What they don't tell you about your Wi-Fi router... Katherine Roberts

Since living in my current house in a densely-populated urban area, I seem to have developed an allergy to Wi-Fi*, which (quite literally sometimes) is a pain. Wireless technology is pretty much everywhere you go these days... show me a cafe that doesn't offer free Wi-Fi along with its expensive cappuccinos that are no doubt helping to pay for your 'free' connection. I can visit such a cafe and enjoy the cappuccino, and I can stay long enough to have lunch with my friends if I'm not sitting right next to the router, but I would not like to try sleeping there. And it seems I am not alone. According to the Electrosensitivity UK website, "Surveys suggest 30% of people are slightly allergic to radio exposure, usually without knowing it."

If you sit next to your Wi-Fi router for too long, it can make you sick.
Possible symptoms include: headaches, brain fog, concentration issues, anxiety, depression, nausea, insomnia, tinnitus, thyroid changes, heart problems, infertility, autism, epilepsy, and possible tumours in the long term. Mine manifested mainly as brain fog, exhaustion, low-grade anxiety, and some alarming balance issues which resulted in two broken toes and several bruises when I walked into doors in my own home. I could also hear an untraceable humming noise in my home at night. These symptoms usually improved when I spent a few hours away from my house or slept elsewhere, and I don't have any particular balance problems when I'm out cycling in the woods, or skiing down mountains... although they can reappear if I am walking through a built-up area. Of course, such symptoms can also be caused by many other conditions, which is no doubt why the medical profession does not recognise Wi-Fi as a major threat to the nation's health. However, people are becoming more aware of potential Wi-Fi related issues and taking their own precautions.

The Tech Wellness blog advises: "No one should ever be closer than 10 feet to a WiFi antenna and I feel best with a minimum of 20 feet between me and a router. If you have young children, best to keep them 30 or 40 feet away." I would agree, but think about this for a moment. How big is your house? Even a large living room is unlikely to be more than 20 feet across. Much smaller in a new build, I suspect. My current home has fairly spacious rooms, yet my entire ground floor measures perhaps 30 feet across. That means banishing my router to one corner of the house, and any children who visit to the opposite corner - hardly practical, if they want to access the kitchen and raid the fridge!

You are allowed to turn it off.
If you or someone else in your family is not sleeping well, you could try turning off your Wi-Fi at night. Up until earlier this year, when I had a period during which I suddenly started waking up five times a night with a racing heartbeat and cramps in my legs (why I still don't know, but thankfully this period seems to have passed for now), insomnia had never been much of a problem for me. I think this is because ever since I signed up for broadband and my own magic box arrived, I've always turned off my router at night - thanks no doubt to my dad, a former electrical engineer, who still goes around the house unplugging everything before he goes to bed. I also got into the habit of turning off the router whilst working on my books, which proved to be a good thing for my creativity because then I wasn't so tempted to check Facebook between chapters.

You don't have to use Wi-Fi to access the Internet.
In the days of dial-up modems, everyone used to connect through cables. My old desktop was not Wi-Fi enabled, so that's the way I used my broadband router at first - and, since I didn't need it, I disabled the Wi-Fi on the router too. But after a skiing accident in 2014, I treated myself to a Wi-Fi enabled laptop so I could work with my leg up on the sofa. That meant turning on my home Wi-Fi, and at first I had no noticeable health issues, either while using my laptop (on my lap... well, nobody warned me not to!), or while my router was turned on and I was doing other things.

That changed sometime in 2018, while I was working two days a week as a Royal Literary Fund Fellow down in Cornwall and staying overnight. Upon returning home, I first began to notice a strange tingling in my legs and fingers after using my laptop for an hour or so. This slowly grew worse over time - until, eventually, just a few minutes were enough to persuade me to put the machine on a table and sit in a proper chair... my fingers still suffered after prolonged use, but my legs felt stronger. During this period, I also suffered from dry (scratchy) eyes upon waking and developed a large floater in one of my eyes, which the optician diagnosed as a posterior vitreous detachment and told me it was normal for older people (despite the fact I'm still 10 years away from picking up my pension, grrr!). Then the brain fog crept in, and later in 2018 (by which time I had finished my commute to Cornwall and was working one day a week at Plymouth University instead) the balance issues began - mostly in the mornings after getting out of bed when, rather than feeling rested after my night's sleep, I felt as if I had just fought in a battle. I broke my first toe stumbling about my house just before Christmas, at which point I got worried I might be dying of a brain tumour. Then I went on holiday to the Alps and felt much better, so decided it must have just been exhaustion after a long term commuting back and forth to Cornwall, combined with the endless hospital visits following my elderly mother's stroke in November of that year.

But the same issues returned when I was inside the house for any length of time, and authors work from home so I need to spend a lot of time there. By about April this year, I was finding it difficult to concentrate and everything was a huge effort, taking me about three times as long as it should have done. Work on my fiction had completely ground to a halt, and I was suffering worrying short term memory lapses. Not wanting to waste my GP's time on intermittent health issues that could just be part of getting older and mostly vanished when I travelled out of the area, I Googled my symptoms and discovered a fierce debate about the possible health hazards of Wi-Fi that has apparently been raging since its first appearance in the early 2000s, along with thousands of independent studies and subsequent recommendations for public non-thermal safety limits, which the UK government appears to be ignoring. Here's a recent such debate from America to give you a flavour of the public wellbeing vs corporate profits dilemma:

We don't have 5G in my area yet*, so I decided to try an experiment. The first thing I did was disable the Wi-Fi on my broadband router, which I am now using with an ethernet cable again, after purchasing a simple USB adaptor (£8.99 from amazon) for my laptop. I'd already disabled the Bluetooth because I didn't use it, but now I can disable the Wi-Fi on my laptop too, at least while I'm using it at home. To be honest, I didn't think it would make much difference, since the symptoms I'd been experiencing often occurred when I wasn't actually using a Wi-Fi device, and I wasn't in the habit of keeping my router turned on 24 hours a day, anyway. But it gave immediate relief from many of my symptoms, particularly the brain fog and balance problems I'd been suffering (no more broken toes!), and my creativity seems to have returned even though I'm spending just as long on the Internet each day doing social media stuff. I also have more energy and have not suffered any further memory lapses. As a welcome side effect, my broadband connection is better than before, being faster and more stable than the Wi-Fi, and I'm guessing more secure too - although apparently the best thing would be to use a dedicated non-Wi-Fi broadband router with a firmware firewall (which up until writing this article I did not even know existed).

* CORRECTION: I have since discovered that there is "4G+1" - the forerunner of 5G - already installed along the main road below my house, where I walk and/or cycle almost every day. Also, 5G masts and small cells are already springing up around my local area, no doubt being tested as they go - could this have accounted for my alarming period of sleeplessness and racing heartbeat/cramps earlier this year? Also, they already have 5G in Cornwall, where I was working part time last year, so was that the trigger for my allergy, maybe? *

You can control the power of your router to keep your signal safe.
If it's not practical to turn off your Wi-Fi because the younger members of your family have a cable allergy and want to use their devices in their bedrooms, then you don't have to keep it broadcasting at 100% power. There should be a setting, either on the box itself or online, that you can adjust - it's only if you live in a country mansion that you're likely to need your full signal strength to reach as far as the ha-ha. Besides improving your home environment, if your Wi-Fi signal trespasses on your neighbour's property it might be interfering with your neighbours' signals, which can cause your Wi-Fi to drop out or slow down - yet, legally, there is nothing you can do about this, except try changing your channel and hope they don't do the same! I'm aware of at least 12 signals from my neighbours' Wi-Fi devices strong enough to pass through the walls and windows of my home, which no doubt accounts for the slow speeds and drops I sometimes experienced when I used Wi-Fi to connect. Wouldn't it make more sense if everyone adjusted the power of their own router so that their signals did not reach beyond the boundary of their property? That way, there would be less chance of interference between neighbouring devices, and less chance of someone hacking their way into your network from the other side of the street. (That last part's not legal, of course.)

Even if you think you need Wi-Fi inside your home, you probably don't.
If several people live in your household and want to use their devices in different rooms, there is also a way of wiring your router to the mains system of your home using dLAN units. This lets people in different rooms access the internet by plugging into a convenient socket. I'm not an expert on this, but I expect a friendly electrician could sort it out for you.

You can get a meter to measure Wi-Fi hot/cool spots.
Disabling the Wi-Fi on my home router seems to have helped a lot, but I am aware of those other signals invading from my neighbours, and I wouldn't say I'm completely cured - I don't really feel ill any more, but I could feel better. So I decided to invest in a RF meter to survey my home for the best place to put my bed for a good night's sleep, and also so I can measure the strength of Wi-Fi signals when I'm out and about and find the best local places to spend time in when I need a detox... I think I know where these are, but it would be nice to have confirmation. This meter has only just arrived, so I'll blog about the results next month... suffice to say it's proving quite enlightening! I'll definitely be taking it on my next house hunt. (If you don't want to shell out for one of your own, such meters are also available for hire.)

Remember smartphones use Wi-Fi, too.
I don't use a smartphone because I have a problem using touch screens, but if I did then I would not keep it too near my body or my head - see this current NHS advice for using mobile phones. This seems to be particularly important for children, and the current advice is that children under 16 should only use mobile phones in an emergency (which is almost impossible to enforce once they get hold of one). Anyone remember the old Ready Brek advert? Here's the smartphone equivalent, which makes an interesting antidote to the TV smart meter campaign that also exploits children to lecture adults.

Most kids, of course, have never known Wi-Fi free living. The youngsters in your family probably can't wait to get their hands on the next model phone with 5G capabilities - though if you saw my post about 5G guinea pigs you might be less keen to let them have one. It's only lately, with the growing awareness of what the proposed (much higher) wireless frequencies might mean for us and our environment, that people are waking up to this invisible hazard to our wellbeing that, for about two decades now, has been all around us almost everywhere we go. As the NHS says in this recent article about 5G safety, "further research is needed when it comes to long-term exposure".

Unlike food allergies, which can be fatal if you eat the wrong thing, Wi-Fi allergy seems more of a chronic condition that (at least in my experience) starts with a general feeling of malaise and worsens over time exposed. I didn't notice any ill effects at first, which for me was early 2014 when I first turned on the Wi-Fi router in my home. In fact, I did not have any really debilitating issues until earlier this year, so is 5 years of exposure too much, or is it just certain frequencies I am allergic to? The only visible thing that has changed in the vicinity of my home is the old sodium streetlight, which the council swapped for an LED remote controlled version sometime in 2017/18 (I forget quite when), and despite the scare stories about these new lights killing sparrows I don't believe it is going to zap me in my bed - though I suspect it might be the source of the faint humming I can hear when I'm awake at night. Perhaps it's only people of my generation, who can remember what it feels like to be clear-headed, who are worried? Teenagers are all immortal, of course, which helps.

Why is Wi-Fi and the new 5G technology considered "safe"?
Apparently, because it would only be classed as unsafe if it ionizes your body like the type of radiation that sets off a Geiger counter, or burns your skin like the sun does if you lie in it for too long... i.e. has a "heating effect". Clearly the old 2G, 3G and 4G frequencies do neither, but that's not to say they don't mess with your brain waves and your biological circuitry, especially if you are exposed to them 24/7 for several years. This is known as the "non-thermal" effect, for which some countries have already set their own safety levels. If you're interested in the actual figures that can cause problems, see this ofcom table of biological effects at various power densities. Yet, despite all the evidence to the contrary, the UK Government is still using ICNIRP's old "heating limit" safety level when assessing the safety of Wi-Fi, which is a bit like trying to measure the safety of a block of radioactive plutonium with a wooden ruler. And now we're adding 5G to the mix, which has been declared uninsurable by Lloyds of London... maybe they are remembering Erin Brockovich?

Don't forget we have a climate emergency.
Even if you are blissfully unaware of the effect Wi-Fi might be having on your body and brain, it seems our planet is not. The Schumann Resonance, which for millions of years was a steady 7.83 Hz (which is also the natural frequency of human biological circuitry), has been spiking up to 150 Hz recently, no doubt accounting for all the increased storm activity we've been seeing lately. What if Wi-Fi is affecting the natural frequency of the Earth, and therefore contributing to climate change? The hottest years have been Wi-Fi years.

Green Bank quiet zone warning signs
By Z22 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0
Where are the Wi-Fi free zones?
At the very least, if "Wi-Fi everywhere" and "5G everywhere" is to be the norm, shouldn't it be our Government's responsibility to provide quiet, signal-free zones for those who need a break from it, or whose health might depend upon being shielded? Otherwise, people who develop a serious Wi-Fi allergy will be unable to continue to live and work in such environments, which would be a violation of their human rights. At the moment, I'm not overly sensitive and can find relief by spending time in rural places where there are fewer or weaker signals, which seems to give my body a chance to recover. But once 5G takes off, it seems my only option for a detox might be the Quiet Zone at Green Bank, West Virginia!

If you are concerned about the roll-out of 5G in the UK, there is a current petition to trigger a debate in Parliament about public safety at https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/262842.

* 'Wi-Fi' is a trademark for radio frequencies up to 5 GHz (i.e. our existing 2G, 3G and 4G frequencies). When 5G is rolled out in the UK, apparently it will initially broadcast in the sub 6 GHz frequency band, but much higher frequencies of up to 86 GHz are planned for later developments. Nobody yet knows what effect this will have on humans, animals, insects, plants, the environment or the natural frequency of the Earth.


Katherine Roberts writes fantasy and historical fiction for young and older readers. As a reward for reading this far, her speculative short story collections (age 12+) are FREE for Kindle until 24th August.

(seven fantasy tales)

(seven science fiction tales)

Paperbacks of both these books are also now available.
More details at www.katherineroberts.co.uk


Umberto Tosi said…
All I can say is yipes! Thank you for this thorough advisory. I'm getting out my tape measure and wifi handbook to check our flat as a consequence.
Ann Turnbull said…
I'm far too dim to understand all this, Katherine, but I forwarded it to my husband and he immediately took action and moved our router, which at least makes it a bit less harmful. So thanks for this advice.
A pleasure. I'll be interested to hear if people think keeping further away from their router has a positive effect? On mine, I had to disable the Wi-Fi completely before I felt better - but I expect different routers vary in strength of signal.

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