra, the Mobile Carriers Forum (MCF) and the Australian Communications Authority are at the cutting edge concerning RF safety compliance.

This co-operative effort by the industry and establishment of a national database for RF compliance appears a world first and certainly a credit to all involved. The National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) has taken a lead role in establishing standard protocols for RF inspections and is now on track to be mutually recognised in other parts of the world.

This will be particularly useful in Europe where a new EU Directive goes into law for all member states by 2008 concerning worker safety.

With the establishment of a central database for RF safety compliance also comes the real challenge to maintain the information accurately.

Like all database systems, the usefulness is directly proportional to the quality of the information going in. Adherence to quality processes is paramount and software tools to enable single point of entry and synchronisation of data are very important.

Surveying the RF landscape is not unlike surveying roads and property boundaries. It takes a skilled and dedicated team of professionals to map out the location of physical boundaries and associated objects (whether they are roads, buildings, street lights or antennas) and to record accurately the data.

Today we all benefit from satellite navigation systems and location based tracking services that use such data.

In the same way the wireless industry will benefit as we work co-operatively to survey wireless transmission facilities, collecting and recording the information accurately.

Processing the data using calibrated tools then derives the output we need to make decisions.

I recall during my recent stay in Britain, a location where a vehicle was hauled out of a creek bed. The problem was the location based data was in error and the sat nav system directed the driver (while on autopilot) to this unfortunate destination - true story.

I guess there will always be cases there system breaks down, however the benefits of working co-operatively should outweigh the negatives in the bigger picture.

In the late 90's Telstra released its environmental EME prediction software called RF-Map to assist network operators and communities assess the background levels of EME from mobile phone towers. RF-Map is now used throughout the UK, Europe, South Africa, Asia and Australia for environmental EME assessments.

Over the last seven years, I have worked alongside the industry in my role with ICOMMS to develop software tools and systems to enhance the compliance process and in particular model the RF exposure for occupational workers and public.

Recent take-up of these systems in Germany highlights the point that Europe is starting to accept the model developed in Australia.

A major telecommunications company in Germany recently used the reports generated from the software in the courtroom to backup the safety for a certain site.

This demonstrates 'the Australian way' for RF compliance is taking root internationally.

About the author: Mark Leckenby, CEO, ICOMMS Australia, has 25 years of experience in the telecommunications and IT industries, the majority with Telstra and Alcatel. He is now managing software solutions with ICOMMS to help communicate the impact of RF electromagnetic emissions. In 2004 ICOMMS received a national award for "Innovations in Telecommunications" from the Australian Telecommunications User Group (ATUG), for the development of the radPro software product. This tool is used for the modeling of radiation exposure levels and is now used widely in Australia with growing sales in Germany and Eastern Europe.

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