The popular press keeps dubbing WiMax "Wi-Fi on steroids": Ofcom, the British communications regulator, is considering turning Wi-Fi itself into Wi-Fi on steroids by allowing a 100-fold increase in direct power for the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands. In the U.S., the limit is 1W (measured as a calculation of the radio, amplifier, signal loss, and antenna) and 4W effective output for 2.4 GHz, and a variety of rules for 5 GHz. Ofcom is considering 10W, while the European Union might allow 4W. There might be some minimal licensing requirements for the higher power plus a requirement of presence to avoid using higher power where it's not allowed.
This article points to a European technology blogger who noted the Ofcom plan, and who writes about the higher limits, that the plan "completely ignores the health risks as 2.4GHz is the frequency microwave ovens use and 10W though low power could have significant health risks." Let's just call that bloody ignorance, shall we?Microwave ovens reflect a signal in a confined space to change the magnetic polarity 2.4 billion times a second of water molecules; the twisting thus causes friction and heat. Microwave ovens typically use 800W to 1200W of power. Beaming out microwaves doesn't produce an oven effect because it doesn't have the reflection.
However, there are extremely well known health effects from close proximity to high-power microwaves, and 10 watts counts. Even in the U.S., you can produce signals of nearly 30W under certain directional rules using certain kinds of antennas. It is never clever to position oneself closely to a high-power antenna--something at least an order of magnitude higher in output than a home gateway. High-powered Wi-Fi or other wireless uses directional antennas typically (because the rules don't allow high-power omnidirectional use). These antennas are typically on roofs and poles or pointing far away from human beings.