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Interview with Christoph Aeschlimann

Interview with Christoph Aeschlimann

“The situation has worsened in recent times”

Swisscom is increasingly having to dismantle antenna sites without finding suitable alternatives within the necessary time frame. Christoph Aeschlimann, Head of IT, Network & Infrastructure, discusses the impact on customers, how fear of 5G is affecting the situation and a glimmer of hope
Armin Schädeli
Armin Schädeli, Deputy Head of Media Relations
03 November 2020

How are the antenna shutdowns consistent with your claim of having the best network?

They are not at all consistent with our claim. And that is precisely the problem. For our customers, these shutdowns bring restrictions, which have a greater or lesser impact depending on the individual situation. That is why we are doing everything in our power to find solutions. However, I can assure you that, before it comes to this, we have done everything possible to prevent such a situation. We have countless discussions with the owners of potential antenna sites. And we also look into temporary container solutions as an alternative, for example.

Why are you sometimes unable to find alternative sites? Is it because Swisscom pays too little for the sites?

One challenge is that not all sites are suitable, because a site has to cover as large an area as possible as efficiently as possible. And, of course, we have to comply with the limit values. We are also increasingly facing reluctance from potential site owners to have antennas built on their land. In other words, it is not usually the money on offer that is the issue.

Has it become more difficult to find suitable sites in recent years?

The search for sites has always proved challenging because resistance to mobile telecommunications is not a new phenomenon. The situation has worsened in recent times however, especially this year. Something which is clearly attributable to the controversy surrounding 5G. Fears relating to 5G are also standing in the way of the urgently required 4G expansion. What’s more, as mobile data use continues to rise, we have to keep expanding our network, meaning added pressure from every site termination. New sites also have to fit into the existing network, resulting in less freedom in the choice of replacement sites because these should ideally provide the same coverage as the previous site. This makes the search even more challenging.

Are you seeing increasing antenna terminations?

Again, this is not a new phenomenon. But the consequences of a termination are more serious today because of rising mobile phone use. For example, a parish in a canton in Romandy recently terminated its contracts for mobile communication masts. We are talking here about seven sites that will now be shut down in the next few years. In view of the moratorium on the erection of new mobile communication masts in this canton, we simply cannot install any more antennas, even if we find enough suitable sites. Ultimately, it is our customers who will suffer.

What is the situation across Switzerland?

It varies greatly from region to region. There are still some cantons and municipalities that see the ICT infrastructure as an important geographic advantage. Overall, however, things are moving in the wrong direction. Last year, for example, data demand from mobile telecommunications grew by about 29 percent. Given the obstructions on the expansion of the mobile network, however, we were only able to expand by 5 percent in the same period. This is simply untenable for the industry in the medium term. Switzerland therefore faces an unprecedented situation: capacity bottlenecks and increasing coverage gaps in the mobile network. Mobile communication expansion proceeds in anticipation of future demand; this means that the consequences of the obstructions are not being felt right now, but they will be in the foreseeable future.

What is Swisscom doing to change the situation?

We are talking here about a trend that is affecting the entire industry. Swisscom and the entire industry regularly provide information on mobile communications, and we also attend many discussions in local communities. The industry association ASUT is also very active and the number of voices calling for expansion of the mobile network and 5G is growing. The Swiss government, on the other hand, has thus far been very reluctant to educate the public on 5G, although its voice could really make a difference. In many municipalities and cantons, we are also seeing a certain opposition to the processing of building applications, which are beset with long delays if they are processed at all. We hope that the publication of the implementing regulations on 5G antennas by the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) by the end of the year will provide additional reassurance for the cantons and municipalities, and give the expansion the momentum it so desperately needs.

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