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20 April 2018

Switzerland: Despite Concerns about Possible Health Consequences, the National Council Wants to Circumvent Current Radiation Protection Limits in Order to Launch 5G

The Commission for Transport and Telecommunications of the National Council wants to ask the government to take into account an average value for transmission power over 24 hours instead of fixed maximum values as before. This would artificially increase the limit values. 

Other measuring method - stronger antennas would already be allowed
by Jon Mettlerderbund.ch, 19 April 2018 (translation by DeepL)

Leading the way:  The new 5G standard allows a
transmission speed 100 times faster.
Frank Augstein (Keystone)
Despite concerns about possible health consequences, the National Council wants to use a "boy trick" to circumvent the current radiation protection limits.

There is political resistance to the rapid development of the fast fifth generation (5G) mobile communications standard. At the beginning of March, the Council of States refused to relax the strict radiation protection values for antennas and thus stood up against the will of the National Council and the state government.

Higher limits are regarded as a prerequisite for the three Swiss mobile phone providers to be able to rapidly set up the new 5G network and offer it in a commercially viable manner. In the Council of States, however, concerns about possible health consequences predominated. 5G allows 100 times higher transmission speeds on the smartphone than the current 4G standard.

Mean value instead of maximum value

Now the Commission for Transport and Telecommunications of the National Council has concluded that an increase in the limit values is not necessary. But a political trick is intended to circumvent the current regulations. The committee recommends that the Federal Council adapt the methods for calculating and measuring the limit values.

Specifically, the Commission wants to ask the government in a letter to take into account an average value for transmission power over 24 hours instead of fixed maximum values as before. This would artificially increase the limit values. In this way, Switzerland would be guided by EU countries, where radiation protection averages also apply to mobile communications.

Simplified procedures

The Commission also requires the Federal Council to simplify approval procedures for existing antennas in order to upgrade the transmitters with 5G. The decision was taken with 18 votes to 2 with 1 abstention.

Prior to the decision, the committee held hearings with representatives of the Swiss Telecommunications Association and the Directorate for Environment and Energy in St. Gallen, among others. The city has set up a network for wireless Internet with many small antennas, demonstrating that radiation exposure is lower than with a few large radio cells. The Commission intends to start the detailed consultation in July.

Because the radiation limits for mobile radio antennas are laid down in an ordinance, the Federal Council can amend them. At a question and answer session  in the National Council at the beginning of March, however, the government stressed that it would respect the will of Parliament and the Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications (Uvek) which falls under the responsibility of Federal Councillor Doris Leuthard. Yesterday, Uvek did not comment on the Telecommunications Commission's proposal: "We will carefully examine the Commission's request after receiving the letter," said Uvek spokeswoman Annetta Bundi.

"Frontal Attack on Limits"

Opponents of mobile phone antennas rub their eyes: "This is a frontal attack on the precautionary limits that apply," says Peter Kälin. The physician is president of the Association of Doctors for Environmental Protection. The organization will now seek talks with parliamentarians in Bern.

The professional association of Swiss doctors also reacts critically. FMH states that there should be no deviation from current best practice as long as there is no scientific proof that "a higher exposure has no health effects".

Swisscom, Sunrise and Salt, on the other hand, welcome the initiative of the National Council Commission. The measures are helpful in the short and medium term in introducing the new technology. Salt spokesman Benjamin Petrzilka therefore demands that politicians implement the proposals quickly.

At the same time, however, the three mobile phone operators make it clear that a slight increase is necessary despite a recalculation of the limit values. This is the only way to launch the new, faster mobile network in Switzerland quickly and nationwide.

Market leader Swisscom with its 6.6 million mobile customers announced in mid-February - prior to the vote in the Council of States - that it would be  the first Swiss provider to introduce 5G on a selective basis at the end of 2018. At that time, the timetable envisaged making the fast network accessible to a wider public within two years. After the Council of States had decided not to adjust the limit values, Swisscom had to revise the timetable. However, the company is sticking to the starting date.

Swisscom now assumes that the 5G network will have gaps in 2020 - even if the Federal Council should amend the Ordinance on Protection against Non-Ionizing Radiation in the sense of the National Council Telecommunications Commission.


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