Radio Frequency Communications Primer

T-Mobile uses radio frequency (RF) communications for delivery of emergency responder communications, broadband and cellular phone access. They use only FCC approved transceivers and conducts engineering evaluations to ensure that emissions are always at safe levels in all areas. Rock Island supplied power, fiber and constructed all T-Mobile sites in our partnership program.

What is Radio Frequency?

Radio frequency (RF) is any electromagnetic wave frequencies ranging from 3 kHz to 300 Ghz (see: Products that use RF include AM and FM radio, television, shortwave radio, garage-door openers, wireless home phones, automobile remote controls, cell sites, cellphones and microwaves.

Radio frequency is considered “non-ionizing” radiation, which means that the radio waves do not carry enough energy to cause atoms to break apart. Non-ionizing radiation only has sufficient energy to cause atoms to be excited. In contrast, ionizing radiation can cause electrons to be separated from their atoms and includes X-rays and Gamma Rays (see:

Discovery of RF Communications

Radio frequencies have been used for communication ever since their discovery over 100 years ago. In 1901, Guglielmo Marconi demonstrated the value of radio communications with the transmission of the first wireless signal – from Canada to Ireland. One year earlier, Reginald Fessenden had demonstrated the ability to transmit voice over a short range. It was only a matter of time before long distance voice transmission was commonplace (see:

RF Safety

The Federal Communications Commission has been mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 “to evaluate the effect of emissions from FCC-regulated transmitters on the quality of the human environment.” You can learn more about that policy here:

The standards that the FCC has leveraged include the work of a number of non-governmental organizations, such as the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP). Specifically, the FCC adopted the NCRP standards in 1996 that define the criteria for safety on human exposure when radio frequency electromagnetic fields are present. The FCC continues to review its rules and advance them in conjunction with the input of qualified expert agencies and organizations and the public.

Radiation from Cellular Sites

T-Mobile uses RF communication to distribute cellular and broadband information in San Juan County. Their sites include multiple transmitters located on poles around the islands. These transmitters are FCC approved and typically stand about 65 feet in height. T-Mobile uses FCC standards for safety of human exposure to evaluate cellular site emissions and Rock Island adheres to all of these guidelines when constructing or repairing cellular sites. 

The FCC guidelines are identical to the standards developed by NCRP, referenced above. The FCC writes, “Calculations corresponding to a ‘worst-case’ situation (all transmitters operating simultaneously and continuously at the maximum licensed power) show that, in order to be exposed to RF levels near the FCC’s guidelines, an individual would essentially have to remain in the main transmitting beam and within a few feet of the antenna for several minutes or longer. Thus, the possibility that a member of the general public could be exposed to RF levels in excess of the FCC guidelines is extremely remote.”

There has been much media attention to the use of cellphones and to concerns on the effect of cellphones and their RF emissions lately. Additional details on cellphone effects can be found here: