Will New Radiation Labels Affect Mobile Phone Sales?

7/8/10

A new law is about to go into effect in San Francisco requiring sellers of mobile phones to post the “Specific Absorption Rate” (SAR) levels of the devices. How will conveying this information to consumers affect sales of mobile phones and devices—and which manufactures will feel the burden of this new stigma?

The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association defines SAR as “a way of measuring the quantity of radio frequency (RF) energy that is absorbed by the body.” For a mobile phone to be sold in the United States or Canada, its maximum SAR level must be less than 1.6 watts per kilogram. In Europe, the highest allowed SAR level is 2 watts per kilogram.

I should state now that currently there is no concrete evidence that current SAR levels affect humans in any detrimental way. Some studies have shown that cellular radiation has no affect on the human body and does not cause cancer, while others say that higher levels of radiation with continued usage can have an impact on human physiology.

But it is likely that people’s fears of “radiation” will lead consumers to view higher numbers as negative, even if only subconsciously, which will affect mobile device sales.

By requiring sellers of mobile devices to post SAR numbers, the manufacturers on the low end of the scale would have an additional tool in their marketing arsenal to convince buyers that their device is the better choice for you. The numbers will probably not affect the buying decisions of brand loyalists, in the same way that nutrition facts don’t stop many consumer from buying food that may not be the healthiest of choices.

Phones with highest and lowest SAR levels

San Francisco may be the first city in the country to require SAR number to be posted, but will other jurisdictions follow suit? If more cities and states start requiring SAR levels to be posted along with the device, it may indeed begin to affect sales of devices in the upper range of “acceptable” limits. If manufacturers jump on the low-SAR band wagon and reduce their SAR levels by either lowering the power of their handsets or inserting shielding, we may see less reliable phones and more dropped calls.

Popular mobile phone models, arranged by SAR levels

What do you think about having the SAR numbers displayed with the mobile device? Will a higher number affect your buying decision? Do you have a phone in the “high” risk area, and how does that make you feel about continued use of the device? Let’s get a discussion going.

Data sources for charts: Environmental Working Group (http://www.ewg.org/node/2839, http://www.ewg.org/cellphoneradiation/Get-a-Safer-Phone?allphones=1)

Kevin Bomberry is the co-founder of Able Pear Software, a Silicon Valley boutique software development firm focused on iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad apps. Follow @

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  • karen epstein

    Do bluetooth devices for one’s ear pose any “threat?” If so, will their numbers be listed as well?

  • http://www.ablepear.com Kevin Bomberry

    Karen: Good question and the short answer is no, not really. The amount of energy used to power the antenna in a bluetooth device is substantially less than that of a cellphones power/antenna.

    Your question has brought another question to mind, “What about the SAR levels of 802.11 devices?” As we know the iPhone and other popular smart phones can be “always-on” and transmitting over 802.11g/n. I’ll have to look into this as well and see if the reported SAR levels are inclusive of Wi-Fi SAR levels or not.

    Thanks for the comment and the new question. Cheers!