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International survey of knowledge of mobile phone Specific

Absorption Rate (SAR) information among mobile phone users
Jack Rowley1, Chris Althaus2, Michael Milligan3, Dagmar Wiebusch4
1 GSM Association • 2 Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association • 3 Mobile Manufacturers Forum • 4 Informationszentrum Mobilfunk e. V.

Purpose

Results

The purpose of this nine country study was to assess
the level of public awareness of specific absorption
rate (SAR) information for mobile phones, consumer
understanding of SAR and the importance of SAR
information in purchase decisions and expectations
of availability of SAR information. In addition, we also
wanted to assess the level of knowledge of the public
with regards to measures that individuals can take to
control their exposures.

Our findings on the level of concern were broadly
similar to other surveys where the public is asked about
possible health risks from mobile phones or networks1-3,
although we note that concern has been reported to be
substantially lower in unprompted surveys4.
FIGURE 1: Relative importance of factors to purchase decisions (n=4,852)
Quality of network coverage

62%

Cost of calls/messages/line rental

59%

Handset cost

We selected Australia, Brazil, Chile, France, Germany,
India, Japan, Switzerland and the USA for our survey
in order to provide a wide geographic spread and
to include countries with recent interest related
to expanded consumer access to SAR information
(France, India, USA) and countries with existing
voluntary initiatives related to SAR information
(Germany, Switzerland).
A survey with questions about concern, SAR
knowledge, importance to purchase decisions and
ways to reduce exposure was developed and translated
by a commercial survey company (Circle Research,
London, UK). The translations were checked by native
speakers knowledgeable of SAR and coded into an
on-line survey system by Circle Research who collected
the responses and provided the data to the authors.
A four point scale was used for importance to purchase
decision: Not at all important; Not very important; Quite
important; and Very important. A yes or no answer was
possible for the question about requesting information
and for awareness of SAR, the question posed was
‘Have you heard of SAR, a technical measure for mobile
phone/ handset compliance?’
The fieldwork was undertaken in April 2011 via
Circle Research’s existing market research panels
of mobile phone buyers, with a minimum target of
500 respondents per country. Standard demographic
questions were asked as well as who pays the bill (self,
family member or employer). The questionnaire was
terminated if the respondent did not currently have a
mobile phone or they did not choose their mobile phone
and network provider. The total number of respondents
completing the survey was 4,852.

53%

Handset ease of use

50%

Special price offers/incentives

6%

31%

54%

Battery life

Materials and Methods

29%

6% 3%

36%

8%

38%

7%

2%

6%

3%

41%

40%

41%

2%

15%

4%

Previous experience of network operator

39%

43%

14%

5%

Network brand/reputation

37%

43%

15%

5%

Handset brand/reputation

34%

Screen size

33%

Ability to provide internet access

32%

Previous experience of handset brand

31%

Speed of internet access

31%

Handset technical specification

30%

Handset size

29%

Handset design/appearance

29%

Quality of camera

29%

Handset environmental performance

45%

25%
25%

SAR value

23%
19%
19%

51%

21%

39%

23%

39%

9%
22%

26%

32%

5%
10%

31%

Not at all important

3%
6%
9%

27%

48%
40%

Quite important

6%

16%

44%

Not very important

5%
16%

19%
45%

23%

4%
4%

14%

45%

Very important

5%

15%

32%

26%

Keypad size
Availability of applications

17%

48%

30%

13%

49%
45%
32%

Mobile phone retailer
website

26%

46%

Send more
text messages
Only use in areas of
good reception

41%
29%
10%
10%

20%

30%

40%

50%

60%

70%

TABLE 1: Summary of results for all countries
Country Worried about Looked at/ Aware of Aware of SAR
Importance
Aware of how
SAR (%) information
of SAR1
to reduce

health risks2 requested

(% very/fairly) information
sources
(% very important) exposure (%)

(%)
(%)
Australia
Brazil
Chile
France
Germany
India
Japan
Switzerland
USA

21
55
36
25
4
44
6
10
15

10
23
13
22
20
43
11
16
13

15
27
29
34
36
32
10
24
19

12
19
23
21
23
26
11
19
13

16
47
32
20
12
52
4
13
18

35
19
20
39
20
49
8
20
29

Average

24

19

25

19

24

27

While there has been a focus on making SAR information
more accessible, consumers do not understand the SAR
concept and it was the lowest ranked factor in purchase
decisions. The most important factors in purchase decisions
were network quality, phone experience and cost. For the
small proportion of persons interested in SAR information
almost half would seek this information from Internet
searches, handset manufacturer websites or manuals and
less than 20% would look for the information in retail outlets
(Figure 2).

Bibliography

18%

Mobile phone shop
offering multiple networks

1. Eurobarometer. Special Eurobarometer 347: Electromagnetic fields,
conducted by TNS Opinion & Social at the request of the Directorate General
for Health and Consumer Affairs. Survey coordinated by Directorate General
Communication., June 2010.
2. Krewski D, Lemyre L, Turner MC et al. Public perception of population health
risks in Canada: Health hazards and health outcomes. International Journal
of Risk Assessment and Management, 2009; 11 (3-4):299 - 318.
3. Kristiansen IS, Elstein AS, Gyrd-Hansen D et al. Radiation from mobile phone
systems: Is it perceived as a threat to people’s health? Bioelectromagnetics,
2009; 30 (5):393–401.
4. Mobile Operators Association. Openline Summer Edition, 2010.

17%

Specialist electronics
shop

16%

Handset manufacturer
contact number

15%

Mobile network provider
contact number

14%

Friend/family
member/colleague

14%

Handset retailer
contact number

13%
3%

Other
0%

Make fewer calls

We conclude from this survey of consumers in nine countries
that people are not very worried about possible health risks
from the use of mobile phones and that consequently few
people request SAR or other health related information when
making purchase decisions (Table 1).

24%

Network provider website

Other website

66%
57%

Conclusions

Given the low understanding of SAR and low awareness
of measures available to individuals to reduce their
exposure, provision of information via websites and handset
manuals, where supporting explanatory information can be
supplied, are likely to provide the most effective consumer
communication channels.

59%

Handset manufacturer
website

Government department
website

Use a personal
handsfree kit
Keep calls as
short as possible

0%

Internet search engine

Handset manual

FIGURE 3: Responses (n=1,287) to the question ‘Which of the following

would you do to reduce your exposure?’

Other

FIGURE 2: Sources that would be used by persons (n=893) who

said they knew where to access SAR information

Mobile network provider
website

2%

We found that in purchasing decisions, SAR rated
lowest of 21 pre-defined factors with the most
important being factors related to network quality,
phone experience and cost (Figure 1). Consumers
would use Internet search services, manufacturer
websites or device manuals when seeking SAR
information (Figure 2). Less than 20% would seek such
information in retail outlets. Almost three-quarters
(73%) did not know how to reduce personal exposure,
however, there was greater knowledge among the
concerned (data not shown) and in countries with
active communication programs or significant media
coverage. The most commonly identified ways to
reduce exposure were to use a personal hands-free kit
(66%) and make fewer calls (57%) (Figure 3).

10%

20%

30%

40%

50%

60%

70%