Regulation of electromagnetic energy
Mobile communications devices, such as mobile phones, smart meters and base stations produce electromagnetic energy (EME) in order to transmit a signal. Enforceable standards require that EME emissions do not exceed levels which the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) has recommended as being safe.
Human exposure to EME from base station transmitters (such as smart meters) is regulated by making compliance with ACMA standards a condition of apparatus and spectrum licences. More detailed information about these arrangements can be found in the supplier section of the ACMA’s EME Hub.
ARPANSA’s role: recommending standards
ARPANSA uses its scientific expertise to recommend safe limits for human exposure to radiofrequency (RF) fields in the frequency range 3 kHz to 300 GHz. The recommended limits are designed to ensure that known adverse health effects do not arise from exposure to RF fields. These limits include a significant safety factor. That is, the limits are set well below the level at which all known adverse health effects occur.
The limits set by ARPANSA are published in the Radiation Protection Standard - Maximum Exposure Levels to Radiofrequency Fields - 3 kHz to 300 GHz (the ARPANSA standard).
The ACMA regulatory regime for EME smart meters
Background: 2012 program
In June 2012, the ACMA finalised its audit program of smart meter suppliers. As part of this program, the ACMA audited eight suppliers of smart meter devices against the applicable labelling notice and standards. As a result, the ACMA found:
- high compliance among suppliers of this device type
- high level of understanding of their obligations among suppliers
- auditing suppliers of a newly deployed technology was an effective way to manage compliance levels of new technologies
This program was limited to the supply of smart meter devices deployed in homes and did not include audits of communications infrastructure compliance.
The ACMA’s 2014-15 compliance program
EME compliance was a Priority Compliance Area for the ACMA in 2014-15. The smart meter compliance program was designed to audit EME compliance specifically as it related to smart meter base stations.
Compliance record audits
The program identified 15 Australian energy distributors. All distributors were contacted to determine their smart meter base stations. Two distributors were identified as using:
- WiMAX 2.3 GHZ (AusNet – Vic)
- a combination of commercial/private 3G networks (Ergon Energy – Qld).
Of these two distributors, approximately 10 per cent of their sites were audited—targeting a mix of remote and suburban sites with different configurations.
All sites were compliance level one (meaning that compliance documentation did not need to be maintained) and the documentation submitted exceeded the record-keeping requirements.
ACMA field staff conducted a total of nine visual site inspections of smart meter communications infrastructure. Staff found no issues with the inspected sites. The smart meter infrastructure was located more than 10 meters off the ground and public access was restricted by fencing around the power substation or the base station itself.
ACMA contact with distributors, audits and visual inspections all indicate that:
- distributors using smart meter technologies have higher levels of knowledge of their EME obligations
- all RF equipment is beyond public access and stringent controls are in place
- power levels are generally well below the allowable limit for compliance level one
- compliance co-operation with the ACMA for compliance has been of a high level
- although the audited sites were physically inaccessible to the general public, the safety information submitted shows that the relevant suppliers have taken steps to ensure anyone accessing the equipment will be protected from EME exposure.