Mobile Communications and the Environment

With its mobile communications network, Sunrise is building and operating a modern, high-performance infrastructure to significantly advance digitalization in Switzerland for the benefit of society and the economy. As a company aware of its social responsibility, Sunrise is also addressing the impact of mobile communications on the environment, and supports research in this area.

The Swiss population spends a great deal of time using mobile devices and services. Our customers expect to be able use their devices everywhere. In order to meet these needs, Sunrise is constantly expanding its mobile network.

It might seem that network expansion is not necessary in some places because there is existing coverage. However, due to data traffic (mobile Internet, apps, etc.) doubling every 12 to 17 months, additional antennas are needed to increase capacity and avoid congestion. Sunrise has an outstanding mobile network and continues do its utmost to offer customers the best possible network.

To make mobile communications work, it is necessary for antennas to be located wherever people using mobile devices are, especially in residential and commercial areas. Additionally, the closer that base stations are to mobile users, reception is better and their phone need to transmit less power. Many factors are carefully checked when selecting a location (such as environmental guidelines, building regulations, townscape, landscape protection, zoning, etc.) to be added to the existing network. Of course, we also try to take all interests into account as much as possible.

Mobile network connections are established via electromagnetic fields (non-ionizing radiation). The report of the Federal Council entitled "Future-Proof Mobile Networks" dated February 25, 2015, says: "The only damaging effect of high-frequency radiation on people that has been scientifically demonstrated beyond a doubt is the warming of body tissue due to absorption of radiation. To protect the public, the Federal Council has issued the Ordinance on Protection from Non-ionizing Radiation (NISV). This defines limit values to protect the entire environment (including people and animals) against all scientifically recognized health effects. The "installation limit values" specify the maximum amount of radiation allowed to be present at a single location. In Switzerland, these are ten times tighter than in most other countries and must be complied with everywhere that people are likely to be present for extended periods, such as homes, schools, hospitals, offices, etc. Nevertheless, there are continual claims that radiation from cell towers is harmful to health, or even carcinogenic. In fact, electromagnetic fields have been thoroughly studied, and research so far has shown no evidence of harmful effects on health.

The frequencies Sunrise is now using for 5G were previously used for radio and television for many years. The claimed biological effect of the radiation depends on the strength and frequency of the radiation, not the type of transmission it is used for (radio, television, or a particular mobile network generation, such as 3G, 4G or 5G). 5G, as deployed now and in the future, is based on 4G, which means that 4G and 5G are currently comparable – the signals and frequencies used for 5G are similar to those for 4G. The transmitted power levels are also comparable. However, 5G differs from 4G in that it does not radiate uniformly over entire sectors, but instead follow users and devices in a targeted manner, like the focused beam of a flashlight.

The term "millimeter waves" (microwaves) is often used in connection with 5G. These frequencies are not being used in Switzerland, and they have not yet been approved by the federal government for use with 5G. The question of whether, when and in which frequency bands that might be approved is up to the Swiss Federal Communications Commission (ComCom) and/or the Federal Office of Communications (OFCOM). There are already some studies available in this area, and according to the experts (for example, the Swiss Research Foundation for Electricity and Mobile Communication) there is no reason to be alarmed. Unfortunately, here again popular fears are being stirred up.

In connection with the introduction of 5G, the Swiss Federal Communications Commission (ComCom) determined the following: "On the one hand they will help overcome capacity bottlenecks in today's 4G mobile radio networks. On the other hand these are important frequencies for the 5G mobile radio technology of the future. The timely introduction of 5G is of great importance for digitisation and innovation in Switzerland. In order to ensure that the frequencies can be used optimally, however, the very strict radiation limits for mobile radio (in the Ordinance on Protection from Non-Ionising Radiation) should be adapted." 

The new mobile communications frequencies were allocated in an auction organized by ComCom in January/February 2019. ComCom said: "The awarding of frequencies is therefore of key importance for the digitalisation of Switzerland, and is in line with the Federal Council’s “Digital Switzerland” strategy. In addition to powerful mobile communications, 5G will enable many new uses in future, including the Internet of Things (IoT), medical applications (eHealth), image processing applications (virtual reality, augmented reality) or self-driving vehicles. "

Even if full scientific clarification is not yet available, in the opinion of the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) and the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) the existing limit values and guidelines offer sufficient protection for people, animals, and the environment.

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