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05 January 2020

Switzerland: Dispute Over the 5G Network: The Battle Goes to the Next Round

Dispute over the 5G network: The battle goes to the next round
by Anna Miller - CH Media, Aargauer Zeitung, 3 January 2020 - translation

People protest with posters during a demonstration
against the introduction of 5G on the Bundesplatz in
© CH Media
Although the new mobile phone network is already up and running in some places in Switzerland, it is controversial. Now the 5G opponents are rearming.

Should the federal government raise the radiation limits and thus give the new 5G technology a free rein? This question has divided the whole country for months. Some people can hardly wait to finally download entire films within a few seconds on the fastest network ever. Others are afraid of brain tumors caused by the new technology.

Initial studies confirm a change in brain waves.
The new study by the federal government, which appeared in November, also refers to possible health risks. However, this is not clear enough to show that 5G really does pose a risk to humans or the environment. It remains unclear for the time being what the long-term damage to humans will be. There is not enough time for science to draw clear conclusions. This is because technologies are changing rapidly.

5G opponents call for a better assessment of the situation

This is precisely where opponents of 5G technology see the problem: to deploy 5G nationwide without knowing the long-term consequences is an experiment on mankind, says Tamlin Schibler Ulmann, Co-President of the environmental and consumer organization Frequencia. It is one of several interest groups that are now forming.

Schibler Ulmann says that one is not against new technologies in principle, but: "We want a solution-oriented, future-oriented mobile communications network. We are therefore against increasing radiation levels, and even for a reduction." The solution for perfect coverage nevertheless is seen in fiber optic technology. "We want to separate internal and external supply." This way, people who don't want to be exposed to radiation could also turn it off more easily.

Parliamentarian Martina Munz (SP) is also concerned about self-determination. She said that it was an encroachment on personal freedom if people could not avoid radiation. "As long as damage to health cannot be ruled out, caution is basically required with every new technology," says the National Councillor from Schaffhausen.

The precautionary principle is one of the highest principles of the Swiss Confederation. The aim is to protect the population from possible harmful influences. Five groups have announced initiatives on 5G throughout Switzerland. None of them is yet really ready to start collecting signatures.

In Bundesbern, the expert report of the Mobile Communications and Radiation Working Group, which was presented in November, is now with the Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications (DETEC), which decides how to proceed. The report was written by 5G critics and advocates and therefore hardly provided any clear statements about the radiation hazard. Individual communities that decided on a moratorium a few months ago are waiting.

The economy advertises new jobs

Meanwhile, the economy is upset. It argues that the new technology offers opportunities and that users need the new network. For example, the volume of data processed via Swiss networks has doubled every 12 to 18 months in recent years. A further five-fold increase is expected by 2024.

This pattern of use is pushing the networks to their capacity limits and thus leading to a qualitative deterioration of services, writes the business association Economiesuisse. A new study by the Swiss Telecommunications Association (ASUT) estimates that 137,000 new jobs are expected in Switzerland by 2030 thanks to 5G technology. This is mainly because the new mobile phone technology will enable the potential of digitization to be tapped in various sectors.

The proponents of 5G say: The radiation is basically harmless, the concerns are too small to deny an entire society access to the new technological possibilities. In addition, the whole world will now switch over, digitization is the future, 5G is the fiber optic cable of the air, and if we want to remain competitive, we must invest in the new technology.

The real problem: The hunger for data

Martin Röösli, Professor of Environmental Epidemiology at the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute and member of the working group that presented the federal government's report last November, also says without ifs and buts: "There is currently no way around 5G. Either way, more antennas are needed, the question is how many," says the expert.

Contrary to the instinctive conclusion, more antennas would ultimately mean less radiation exposure - at least for everyone using a mobile phone. After all, 95 percent of the radiation exposure comes from digital devices. Röösli sees a need for discussion but not on the question of how many antennas the country should install.

Rather, the question is whether we should really all be consuming enormous amounts of data via mobile phones at all times. 5G full-coverage could lead to many people cancelling their WLAN at home and only accessing the Internet via their mobile phone - if everyone does that, radiation exposure will actually rise sharply. 2020 will be the year of 5G discussions All parties agree that it is now up to the politicians. "It is hypocritical to call for a moratorium without changing the framework. Because it means that the places that have a moratorium will have more radiation. Politicians would have to talk more about restrictions, but that is unappealing," says Röösli.

2020 will be the year of 5G discussions

All parties agree that it is now up to the politicians. "It is hypocritical to call for a moratorium without changing the framework. Because it means that the places that have a moratorium will have more radiation. Politicians would have to talk more about restrictions, but that is unappealing," says Röösli..
Several interpellations were submitted in the Federal Parliament, a postulate of the Council of States member Brigitte Häberli-Koller (CVP) for a sustainable mobile communications network was accepted by the Council of States at the beginning of December. Now it is the Federal Council's turn again. Either way, 2020 will be the year of 5G discussions at the latest when the initiators of the various interest groups start collecting signatures.

Original article in German:

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