Grid Modernization Technologies

Understanding Radio Frequency

What is Radio Frequency?

Radio frequency (RF) is electromagnetic energy that includes frequencies used for everyday communication, such as radio/television broadcasting and cell-phone transmissions, and common household appliances such as microwaves and baby monitors.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has regulatory authority over and licenses most RF telecommunications services, facilities and devices. The FCC has adopted Maximum Permissible Exposure criteria for RF transmitters of all types, including advanced meters designed to provide reasonable protection in a residential installation. All advanced meter radio devices must be tested and certified to the FCC's rules.

According to the FCC, the Electric Power Research Institute and the World Health Organization, no adverse short- or long-term health effects have been shown to occur from the RF signals produced by advanced meters or other such wireless networks1.

The California Council on Science and Technology has also released a study on radio frequency exposure from advanced meters that notes²:

  • Wireless advanced meters, when installed and properly maintained, result in much smaller levels of RF exposure than many existing common household electronic devices, particularly cell phones and microwave ovens.
  • The current FCC standard provides an adequate factor of safety against known thermally induced health impacts of existing common household electronic devices and advanced meters.
  • To date, scientific studies have not identified or confirmed negative health effects from potential non-thermal impacts.

To download a printable version (PDF), please click here.

A person's exposure to RF signals depends upon three actions.

  1. How far the person is from the device: an advanced meter meter's signal strength diminishes significantly with distance from the meter
  2. How often and how long the RF signals are transmitted: advanced meters transmit data several times a day for a few seconds at a time, totaling no more than a few minutes a day
  3. The power level of the device: typical advanced meters operate at power levels similar to or lower than most common household devices, such as cordless phones, baby monitors or Wi-Fi routers

¹Silver Spring Networks. Radio Frequency Emissions: Analysis of Radio Frequency Exposure Associated with Silver Spring Networks' Advanced Metering Devices. 2011 - White paper.
²California Council on Science Technology. Health Impacts of Radio Frequency Exposure from Smart Meters. April 2011 - Final Report.

RF Comparison Chart for Radio Frequency Levels of Common Sources

RF Comparison Chart
  1. These figures represent the radio waves from various common sources. The FCC maximum permissible exposure limit for advanced meters is 600 microWatts/cm2.

  2. Sources of the measurement data:

    1. Electric Power Research Institute, Radio-Frequency Exposure Levels from Smart Meters: A Case Study of One Model (February 2011)

    2. Bailey, William H. and Shkolinkov, Yokov P., Electromagnetic Interference and Exposure from Household Wireless Networks (June 2011).

  3. The RF exposure for cell phones shown in this graph is for comparison purposes only. Compliance for cell phones is provided by manufacturers and expressed in terms of Standard Absorption Rate.