Swiss agency denies ban on 5G roll-out over health concerns (updated)

13 Feb 2020

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Switzerland’s environmental agency has denied calling a halt to the switching on of 5G over health concerns.

Updated, 2.49pm, 14 February 2020: Since the original publication of the story in the Financial Times, the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment has denied plans for a blanket ban on 5G in Switzerland. The agency said it had written to the country’s cantons about the placement of 5G equipment, but the assertion that previous reports had made about halting 5G entirely were “misleading”.

While some cantons had imposed restrictions on planning permission for 5G sites, it does not apply to the whole of Switzerland. This article was updated to reflect these comments.

Switzerland is one of the European leaders in the roll-out of 5G mobile technology, rolling out more than 2,000 antennas last year alone, with telcos promising that the network would be switched on very soon. This week, the Financial Times reported that Switzerland’s Federal Office for the Environment, or Das Bundesamt für Umwelt (Bafu), had placed an indefinite moratorium on its use over potential health concerns.

It reported that Bafu sent a letter to the governments of the nation’s cantons at the end of January, and had “now in effect called time on the use of all new 5G towers”. Under the system of government in Switzerland, the cantons license out the telecoms infrastructure but the central government in Bern has overall responsibility for its framework.

According to the Financial Times, Bafu said that it “cannot yet provide universal criteria” without further testing 5G for the potential impact of radiation, and wants to monitor “exposure through adaptive [5G] antennas in depth, if possible in real-world operational conditions”, adding that “this work will take some time”.

However, in a statement to Mobile World Live, a representative of Bafu said these letters did “not contain any recommendation to stop the permitting of 5G base stations”.

“Rather, it sets out how the cantons can proceed with the permitting of 5G and adaptive antennas until FOEN’s enforcement aid on adaptive antennas is available,” they added.

Mast roll-out to continue

Several cantons have already placed their own restrictions on 5G, but the country’s biggest telecoms firm, Swisscom, has stated it will continue to roll out its 5G infrastructure. It promised customers that speeds of 2Gbps could still be achieved without new masts.

While Swisscom said it understood “the fears that are expressed about new technologies”, it added that there is “no evidence that antenna radiation within the limit values adversely affects human health”.

Swisscom also stated that 5G uses frequencies similar to 4G, which have already been subjected to “several thousand studies”, and that Switzerland’s regulatory limits were “10 times stricter than those recommended by the World Health Organisation”.

Swiss popular opinion of 5G has been mixed, with a number of protests being held in Bern, Zurich and Geneva against its roll-out. Two cantons are currently in the process of collecting signatures with the aim of triggering a national referendum on the use of 5G, according to the Financial Times.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic