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11 August 2018

Switzerland: Doris Leuthard: "Our Economy Needs the Technologies Made Possible by 5G"

What Doris Leuthard, head of the Swiss Federal Department of Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications, says here is very disturbing.  In order to implement 5G technology in Switzerland, she is talking of amending the Ordinance on non-ionizing radiation protection so that the limit values in Switzerland are the same as in the European Union [they are currently ten times stricter in Switzerland than in Europe], even if it means bypassing parliament.

Switzerland: Doris Leuthard: "Our economy needs the technologies made possible by 5G"
by Julie Zaugg, letemps.ch, 10 August 2018 - translation

The Federal Councilor made a quick two-day visit to Shenzhen and Hong Kong.  She looked at the latest innovations in the Middle Kingdom.

The Federal Councilor Doris Leuthard arrived Thursday in China, staying two days. She paid a visit to the tech giants Tencent and Huawei, visited a smart neighborhood and discovered innovations related to the development of mobile phone networks based on 5G.  She was even more convinced of the importance of rapidly deploying this technology on Swiss soil.  We met her in Hong Kong.

Le Temps: You visited several Chinese technology groups in Shenzhen.  What was your purpose?

Doris Leuthard: This fall, the Federal Council will vote on the country's new digital strategy.  We need to know where we stand with regard to information and communication technology.  I therefore chose to visit one of the most advanced countries in this respect, where these solutions have already been implemented and marketed.

Have you seen solutions that could be transposed to Switzerland?

The automobile company BYD showed us their electric buses.  We do have ABB's TOSA fast charging system but we need to think bigger.  We have a lot of buses in Switzerland, as the postal bus network shows.  We also have had extensive discussions with the Hong Kong Government regarding the electronic identity card that it will introduce in 2020 [it will allow for both administrative and commercial transactions].  We asked them what data it would contain, whether it would be free, and how to ensure data security.  We can learn from their experience.  Hong Kong and Switzerland have many things in common: they have roughly the same population, are both financial centers, and their governments enjoy a high degree of public trust.

Our ambition is to be the pioneer of 5G in Europe!

You visited the neighborhood of Longgang in Shenzhen.  Its implementation has been entirely entrusted to the Huawei Group.  Would that be possible in Switzerland?

When you have a huge amount of data to process, you need cloud computing solutions. This sometimes involves working with technology companies. Huawei already has cooperation agreements in Switzerland with Swisscom, Sunrise and Schindler. But there is a distinction to be made between sensitive data, such as those linked to an electronic identity card, which must remain in government hands, and those that are a little less so, such as commercial data linked to online purchases. Consumers must retain the freedom to manage this data as they see fit.

In China, technological progress often rhymes with surveillance. In Longgang, there are 41,000 surveillance cameras equipped with facial recognition technology and the police have an application to check the content of citizens' smartphones. What does that instill in you?

Culturally, we are very different from the Chinese in this respect. In Switzerland, we like privacy. And we don't really like surveillance cameras. That said, we must strike a balance. These tools are sometimes needed to prevent acts of terrorism or to check car plates as part of an urban toll system. But this requires a democratic approval process and the introduction of safeguards. Monitoring, as it takes place in China, would not be acceptable in Switzerland.

You also talked a lot about 5G during that trip. Is China ahead with this program?

The technology is ready, but its large-scale deployment is planned for 2020, just like here. And there are likely to be significant regional disparities. In Switzerland, on the other hand, the networks should be operational fairly quickly everywhere. Our ambition is to be the pioneer of 5G in Europe!

However, there is a strong reluctance. The Council of States recently refused to relax a law that limits the maximum value of electromagnetic waves, which endangers the deployment of 5G.

5G arouses many negative emotions in Switzerland, but I think that if we inform the population, if we show them the socially useful applications made possible by 5G, they could change their mind.

We are in favor of adapting the regulations so that the limit values allowed in Switzerland are the same as in the European Union.

Did this trip help you discover positive applications for 5G?

Yes. A start-up based in Hong Kong showed us a technology that can identify a person by scanning the palm of his hand. This could be very useful in airports, but it will not be possible without 5G. Similarly, we discovered a robot in Shenzhen that can measure the vital signs of an elderly person and call for help if needed. Here too, we need 5G.

The Federal Council may amend the ordinance on non-ionizing radiation without consulting the Council of States. Are you considering doing so?

Our position is clear: we are in favor of adapting this regulation so that the limit values allowed in Switzerland are the same as in the European Union [they are currently ten times stricter in Switzerland, editor's note].

Even if it means bypassing parliament?

That remains an option.

Are you concerned that Switzerland is falling behind in the deployment of 5G?

Our economy needs the technologies made possible by 5G. The country's growth depends on it. Take the health field. Switzerland is home to many companies in the fields of life sciences, pharmaceuticals and chemistry. They need to process ever larger amounts of data, which requires a 5G connection. If they are to remain in Switzerland, they must be provided with the communication infrastructure they need.

Original article in French:

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