FCC reportedly investigating radiation levels of Apple and Samsung phones

27 Aug 2019

Image: © Kir Symslov/Stock.adobe.com

The FCC is reportedly planning to conduct independent tests into certain smartphone models to determine the safety of their radiation emissions.

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is said to be conducting an investigation into whether the level of radiation emitted by certain smartphones is safe for users.

Last week, the Chicago Tribune reported that it had sent models of popular smartphones from Apple and Samsung to be tested at the FCC-accredited lab RF Exposure Lab in San Francisco, California. It claimed that Apple’s iPhone 7, which is one of the most popular smartphones ever sold, “measured over the legal safety limit and more than double what Apple reported to federal regulators from its own testing”.

The publication also conducted an investigation into how smartphone radiation emissions measure up when a phone is placed 2mm away from a test body, as opposed to the standard of up to 25mm away from the body, which is permitted in FCC compliance tests. The Tribune said that this is because “the testing standards were adopted in the 1990s when people frequently carried cell phones on belt clips”.

The Tribune elected to test for exposure in a closer range than any of the manufacturer’s own tests to reflect the fact that people now often carry phones closer to their body in their pockets.

In these close-range tests, the publication claimed that Samsung Galaxy S8, Galaxy S9 and Galaxy J3 models all measured higher radiation levels than the permitted standard.

The Government Accountability Office, known as the “congressional watchdog”, previously recommended to the FCC that it reassess exposure limits and testing requirements to reflect that phones are often carried on the body. Though the FCC recently concluded, according to the Chicago Tribune, that its testing standards are safe, some state government bodies have begun to recommend that people no longer carry phones in their pockets.

The Tribune reported that the FCC has, in response, pledged to conduct its own testing over the next few months. “We take seriously any claims on non-compliance with the RF [radio frequency] exposure standards and will be obtaining and testing the subject phones for compliance with FCC rules,” said agency spokesperson Neil Grace.

FCC officials did not comment on individual results reported by the Tribune, and said that the paper’s testing was not as comprehensive as what would be required for an official compliance report. However, it has reportedly confirmed that it would examine some of the aforementioned models.

Disputing the findings

Apple reportedly disputed the findings of the Tribune’s lab report, claiming in a statement that the results were inaccurate because the tests were not “in accordance with procedures necessary to properly assess the iPhone models”.

Lab owner Jay Moulton has refuted this, claiming that the tests were done in accordance with the FCC guidelines. Moulton said that the lab “[was] not doing anything special here” and that any qualified lab “should be able to grab a phone off the shelf and test it to see if it meets requirements”.

According to the Tribune’s report, the three Samsung phones tested measured within the safety limit when placed between 10mm and 15mm away from the body, which is the manufacturer’s test range and is within the FCC standards. The South Korean company said in a statement to the Chicago Tribune: “Samsung devices sold in the United States comply with FCC regulations. Our devices are tested according to the same test protocols that are used across the industry.”

Neither Apple nor Samsung could be reached for comment by Siliconrepublic.com at the time of publication. The FCC also could not be reached for comment.

Eva Short was a journalist at Silicon Republic