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Wi-Fi Information Guide

Jan 2, 2008
Wireless: To Be, Or Not To Be? That Is The Question Facing Schools Across The Country.

There has been a lot of hype in the media about concerns wireless Internet connections (Wi-Fi) are harming children. But is there a basis to these concerns, or are these fears unwarranted?

Probably the most concerning information to come out of these stories is that these wireless connections emit radiation with a similar frequency to microwaves and mobile phones. And that fact has got people worried that it might cause cancer, brain damage and heart disease, not to mention headaches, fatigue, nausea, dizziness and memory problems in the short term.

A BBC Panorama investigation caused panic when they claimed that the radio frequency radiation levels of some classes that have Wi-Fi connections are up to three times more intense than the levels found in the main beam of intensity of mobile phone masts. However, The Guardian then quoted various scientists who refuted this claim, and essentially discredited the investigation.

BBC News reported that while the heating effects of high exposure to electromagnetic radiation could be damaging, mobile phones and microwave ovens have a much higher power level than wireless connections. The report then pointed out that there is no evidence that suggests electromagnetic radiation at radio frequencies has any impact on health when the energy levels are at such low levels. In other words, there is no proof that Wi-Fi connections are bad for our health.

In fact, The Times stated that a wireless-connected classroom in Norwich was tested, and the levels of radiation were found to be 600 times lower than the levels considered dangerous by the Government. The classroom was tested using the International Commission's NonIonizing Radiation Protection processes, which determines how strong radiation is based on how much heat is produced. Do the negative arguments stand-up?

Despite the articles above, Sir William Stewart, the chairman of the Health Protection Agency who pointed out in 2000 that mobiles phones could be detrimental to people's health, has been quoted in a number of newspapers warning of the potential dangers of Wi-Fi technology. He has issued a plea that students who come in regular contact with Wi-Fi technology should be monitored for any ill effects.

Labour MP Ian Gibson, who was interviewed by Sir William Stewart for an upcoming programme, backed the statements made by Sir William Stewart, and called for an official inquiry into Wi-Fi connections. Gibson is MP for Norwich, a city that has recently been set up as a wireless city.

These sentiments have been echoed by Mike Bell, chairman of the Electromagnetic Radiation Research Trust; Alasdair Philips, director of Powerwatch, an information service; and the Professional Association of Teachers, whom are currently pressuring Education Secretary Alan Johnson to call for one such inquiry.

Dr Olle Johansson of Karolinska Institute in Sweden has been studying radiation similar to that being given off by wireless connections and found there are biological implications. However, when he was asked if it was right to limit Wi-Fi usage based on thermal effect, he refuted the idea.

The Government believe the technology is perfectly safe, taking the advice from the World Health Organisation, and have not yet set up any official inquiry. Are our children safe?

One of the greatest concerns is that of our children. Children are more vulnerable to radiation because their skulls are thinner and their nervous systems are still developing and because they will be exposed to more of this radiation during their lives.

Although there is no evidence yet supporting the notion that wireless connections emit harmful radiation, the thought that children may be exposed to dangerous radiation, especially considering how many schools use the technology, has some parents up in arms.

The Independent newspaper reported that according to some estimates, more than half England's primary schools, and about four-fifths of their secondary schools, have Wi-Fi technology installed.

In several European countries, provincial governments have banned or limited the use of wireless technology in their schools. And back home in Britain, Stowe school has removed part of their Wi-Fi technology after a teacher began having headaches and nausea as soon as it was installed.

However there is a chance this teacher was just "electrosensitive", a condition that affects three out of one hundred people according to the World Health Organisation.

In addition to this theory, James Rubin from the Institute of Psychiatry has stated that people can develop headaches if they believe such technology gives people headaches, even if the signal is not present. What are the advantages and disadvantages of Wi-Fi Internet Connections? Advantages of Wi-Fi

The main advantage of Wi-Fi is users can connect to the Internet without being plugged in. As long as the computers are within range of a host network, users can log on to this network from anywhere.

What this means is that students can be outside, or in areas where cables cannot run, and still be able to use the Internet.

In addition, in some circumstances Wi-Fi can be cheaper to set-up and expand than a cabled network, especially as many Laptop or Notebook computers now come with inbuilt wireless technology. Disadvantages of Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi connections can be unreliable, especially when working at a distance from a base station as the signal strength drops. Technology with similar frequencies, like mobiles and microwaves, can disrupt the connection, which means students may be disconnected from the Internet, or at least the speed of the Internet will be greatly minimised.

Browsing and downloading speeds can also be much slower than a cabled connection simply because the speed of the Wi-Fi device is slower.

Wi-Fi networks in schools are made to be easy for students to connect to, but by making them easy for the school children to log on, they also make it easy for Internet hackers. These hackers can put viruses onto the schools network and the computers logged onto the network, and they can also steal information from student's and school computers logged onto the Wi-Fi server.

Finally, battery life is minimised because of the extra power needed to connect to the network and Internet without cables. Final Verdict

BBC News reminded the public of Karl Popper, one of the great philosophers of science, who said science is about falsification. You can prove theories and hypothesis are incorrect, but you can never prove they are correct. So, theories are innocent until proven guilty. And with no hard evidence to suggest wireless technology does negatively affect our health and the health of our children, the technology can only be considered safe.

Further to this, BBC News pointed out that the television and radio modulated frequencies that come into our homes are just as powerful as Wi-Fi technology. If the journalists were so worried about the negative effects of Wi-Fi, should they also be worried about the effects of their own medium.

However, the "fact" is that when it comes to children many parents and school staff will be concerned about the potential effects of the "electronic smog" created by Wi-Fi and will choose to play it safe by minimising, or even eliminating, the use of Wi-Fi within schools until more hard evidence is available.

And while there are many other advantages for using cable technology over wireless (see the 'What are the advantages and disadvantages of Wi-Fi Internet Connections?' section), perhaps schools should be using cabling over wireless technology even if it is in theory perfectly safe.
About the Author
This article was written by Steve Collis for PC Support Services company Ashby Computers.
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