ETH Zurich survey on 5G

The rösti and polenta trench becomes a yawning abyss

I love surveys – and hopefully you do too. Especially when they come from the best university in the country (ranked 14th in the world) and were commissioned by federal agencies. On behalf of the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN), the ETH Zurich recently took a look at what Helvetians think. And the work is highly representative with 7340 respondents from all parts of the country.
Jürg Studerus
Jürg Studerus, leads the programme mobile communication and society with Swisscom.
04 June 2021

What’s it all about? The fifth wave of the “Swiss Environmental Panel” explored the attitudes of the population towards the fifth generation of mobile communications, 5G. The survey period was the summer of 2020. The work was published in the last few days.


What came to light is interesting. For mobile operators, the responsible authorities and also critics of mobile communications. Furthermore, the work is written in an understandable way: it gets to the heart of the matter.


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Selected results of the ETH survey are given below – with (sometimes) defiant comments from a stakeholder.

“For almost all questions, we find a comparatively very high proportion of people who give don’t know as an answer.”
  • No wonder, when there are differences in opinion about profound technical software refinements, defined communication technology, intricate physics and epidemiological sidelines – as if we were a united nation of scientists.
“About half of respondents find that radiation from 5G antennas affects their health more compared to 3G/4G antennas...”
  • That’s where we need to educate. Or have radical critics done a good job of demonising the simple advancement of the mobile communication standard as a warning sign.
For various policy options, the majority of respondents are in favour of a “middle way with unchanged limits and a relatively slow roll-out of 5G”.
  • Ok!? Even if “relatively slow” means around two whole decades and more than 26,000 additional antennas? And with all due respect, who will still be talking about 5G in 20 years? Research on 6G is already underway in the lab.
Open question “What do you associate with 5G”? Order corresponds to prioritisation: fast, Internet, data, network, mobile, radiation, high, new, transmission, speed.
  • Then perhaps the radiation issue is not a problem for the general public after all, as critics would like us to believe. And the ladies and gentlemen in the legislative and executive branches do not have to fear being voted out of office if they support the expansion of the important infrastructure of mobile communications.
Benefit-Risk position: 54.4% clearly see or tend to see advantages of 5G, while 17.6% clearly see or tend to see more disadvantages. 28% choose the category either/or.
  • No comment (or see the comment for the previous point).
Almost half of the respondents (46.5%) disagree on whether or not there are health risks from mobile communications.
  • A reputable scientist would probably give a similar answer. Anyone who has categorical answers here (without context or relation) is suspect. You can also read what WHO 2020 said on the subject: “After much research, there is still no causal link between emissions from wireless technologies and adverse health effects.”
59.6% of the respondents feel little or no exposure at their place of residence. 27.7% feel moderate exposure and 12.8% strong or very strong exposure.
  • When it gets very high, we measure a maximum of maybe 1 volt per meter (V/m) electric field strength in apartments (ad hoc using a exposimeter called “ExpoM-RF” from the Fields@work laboratory) due to a mobile communications system (downlink) at a limit value of 5V/m. On roads and squares, maybe even 2 V/m with a limit value of 50 V/m. In general, people are most exposed on trains, with mobile phones (uplink) playing a major role here. In surrounding countries, you might measure between 40 and 60 V/m – even in your home and it would still be within the WHO’s protection recommendations.
Grafik Umfrage ETH

Graphic source: ETH survey as part of the fifth survey wave.

10.6% of the respondents claim to be electrosensitive.
  • This is a serious issue. A phenomenon, no, a phantom for researchers. It has never been possible to clearly explain disorders resulting from exposure to mobile communication fields. Also, no one could sense such fields in a “significant” way. Often cited as an explanation is the placebo effect’s evil brother, the nocebo effect. With approximately 905,000 people allegedly affected in Switzerland alone, this is an unusually high number (Covid sufferers number less than 700,000 as of mid-May 2021). However, the fact that the suffering of those affected is real and sometimes severe has been experienced by the writer himself on several occasions.
More than half of the respondents do not feel adequately protected against radiation; a total of 60% answered either “much too weak”, “too weak” or “rather too weak”.
  • And this in a country that has the strictest regulations for the construction and operation of mobile phone antennas in the world? If that’s not a classic case of the risk dialogue shooting itself in the foot. Our limit values would be tightened somewhat by a factor of 10 compared to the values recommended by the WHO and still 60% do not feel sufficiently protected? Could it be that the public, media controversy has created a distorted perception?
Across all age groups, it is evident that female survey participants see significantly fewer benefits in 5G than male survey participants.
  • We already knew that. And we puzzle over it…
“Italian-speaking respondents felt the least affected by far
by electromagnetic radiation – here 76% of the respondents answered
‘not at all’ or ‘little’. Among the German-speaking respondents, this
percentage is 67% and only 25% for French speakers.”
  • Je suis desolé – but the röschti and polenta trench is not a trench, here it is an abyss. And one even has a certain understanding for the canton of Geneva and its “moratorium” – which, by the way, was judged to be unlawful by the Constitutional Chamber.

Much of what the ETHZ researchers have brought to light is well known to us from our daily work. With some results, however, we are utterly amazed, and can spot inconsistency and contradiction. And yes, it cannot be that there is a difference of 50 percentage points in attitudes between the cari Ticinesi and chers Romands? It cannot be! Who wants 5G to be a divisive force in our diverse and friendly country?

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