Regular readers of this space know I've previously made the same point, but the synchronicity of last week's wrap up of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona combined with news from Israel of a new study linking cell phone use to cancer was too powerful to ignore. (See Cell phone-cancer link claimed by Israeli scientist and Next-gen mobile phones strut their stuff in Barcelona.)
Handset designers well know that these portable devices are quickly becoming the "Swiss Army Knives" of portable electronics. They're being designed to perform numerous tasks that don't require cell phone microwave radio emissions -- including functioning as a digital still camera, video camcorder, GPS-based navigation device, and portable media player for already-stored mp3 and video files. Now, reception of broadcast and made-for-mobile TV signals is being added to the mix.
None of these functions require transmissions from the cell phone handset. GPS and TV reception are receive-only operations. Camera and camcorder functions use no radio waves at all (unless, after all the shooting is over, you want to send out the files, but that's a separate operation.)
I've hardly made a thorough survey of the myriad handset models, but to date I have yet to see a single handset that allows users to disconnect from the microwave radio network and turn off microwave transmissions from the handset while using it for one of these other functions.
Contrast this to laptop computer designs, which quite correctly incorporate hardware switches to quickly and conveniently de-activate WiFi microwave functionality.
Of course, the cell phone carriers themselves, who heavily subsidize and guide the development of handset technology, see little value in disconnecting the devices from their networks. A handset that's not connected to the network is a handset that's not making money.
Nevertheless, it is the consumer who ultimately purchases the handset -- not the carriers -- and it is the consumer who suffers whatever health consequences result from its use.
So I send out an appeal to handset designers: Allow the user to optionally turn off the cell phone functionality when using the device as a camera, or as a camcorder, as a GPS navigator, portable TV, or portable media player.
Of course many people will leave their phones active for such use, so as not to miss an incoming call. But not everyone. And if designers make this an option, for the user, it will inevitably raise awareness of the issue (which is precisely why network operators would not want to see it happen.)
Plus -- as I've said here before -- handset designers get an amazing fringe benefit from including such a user-controlled option: Power savings, leading to longer battery run time. Now who can argue with that?