5G in NZ – the legal and regulatory situation


Editor’s introduction:  The purpose of this post is the following:

  • To give basic information about the New Zealand standard for the types of electromagnetic radiation that NZ telecommunications companies want to use as part of a 5G system and
  • To give basic information about the National Environmental Standard for Telecommunications Facilities (NESTF) and what this means for New Zealanders who live in locations where telecommunications companies want to install new wireless infrastructure.
  • To give basic information about how information relating to microwave radiation and health is assessed by the NZ government


Part 1: Electromagnetic radiation standards in NZ

The 5G system proposed for New Zealand includes the use of two main types of electromagnetic radiation (EMR).

The first type is radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation (RF-EMR). RF-EMR is often referred to as “microwave radiation” or “microwaves” or “radiofrequency radiation (RFR) in the microwave range”.  (Let’s just call it microwave radiation for short.)

The second type is a type of electromagnetic radiation that has a shorter wavelength (and a much faster vibration rate) known as “millimetre waves”.

The New Zealand standard that covers microwave radiation and millimetre wave radiation is known as NZS 2772.1:1999.

The emission that are allowed under NZS 2772.1:1999 vary according to the exact frequency produced by the many different devices that are designed to produce microwave radiation.

(In addition to 5G systems, devices that produce microwave radiation include microwave ovens, cordless phones, cell phones, cellular phone infrastructure, “smart” or “advanced” electricity meters, wi-fi routers, wireless baby monitors etc. etc.)

The allowable (time averaged) public exposure level for microwave radiation ranging from 400 MHz to 2 GHZ can be calculated by dividing the frequency in MHz by 200.  This gives the allowable limit in Watts per square metre.

(For example, Spark is pushing hard to be able to use microwave radiation in the 600 MHz frequency range for 5G in rural areas.  The allowable (time averaged) public exposure for 600 MHz is 3 W/square metre or 3 million microwatts per square metre.)

The allowable (time averaged) public exposure level for higher frequency microwave radiation (from 2GHz upwards) is 10 million microwatts per square metre.

The allowable (time averaged) public exposure level for millimetre wave radiation is also 10 million microwatts per square metre.

There are even higher levels allowed for brief (non time averaged) exposures and for people who are occupationally exposed to these forms of radiation.

To put the allowable emissions for the NZ public into perspective, the international coalition of scientists who compiled the BioInitiative Report recommended an upper limit for microwave radiation of just 1000 microwatts per square metre.


Problems with NZS 2772.1:1999

NZS 2772.1:1999 offers only limited protection

NZS 2772.1:1999 is designed to offer very limited human health protection. The standard is designed to prevent electric shocks and sudden death.

Preventing these outcomes is a worthy goal of course, but give that there a large number of other potential adverse health effects from exposure to electromagnetic radiation (including microwave radiation) the inadequacy of NZS 2772.1:1999 is rather glaring.

If a device complies with NZS 2772.1:1999, while it should not cause an electric shock or cause a user to drop dead, the device should NOT be assumed to be safe to use.


NZS 2772:1999.1 does NOT  provide protection from a large range of adverse health effects

NZS 2772.1:1999 is designed to prevent electric shocks and sudden death but not other potential adverse outcomes from exposure to electromagnetic radiation.

The time averaged allowable exposures for microwave frequencies under NZS 2772.1:1999 are many times (in some cases hundreds and thousands of times) higher than the level of microwave radiation for which there is research to show adverse biological or health effects.  (A useful website that includes information about electromagnetic radiation and health is www.bioinitiative.org which has been compiled by an international coalition of scientists.)

NZS 2772.1:1999 is NOT intended to provide protection from the development of cancer from exposure to microwave radiation

In 2011, microwave radiation was classified by the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as a “possible carcinogen” (Class 2B) on the basis of increased brain tumour rates in longer term users of wireless phones. (See: http://microwavenews.com/short-takes-archive/iarc-publishes-rf-cancer-review)

In a more recently published paper, the authors called for microwave radiation to be upgraded to a probable carcinogen due to more evidence. (https://www.spandidos-publications.com/ijo/46/5/1865) while another scientist has recently gone on record stating that newer research again supports the re-classification of microwave radiation as a proven carcinogen. (https://www.emfacts.com/2017/08/cancer-expert-declares-cell-phone-and-wireless-radiation-as-carcinogenic-to-humans/ )

Please note that while there is research linking both cordless and cellular phones to increased risk of cancer (http://www.saveourlandlines.nz/news/the-cellphone-cancer-link-is-real-and-is-a-key-reason-why-landlines-are-so-important/) there is also evidence that living close cellular phone infrastructure (which exposes nearby residents to increased background microwave radiation regardless of what sort of technology they use in their own home) may increase the risk of developing cancer. https://www.avaate.org/IMG/pdf/ESTUDIO_BRASIL_BrazilCellTowerStudy.pdf


NZS 2772.1:1999 is among one of the most lax in the world – and this may be the reason why:

Below is a list of the members of the group that developed NZS 2772.1:1999

  • Adopt Radiation Control
  • Broadcast Communications NZ
  • Local Govt NZ
  • Ministry of Commerce
  • National Radiation Lab
  • NZ Assoc of Radio Transmitters
  • NZ Inst of Occupational and Environmental Medicine
  • Telecom NZ


Most people would consider that representatives of the industries that produce any type of radiation that can cause adverse health effects should NOT be the same people who decide how much radiation is an acceptable level of radiation.



Part 2:  New Zealand’s National Environmental Standard for Telecommunications Facilities (NESTF)



Given that there are documented health risks from microwave radiation, you might think that as a home or business owner (or someone who rents a home or business premises) you would have some say about whether wireless infrastructure such as a cellular phone tower could be erected outside your home or place of business.

Unfortunately, with NZ law and regulations as they stand at the moment, under most circumstances you have no legal rights to object to being irradiated by nearby wireless infrastructure – as long as the emissions comply with NZS2772.1:1999 they are legal.


The National Environmental  Standard for Telecommunications Facilities (NESTF)

In NZ, the National Environmental  Standard for Telecommunications Facilities (NESTF) governs what can and can’t be done by telecommunications companies in terms of erecting wireless infrastructure such as cellular phone towers.  This standard arose out of legislation that was passed in 2008. http://www.legislation.govt.nz/regulation/public/2008/0299/latest/DLM1576701.html

The government website link which gives current information for telecommunications companies and local Councils about the NESTF is below: http://www.mfe.govt.nz/rma/legislative-tools/national-environmental-standards/national-environmental-standards-0

Telecommunications Industry Influence on The National Environmental  Standard for Telecommunications Facilities (NESTF)

According to this article the members of the “Telecommunications Industry Reference Group” (which wrote the report that formed the basis of the 2008 National Environmental Standard for Telecommunications Facilities (NESTF)) were as follows:

  • Alistair Dixon, TelstraClear Limited
  • Chris Horne, Incite (Auckland) Limited, Resource Management Consultant for Telecom
  • Christine Turner, formerly Telecom New Zealand Limited
  • David Willetts, Enfocus Planning Limited – Ministry for the Environment Consultant
  • Harry Hopkinson, Telecom New Zealand Limited
  • Ian Hutchings, Ministry of Economic Development
  • Irene Clarke, Local Government New Zealand
  • Karl Mischewski, Vodafone New Zealand Limited
  • Pat Holm, Local Government Advisory Group
  • Poul Israelson, Harrison Grierson, Resource Management Consultant for Vodafone and TelstraClear
  • Richard Hawke, Ministry of Economic Development
  • Sally Gilbert, Ministry of Health.

The author’s comment is worth quoting:

“As you can see there was just a single person who was there to represent a health perspective, the rest were either the telcos, or govt agencies supporting the telcos,. or local govt. The telcos had an interest in lowering the cost of putting up towers, the government departments were there to help lower costs, and Local Govt NZ was not there as a health expert. It was a jack up.”


The 2015 “consultation” on the National Environmental  Standard for Telecommunications Facilities (NESTF)  

 In 2015 (under the previous National-led coalition government) there was a consultation on the National Environmental Standard for Telecommunications Facilities (NESTF).

Stop Smart Meters NZ produced a template submission document and encouraged supporters to make submissions.


The submission which can be accessed from the link below is well worth reading.  It appears to have been ignored by the relevant employees of the Ministry for the Environment.


The consultation was ostensibly “intended to reduce local variation in planning rules applying to national telecommunications infrastructure projects. This will provide national consistency under the Resource Management Act (RMA) in relation to the roll-out of telecommunications networks such as the current Ultra-Fast Broadband (UFB) and its proposed extensions, and fourth generation long-term evolution (4G-LTE) mobile technology.”

In retrospect, the use of the term “small unit” in the consultation document may be a sign that the aim of the consultation was also intended to allow for the future introduction of 5G and the Internet of Things, although neither of these terms are included in the consultation document.

The original consultation document was removed from the Ministry for the Environment’s website but if you are interested in reading it you can download it by clicking on the link below.

nestf-discussion-doc-final from 2015 consultation


Part 3: Assessment of information relating to the health effects of wireless technologies by the NZ government

The NZ Ministry of Health is supposed to be taking into account new research about the health effects of wireless radiation. It has set up a committee (the Interagency Committee on the Health Effects on Non Ionising Fields) that meets regularly with the ostensible aim of considering new research and make recommendations to the Director General of Health. The committee’s remit to report on non ionising radiation covers research relating to low frequency non ionising  radiation (such as from household wiring and high voltage power lines) in addition to higher frequency radiation such as microwaves*.  If 5G is introduced, this committee would become responsible for assessing health effects from millimetre wave exposure. (*NB: Documents produced by the committee tend to use the term “radiofrequency radiation” or “RF fields” rather than the words “microwaves” or “microwave radiation”.)

The “Terms of Reference for the Interagency Committee on the Health Effects of Non Ionising Fields” lists the following information under the heading “Composition of the Committee”

“The membership of the Committee will include representatives from the following agencies, organisations, and sectors:

  • Ministry of Health
  • Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment: Energy Safety Service, Workplace Health & Safety, Radio Spectrum Management
  • Ministry for the Environment
  • public health unit
  • local government
  • academics/scientists
  • consumers
  • electrical industry: transmission and supply
  • telecommunications industry”


One of the people whose names regularly features on the lists of committee members is Sally Gilbert from the Ministry of Health – presumably the same Sally Gilbert from the Ministry of Health who was part of the “Telecommunications Industry Reference Group” who wrote the report that formed the basis of the National Environmental Standard for Telecommunications Facilities (NESTF).)

Another person whose name frequently appears on the list of members of the Interagency Committee on the Health Effects on Non Ionising Fields is Martin Gledhill who has provided consultancy services to companies in the electricity  (see this link: http://www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz/government-and-electricity-industry-positions/is-this-the-reason-network-tasman-ltd-has-been-reluctant-to-answer-the-questions-about-the-radiofrequency-radiation-produced-by-its-smart-meters/) and telecommunications industries.  

Sally Gilbert is listed on the website of the World Health Organization as a National Contact for NZ with respect to electromagnetic fields.  http://www.who.int/peh-emf/project/mapnatreps/nz/en/

The most recent report (June 2018) made to the WHO in behalf of NZ, available at this link http://www.who.int/peh-emf/project/mapnatreps/nz_emf_2018.pdf?ua=1 includes the following statement “The  results  from  recent  research  considered  by  the  Committee  have  not  given  cause   for  concern and no change to existing regulations.”

This statement is included despite the completion of the US National Toxicology Project (NTP) research showing excess cancer risk in rats exposed to microwave radiation. (http://www.sbwire.com/press-releases/cancer-expert-declares-cell-phone-and-wireless-radiation-as-carcinogenic-to-humans-849135.htm)

(An Italian research team found that rats developed similar cancers with microwave radiation exposure (see: https://ehtrust.org/worlds-largest-animal-study-on-cell-tower-radiation-confirms-cancer-link/) although this study was not published at the time of the annual report was made to the WHO.)




The wireless industry in NZ has had what virtually any thinking person would consider undue and inappropriate influence over the development of the NZ standard (NZS 2772.1:1999) that governs how much microwave radiation is allowed to be emitted by cellular phone towers (and similar infrastructure).

Similarly, the telecommunications industry has had what most people would consider undue and inappropriate influence over the standard (the National Environmental Standard on Telecommunications Facilities (NESTF)) that determines where cellular phone towers (and other wireless infrastructure) are allowed to be sited.

The NZ Ministry of Health has set up a committee (the Interagency Committee on the Health Effects on Non Ionising Fields)) which is supposed “provide the Director General of Health with high quality, independent scientific and technical advice on any potential health effects from exposures to extremely low or radiofrequency [microwave] fields…”” (See: “Terms of Reference for the Interagency Committee on the Health Effects of Non Ionising Fields”)

However, the reports from the committee available on the WHO’s website (http://www.who.int/peh-emf/project/mapnatreps/nz/en/ ) and the Minutes of its meetings suggest the committee has a pattern of dismissing research that most people would consider to show evidence of harm.

Most people have no idea of the level how failure to take into account conflict of interest and/or ineptitude on the part of successive New Zealand governments has led to New Zealanders being exposed to unprecedented levels of microwave radiation.

I hope that you will share this post widely to help your friends, family and colleagues understand why devices and infrastructure that produce microwave radiation conform with New Zealand standards CANNOT be assumed to be safe.

The sad fact of the matter is that the current system of regulation of microwave radiation emission in New Zealand essentially provides license to the telecommunications industry to legally produce levels of microwave radiation that have been linked to a variety of adverse health effects, including increased risk of cancers.

Until the majority of New Zealanders realise that the current regulatory system for microwave radiation emissions is a essentially a license for the wireless industry to pollute –and sicken and even kill in its quest for profits – there is little chance that this outrageous state of affairs can be remedied.




Editor’s note:  This piece was written by a non-lawyer.  Should any readers have knowledge of relevant law and identify any errors, you may contact the website editor via the Contact Form. 

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