Zurich, 12 February
Switzerland, one of the world’s leaders in the use of 5G mobile technology, has set an undefined moratorium on the use of its new network, due to health concerns.
The move comes as other European countries are vying to upgrade their 5G-standard networks amid a US-launched diplomatic campaign to stop them from using Chinese technology provided by Huawei. Washington says the company, which is key to updating most European networks, poses a major security risk.
Switzerland is relatively advanced in Europe in adopting 5G technology. The rich alpine country has built more than 2,000 antennas to upgrade its network last year alone, and telecommunications companies have promised customers instant coverage with 5G over the past year.
However, a letter sent by the Swiss environmental agency, Bafu, to the cantonal governments of the country in late January, practically. It has stopped using all the new 5G towers, officials who have seen the letter told the Financial Times.
The agency is responsible for providing cantons with safety criteria, against which radiation emissions from telecommunications operators can be judged. Under Switzerland’s highly federalized structure, telecommunications infrastructure is monitored for compliance and licensed by cantonal authorities, but Bern is responsible for defining the framework.
Bafu has said he cannot yet offer universal criteria without further testing the impact of 5G radiation.
The agency said it was unaware of any worldwide standards that could be used to compare recommendations. “Therefore, Bafu will examine the exposure through adaptive antennas [5G] in depth, if possible in real-world conditions. This job will take some time, “she said.
Without the criteria, cantons have little choice but to license 5G infrastructure under existing radiation exposure guidelines, which prevent the use of 5G, except in a small minority of cases.
Some cantons have already set up their own moratoriums, due to uncertainty about health risks.
Swisscom said the Bafu evaluation process would not stop their ongoing work on building 5G infrastructure, even if it meant that it could not be used at full capacity. The operator said it can still reach high speeds for customers up to 2Gb / s without full use of 5G.
Swiss law on the effects of radiation from telecommunication wires is broadly in line with that of other European countries, but specifies the application of stricter precautions in certain cases. The new 5G communication technology means that individuals are exposed to the most concentrated rays of non-ionizing radiation, but for shorter periods. Bafu must determine which legal standards should be applied to this.
Swisscom, the country’s largest mobile phone operator, said he understood “the fear often expressed about new technologies”.
“There is no evidence that antenna radiation within limit values adversely affects human health,” the company added, noting that 5G operates at frequencies similar to the current 4G standard, which has undergone “thousands of studies.”
The company said Switzerland’s regulatory limits were “10 times stricter than those recommended by the World Health Organization, in countries where people stay for longer periods of time”.
Switzerland already has a strong anti-5G lobby, with recent protests against its extension being added to Bern, Zurich and Geneva.
The Swiss Medical Association has advised to be careful with 5G, arguing that stricter legal principles are needed because of unanswered questions about the potential of technology to cause damage to the nervous system, or even cancer.
Five “popular initiatives” – proposals for mandatory referendums on the use of 5G – have already been set in motion in Switzerland. Two have already been formalized and are in the process of collecting the 100,000 signatures needed to conduct polls across the country, which, if successful, will change Switzerland’s constitution.
One will make telecommunications companies legally liable for claims of bodily harm caused by 5G radiation, unless they can testify otherwise. The other proposes strict restrictions on radiation emissions from the walls and will give local residents veto power over all new construction in their area.