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The FCC adopted limits for Maximum Permissible Exposure (MPE) are generally based on recommended exposure guidelines published by the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP) in “Biological Effects and Exposure Criteria for Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields,” (NCRP, 1986).

In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) enforces limits for both occupational exposures (in the workplace) and for public exposures. The allowable limits are variable, according to the frequency transmitted. Only public safety limits for uncontrolled public access are assessed in this report.

Maximum permissible exposures (MPE) to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields are usually expressed in terms of the plane wave equivalent power density expressed in units of milliwatts per square centimeter (mW/cm2) or alternatively, absorption of RF energy is a function of frequency (as well as body size and other factors). The limits vary with frequency. Standards are more restrictive for frequencies at and below 300 MHz. Higher intensity RF exposures are allowed for frequencies between 300 MHz and 6000 MHz than for those below 300 MHz.

In the frequency range from 100 MHz to 1500 MHz, exposure limits for field strength and power density are also generally based on the MPE limits found in Section 4.1 of “IEEE Standard for Safety Levels with Respect to Human Exposure to Radio Frequency Electromagnetic Fields, 3 kHz to 300 GHz,” ANSI/IEEE C95.1-1992 ( IEEE, 1992, and approved for use as an American National Standard by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Exposure Standards


(A) Limits for Occupational/Controlled Exposure

Frequency Range(MHz) Electric Field Strength (E) (V/m) Magnetic Field Strength (H) (A/m) Power Density (S) (mW/cm2) Averaging Time [E]2 [H]2 or S (minutes)
0.3-3.0 614 1.63 (100)* 6
3.0-30 1842/f 4.89/f (900/f2)* 6
30-300 61.4 0.163 1.0 6
300-1500 f/300 6
1500-100,000 5 6
Frequency Range(MHz) Electric Field Strength (E) (V/m) Magnetic Field Strength (H) (A/m) Power Density (S) (mW/cm2) Averaging Time [E]2 [H]2 or S (minutes)
0.3-3.0 614 1.63 (100)* 30
3.0-30 824/f 2.19/f (180/f2)* 30
30-300 27.5 0.073 0.2 30
300-1500 f/1500 30
1500-100000 1.0 30

f = frequency in MHz *Plane-wave equivalent power density

NOTE 1: Occupational/controlled limits apply in situations in which persons are exposed as a consequence of their employment provided those persons are fully aware of the potential for exposure and can exercise control over their exposure. Limits for occupational/controlled exposure also apply in situations when an individual is transient through a location where occupational/controlled limits apply provided he or she is made aware of the potential for exposure.
NOTE 2: General population/uncontrolled exposures apply in situations in which the general public may be exposed, or in which persons that are exposed as a consequence of their employment may not be fully aware of the potential for exposure or can not exercise control over their exposure. Source: FCC Bulletin OET 65 Guidelines, page 67 OET, 1997.

In this report, the public safety limit for a smart meter is a combination of the individual antenna frequency limits and how much power output they create. A smart meter contains two antennas. One transmits at 915 MHz and the other at 2405 MHz. They can transmit at the same time, and so their effective radiated power is summed in the calculations of RF power density. Their combined limit is 655 uW/cm2. This limit is calculated by formulas from Table 1, Part B and is proportionate to the power output and specific safety limit (in MHz) of each antenna.

For the collector meter, with it’s three internal antennas, the combined public safety limit for time-averaged exposure is 571 MHz (a more restrictive level since it includes an additional 824 MHz antenna that has a lower limit than either the 915 MHz or the 2405 MHz antennas). In a collector meter, only two of the three antennas can transmit simultaneously (the 915 MHz LAN and the GSM 850 MHz (from the FCC Certification Exhibit titled RF Exposure Report for FCC ID: SK9AMI-2A). The proportionate power output of each antenna plus the safety limit for each antenna frequency combines to give a safety limit for the collector meter of 571 uW/cm2. Where one collector meter is combined with multiple smart meters, the combined limit is weighted upward by the additional smart meters’ contribution, and is 624 uW/cm2.

Continuous Exposure

FCC Bulletin OET 65 guidelines require the assumption of continuous exposure in calculations. Duty cycles offered by the utilities are a fraction of continuous use, and significantly diminish predictions of RF exposure.

At present, there is no evidence to prove that smart meters are functionally unable to operate at higher duty cycles that some utilities have estimated (estimates vary from 1% to 12.5% duty cycle, and as high as 30%). Confirming this is the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) in its “Perspective on Radio-Frequency Exposure Associated with Residential Automatic Meter Reading Technology (EPRI, 2010) According to EPRI:

“The technology not only provides a highly efficient method for obtaining usage data from customers, but it also can provide up-to-the-minute information on consumption patterns since the meter reading devices can be programmed to provide data as often as needed.” Emphasis added

The FCC Bulletin OET 65 guidelines specify that continuous exposure (defined by the FCC OET 65 as 100% duty cycle) is required in calculations where it is not possible to control exposures to the general public.

It is important to note that for general population/uncontrolled exposures it is often not possible to control exposures to the extent that averaging times can be applied. In those situations, it is often necessary to assume continuous exposure.” (emphasis added) FCC Bulletin OET 65, p, 10
Duty factor. The ratio of pulse duration to the pulse period of a periodic pulse train. Also, may be a measure of the temporal transmission characteristic of an intermittently transmitting RF source such as a paging antenna by dividing average transmission duration by the average period for transmissions. A duty factor of 1.0 corresponds to continuous operation.” (emphasis added)
FCC Bulletin OET 65, p, 2

This provision then specifies duty cycles to be increased to 100%.

The FCC Guidelines (OET 65) further address cautions that should be observed for uncontrolled public access to areas that may cause exposure to high levels of RF.

The foregoing also applies to high RF levels created in whole or in part by re-eradiation. A convenient rule to apply to all situations involving RF radiation is the following:
  1. Do not create high RF levels where people are or could reasonably be expected to be present, and (2) [p]revent people from entering areas in which high RF levels are necessarily present.
  2. Fencing and warning signs may be sufficient in many cases to protect the general public. Unusual circumstances, the presence of multiple sources of radiation, and operational needs will require more elaborate measures.
  3. Intermittent reductions in power, increased antenna heights, modified antenna radiation patterns, site changes, or some combination of these may be necessary, depending on the particular situation.
FCC OET 65, Appendix B, p. 79

Fencing, distancing, protective RF shielded clothing and signage warning occupants not to use portions of their homes or properties are not feasible nor desirable in public places the general public will spend time (schools, libraries, cafes, medical offices and clinics, etc) These mitigation strategies may be workable for RF workers, but are unsuited and intolerable for the public.


A major, uncontrolled variable in predicting RF exposures is the degree to which a particular location (kitchen, bedroom, etc) will reflect RF energy created by installation of one or more smart meters, or a collector meter and multiple smart meters. The reflectivity of a surface is a measure of the amount of reflected radiation. It can be defined as the ratio of the intensities of the reflected and incident radiation. The reflectivity depends on the angle of incidence, the polarization of the radiation, and the electromagnetic properties of the materials forming the boundary surface. These properties usually change with the wavelength of the radiation. The reflectivity of polished metal surfaces is usually quite high (such as stainless steel and polished metal surfaces typical in kitchens, for example).

Reflections can significantly increase localized RF levels. High uncertainty exists about how extensive a problem this may create in routine installations of smart meters, where the utility and installers have no idea what kind of reflectivity is present within the interior of buildings.

Reflections in Equation 6 and 10 of the FCC OET Bulletin 65 include rather minimal reflection factors of 100% and 60%, respectively. This report includes higher reflection factors in line with published studies by Hondou et al, 2006, Hondou, 2002 and Vermeeren et al, 2010. Reflection factors are modeled at 1000% and 2000% as well as at 60% and 100%, based on published scientific evidence for highly reflective environments. Hondou (2002) establishes that power density can be higher than conventional formulas predict using standard 60% and 100% reflection factors.

“We show that this level can reach the reference level (ICNIRP Guideline) in daily life. This is caused by the fundamental properties of electromagnetic field, namely, reflection and additivity. The level of exposure is found to be much higher than estimated by conventional framework of analysis that assumes that the level rapidly decreases with the inverse square distance between the source and the affected person.”
“Since the increase of electromagnetic field by reflective boundaries and the additivity of sources has not been recognized yet, further detailed studies on various situations and the development of appropriate regulations are required.”

Hondou et al (2006) establishes that power densities 1000 times to 2000 times higher than the power density predictions from computer modeling (that does not account properly for reflections) can be found in daily living situations. Power density may not fall off with distance as predicted by formulas using limited reflection factors. The RF hot spots created by reflection can significantly increase RF exposures to the public, even above current public safety limits.

“We confirm the significance of microwave reflection reported in our previous Letter by experimental and numerical studies. Furthermore, we show that ‘hot spots’ often emerge in reflective areas, where the local exposure level is much higher than average.”
“Our results indicate the risk of ‘passive exposure’ to microwaves.”
The experimental values of intensity are consistently higher than predicted values. Intensity does not even decrease with distance from the source.”
“We further confirm the existence of microwave ‘hotspots’, in which he microwaves are ‘localized’. The intensity measured at one hot spot 4.6 m from the transmitter is the same as that at 0.1 m from the transmitter in the case with out reflection (free boundary condition).
Namely, the intensity at the hot spot is increased by approximately 2000 times by reflection.” Emphasis added
“To confirm our experimental findings of the greater-than-predicted intensity due to reflection, as well as the hot spots, we performed two numerical simulations…”. ” intensity does not monotonically decrease from the transmitter, which is in clear contrast to the case without reflection.”
“The intensity at the hot spot (X, Y, Z) = 1.46, -0.78, 105) around 1.8 m from the transmitter in the reflective boundary condition is approximately 1000 times higher than that at the same position in the free boundary condition. The result of the simulation is thus consistent with our experiments, although the values differ owing to the different conditions imposed by computational limits.” Emphasis added
“(t)he result of the experiment is also reproduced: a greater than predicted intensity due to reflection, as well as the existence of hot spots.”
“In comparison with the control simulation using the free boundary condition, we find that the power density at the hot spot is increased by approximately a thousand times by reflection.” Emphasis added

Further, the author comments that:

we may be passively exposed beyond the levels reported for electro-medical interference and health risks.”
“Because the peak exposure level is crucial in considering electro-medical interference, interference (in) airplanes, and biological effects on human beings, we also need to consider the possible peak exposure level, or ‘hot spots’, for the worst-case estimation.”

Reflections and re-radiation from common building material (tile, concrete, stainless steel, glass, ceramics) and highly reflective appliances and furnishings are common in kitchens, for example. Using only low reflectivity FCC equations 6 and 10 may not be informative. Published studies underscore how use of even the highest reflection coefficient in FCC OET Bulletin 65 Equations 6 and 10 likely underestimate the potential for reflection and hot spots in some situations in real-life situations.

This report includes the FCC’s reflection factors of 60% and 100%, and also reflection factors of 1000% and 2000% that are more in line with those reported in Hondou, 2001; Hondou, 2006 and Vermeeren et al, 2010. The use of a 1000% reflection factor in this report is still conservative in comparison to Hondou, 2006. A 1000% reflection factor is 12% of Hondou’s larger power density prediction (or 121 times, rather than 1000 times)/ The 2000% reflection factor is 22% of Hondou’s figure (or 441 times in comparison to 2000 times higher power density in Hondou, 2006).

Peak Power Limits

In addition to time-averaged public safety limits that require RF exposures to be time-averaged over a 30 minute time period, the FCC also addresses peak power exposures. The FCC refers back to the ANSI/IEEE C95.1-1992 standard to define what peak power limits are.

The ANSI/IEEE C95.1-1999 standard defines peak power density as “the maximum instantaneous power density occurring when power is transmitted.” (p. 4) Thus, there is a second method to test FCC compliance that is not being assessed in any FCC Grants of Authorization.

Note that although the FCC did not explicitly adopt limits for peak power density, guidance on these types of exposures can be found in Section 4.4 of the ANSI/IEEE C95.1-1992 standard.”
Page 10, OET 65

The ANSI/IEEE limit for peak power to which the FCC refers is:

For exposures in uncontrolled environments, the peak value of the mean squared field strengths should not exceed 20 times the square of the allowed spatially averaged values (Table 2) at frequencies below 300 MHz, or the equivalent power density of 4 mW/cm2 for f between 300 MHz and 6 GHz”.

The peak power exposure limit is 4000 uW/cm2 for all smart meter frequencies (all transmitting antennas) for any instantaneous RF exposure of 4 milliwatts/cm2 (4 mW/cm2) or higher which equals 4000 microwatts/cm2 (uW/cm2).

This peak power limit applies to all smart meter frequencies for both the smart meter (two-antenna configuration) and the collector meter (three-antenna configuration). All these antennas are within the 300 MHz to 6 GHz frequency range where the 4000 uW/cm2 peak power limit applies (Table 3, ANSI/IEEE C95.1-1999, page 15).

Smart meters emit frequencies within the 800 MHz to 2400 MHz range.


This peak power limit applies to all parts of the body with the important exception of the eyes and testes.

The ANSI/IEEE C95.1-1999 standard specifically excludes exposure of the eyes and testes from the peak power limit of 4000 uW/cm2*. However, nowhere in the ANSI/IEEE nor the FCC OET 65 documents is there a lower, more protective peak power limit given for the eyes and testes (see also Appendix C).

The following relaxation of power density limits is allowed for exposure of all parts of the body except the eyes and testes.” (p.15)
Since most exposures are not to uniform fields, a method has been derived, based on the demonstrated peak to whole-body averaged SAR ratio of 20, for equating nonuniform field exposure and partial body exposure to an equivalent uniform field exposure. This is used in this standard to allow relaxation of power density limits for partial body exposure, except in the case of the eyes and the testes.” (p.20)
In the case of the eyes and testes, direct relaxation of power density limits is not permitted.”(p. 30)
*Note: This leaves unanswered what instantaneous peak power is permissible from smart meters. The level must be below 4000 uW/cm2. This report shows clearly that smart meters can create instantaneous peak power exposures where the face (eyes) and body (testes) are going to be in close proximity to smart meter RF pulses. RF levels at and above 4000 uW/cm2 are likely to occur if a person puts their face close to the smart meter to read data in real time. The digital readout of the smart meter requires close inspection, particularly where there is glare or bright sunlight, or low lighting conditions. Further, some smart meters are installed inside buildings within inches of occupied space, virtually guaranteeing exposures that may violate peak power limits. Violations of peak power limits are likely in these circumstances where there is proximity within about 6” and highly reflective surfaces or metallic objects. The eyes and testes are not adequately protected by the 4000 uW/cm2 peak power limit, and in the cases described above, may be more vulnerable to damage (Appendix C for further discussion).