Wireless networks in schools are under fire from parents concerned about possible health problems. Several schools have dismantled their Wi-Fi networks following a series of complaints.
One teacher at Stowe School blamed headaches and nausea on the wireless access point installed in his classroom, said James Tearle, head of IT at the school. The access point was removed, and no one else has reported problems, he said.
The teacher, who is head of classics, is a valued member of staff, Tearle said. "He is more comfortable now that we have removed the wireless from his area," he said.
Stowe School has consulted the UK's Health Protection Agency, but so far no abnormal problems have been found with the Wi-Fi network, Tearle said. The network remains in operation throughout the rest of the school, Tearle said. And a small Wi-Fi network at The Prebendal School in Chichester was dismantled at the request of parents, said Timothy Cannell, headmaster. The network could be restored in the future, he said.
"Some parents were just concerned about the levels of radiation from wireless networking," Cannell said. "We just felt we should look further into it."
In addition, Ysgol Pantycelyn in Carmarthenshire, Wales, also dismantled its Wi-Fi network after receiving parental complaints, according to a recent report in The Times.
Wireless networking is seen as a low-cost way to expand Internet access. UK cities such as Norwich, Brighton and Milton Keynes have deployed free Wi-Fi networks around their centres.
But some Britons are concerned over the long-term health effects of Wi-Fi systems, which use microwave frequencies close to those of mobile phones.
Studies have shown use of mobile phones can have adverse health effects, with some people experiencing headaches and discomfort, said Graham Philips, technical manager for Powerwatch, an organisation that studies electricity and microwaves. Wi-Fi transmitters, however, haven't been extensively studied, he said.
"We do think there is cause for concern," Philips said. "We would recommend people don’t use them."
He added, however, that there were mitigating factors with Wi-Fi versus mobile signals. People would likely have reduced exposure to signals from Wi-Fi transmitters than a mobile phone, since Wi-Fi routers aren't pressed against their head.
Wi-Fi operators have sought to allay concerns. Norfolk Open Link, the website for Norwich's Wi-Fi system, said that aerials are mounted on lampposts and buildings, away from users.
The site further said the power output of the Wi-Fi equipment is very low and "there is very little exposure to radio wave energy."
Original reporting by IDG news service