The 3R's - Radiofrequencies, Radio Spectrum & Radiation

Published on
November 2, 2020

Radio Spectrum & Radiation are terms not every consumer knows the definition to. This article defines how each term affects the other.

All wireless technologies use radiofrequencies to communicate with other devices, like TVs, radios, WiFi and mobile phones.  Electromagnetic waves, also called radio waves, are carried in the Radio Spectrum, which is the radiofrequency portion of the Electromagnetic Spectrum and ranges in frequencies from 300 GHz (Giga Hertz) on the high end to 3 kHz (kiloHertz) on the low end.  Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) on the Electromagnetic Spectrum are categorised as Ionizing and Non-Ionizing Radiation.  The dividing line between Ionizing and Non-Ionizing Radiation occurs in the ultraviolet part of the Electromagnetic Spectrum.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC), radiation exists all around us and comes from both natural sources, like the sun, as well as man-made sources.  As cited from the CDC, “Radiation is energy that comes from a source and travels through space at the speed of light.  This energy has an electric field and a magnetic field associated with it and has wave-like properties.  You could also call radiation electromagnetic waves” (or radio waves).

Ionizing Radiation is described by the CDC as “a form of energy that acts by removing electrons from atoms and molecules of materials that include air, water, and living tissue.”  Ionizing Radiation, like gamma rays and x-rays, is produced from shorter radio waves with higher energy frequencies.

Non-Ionizing Radiation, according to the CDC, is “a form of radiation with less energy than ionizing radiation. Unlike Ionizing Radiation, Non-Ionizing Radiation does not remove electrons from atoms or molecules of materials that include air, water, and living tissue.”

As referenced in the graphic chart above, Non-Ionizing Radiation, travels on longer radio waves with lower energy frequencies.  Examples of technologies that emit Non-Ionizing Radiation include, but are not limited to, computers and mobile phones.  Towards the middle of the Radio Spectrum is visible light from the sun, which is categorised as Non-Ionizing Radiation and travels on medium sized wave lengths.

Ofcom, the regulator of the UK’s electronic communications sector, states it is important to note that humans cannot feel or see EMF in the Radio Spectrum, but any device that communicates wirelessly needs some form of spectrum.  There is a limited amount of Spectrum available on Earth and different parts are allocated for specific uses.  For example, Radio Spectrum used to connect your computer to the internet using WiFi is different from what is used for a mobile telephone.

Radio Spectrum is allocated and regulated by local and international agencies, such as the US Federal Communications Commission (the FCC) and others, to help avoid interference between the wireless services that are carried on these various radio frequencies.