The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, in a press release on 31st May 2011, officially classified “radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans”. The question in my mind is; will this help encourage the adoption of visible light communications?
The WHO announcement comes on the back of recent recommendations by the Council for Europe to ban mobile phones and WiFi in schools which I reported in my blog on 16th May. The WHO’s category “Group 2B: The agent is possibly carcinogenic to humans” is quite clear on what this means: “This category is used for agents for which there is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and less than sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals”. To me this does not seem too scary; in fact it is almost reassuring.
If the evidence is so small, and yet the benefits of radio communications are so great then it would seem crazy to over react to this. Measures to warn and protect the public have been introduced for other products where a risk to life or health exists. Think of tobacco and motor cars, both can be extremely dangerous and there are a lot of protective laws but no blanket bans. My feeling is that the only real place where a ban might be enforced is within schools since small children are deemed to be most at risk and parents must obviously allow their children to be educated.
Given the WHO classification, governments and local authorities may consider a ban on powerful RF devices in schools for fear of being sued for allegedly causing cancer in pupils. Personally, I think the risks appear so small that there is no need to change anything, but in an increasingly litigious society governments may bow to pressure from lobby groups, scare mongering press and from parents worrying about the risks to their children.
My wish is to promote VLC for its positive benefits. However, any negative attributes of radio does become a benefit for VLC and the press release from WHO probably does strengthen the business case. But let’s be clear, the main benefits of VLC are still focussed on spectrum availability, high data rates, low implementation cost, energy savings and security.