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A startup that aims to protect you from cellphone towers

Jul 20 2013, 15:28   |   By Entrepreneur

By Shruti Chakraborty

Neha Kumar shares a piece of data to give an idea of the problem she is tackling. The government regulation for the permissible levels of radiation from cellphone towers is the same as the amount of radiation a human body would absorb if it were kept inside a microwave oven for 19 minutes every day. Neha's father, Girish Kumar, a professor at IIT-Bombay has worked on antenna technology and radiation related research for the last 30 years. A few years ago he developed health problems. "This was because of  continued exposure to radiation as part of his work," Kumar, 25, says. This got the duo thinking.

Kumar, a biotechnology graduate from Anna University in Chennai, found the answer with Mumbai-based NESA Radiation Solutions Pvt. Ltd. in November 2011, a firm she set up on campus at IIT-Bombay, which makes household products that act as shielding solutions from cell tower radiation.

Potent troubles

Earlier this year, the matter was heard in the Supreme Court after the Rajasthan High Court asked telecom companies to remove cellphone towers from school buildings and hospitals on account of radiation from cell towers. BioInitiative 2012, a report brought out by 29 independent scientists and health experts, cites the safe limit of radiation from cellphone towers as 0.5 milliwatts per square meter. The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection, an independent organization, puts out norms on permissible radiation limits for tower firms at 4.5 watts per square meter in the 900 MHz frequency band. India's limit was brought down from 4.5 watts per square meter in September 2012 to 0.45 watts after a government-appointed inter-ministerial panel examining India's norms cited several studies linking health disorders to cell tower radiation, where Girish also expressed his concerns.

After graduating, Kumar researched on the health impact of cellphone tower radiation and met people living close to these towers. They interacted with government officials, educational institutions, medical professionals and residential societies about potential problems that could be triggered by continued exposure to high levels of cellphone tower radiation. "When we started talking about it, cellphone operators were not happy. They have a strong lobby and while they did not completely realize the impact of cellphone tower radiation, they eventually just ignored it to let their business interests prevail," states Girish.

Health issues

"We found a strong correlation between health problems and radiation levels," says Kumar, Director, NESA, referring to their survey. The common health issues were frequent headaches, disturbed sleep, concentration and memory-related problems, joint pains, some cases of miscarriages, cardiovascular problems and cancer. "We found more frequent cases of health problems in areas where we measured radiation levels of four to five watts," she says.

Neela Bhinde, 63, stays in Vile Parle in Mumbai in a house that is about 20 meters from a cell phone tower, installed six years ago. "My husband and I both developed cancer and there have been other cases of cancer in our building," she says.

Shielding solutions

NESA first measured levels of electromagnetic radiation in homes and localities using a device called Cell Tower Radiation Detector Detex 189 which was later launched commercially. Priced at Rs. 4,950‚ it can measure radiation in the 800 MHz to 2.5 GHz frequency which includes Wi-Fi signals, television tower signals, microwave and cell tower radiation. Initially they focussed on pushing the government to bring down norms but when people started asking them for solutions, they decided to develop shielding solutions. NESA then developed three solutions in the form of window film, curtains and wallpaper. The technology works with an antenna behind each product that receives cellphone tower signals and converts it to heat energy, through an AC (alternating current) to DC (direct current) adapter. The heat generated is mild to the tune of 0.0001 degree centigrade which then dissipates into the environment. Kumar refused to share details of the material used in making the product, as it is pending patent.

Talking tough

Introduced a year ago, NESA has so far sold the window film to 150 customers. The curtains were launched four months ago and have been installed for about 50 customers. The most recent of them all, the wallpaper solutions, were introduced two months ago. The pricing of each product is based on the area that a customer is looking to shield. For a 5×6 feet area, a  window film is priced at Rs. 4,500, a curtain costs Rs. 7,000 while a wallpaper is sold for around Rs. 8,250. Girish has self-funded NESA with Rs. 5 lakh and has raised investment of Rs. 1 crore earlier this year from his raw material vendor Chirag Vadilal Savla, in exchange for 50 percent stake in the startup. Savla is now a partner in the business and also helps NESA with manufacturing at their unit in Vashi, on the outskirts of Mumbai. In the last one year, the company has clocked in revenues of Rs. 1 crore. "We are going to continue marketing our product through word of mouth and will look at setting up a physical distribution chain at a later stage," says Kumar, who also focusses on the biological side of research. Girish handles the technology, antenna and radiation aspects.  Besides this, he also runs another venture called Wilcom Technologies Pvt. Ltd. which was incubated at Society for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the business incubator at IIT-Bombay. Girish says he uses the entrepreneurial lessons he learnt there to run NESA.
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