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Mobile network expansion

If mobile network operators were bakers

What would happen if bakers faced the same opposition to new ovens that mobile network operators face to 5G? A fictitious comparison with no happy ending.
Michael Lieberherr
Michael Lieberherr, Communication Consultant
12 November 2021

Imagine you’re a baker. In 2010, each of your customers purchased an average of four croissants. Now, ten years later, each customer buys 800 croissants on average. But that’s not all; today, your business serves three times as many customers as it did in 2010.


Over the years, you have been able to keep up with the significant growth thanks to the fourth generation of ovens that came onto the market in 2012. It was quicker and could bake more and therefore served all the customers’ needs for many years. You have also continually expanded and modernised your bakery. You have invested a lot of money. Your pastries are more popular than ever, and the number bought by your customers in the future will continue to soar. Slowly but surely, despite ongoing investments, your bakery is outgrowing its premises.


Evil ovens

The perfect solution has been available for two years: the fifth generation of ovens. They bake the higher numbers of pastries in the same bakery using the same amount of energy, the work is easier and can produce a wider variety of pastries – a classic example of progress in action. But unfortunately, an array of myths surrounding the ovens begins to appear. People claim they are used to burn witches or raise golems. The oven is rumoured to destroy good vitamins too.


While scientists have long since refuted these claims, the rumours persist. What’s more, your customers start to say that the old bread lasted longer. You see things differently. After all, you are the one standing in the bakery every day, observing how your fourth-generation ovens are working at full capacity.


Of course, there is an alternative. You could install a much larger number of obsolete fourth-generation ovens in the bakery. But there is no space in your bakery, so you would have to open new bakeries in different locations and deploy outdated technology.


Opposition to a new generation of ovens

To accommodate the new generation of ovens, you would also have to complete some minor building work. Your neighbours are not happy. While they want fresh croissants and rolls on the breakfast table every day, they are massively opposed to the idea of renovations.


Local residents use all the legal means at their disposal to hold up your building project. Some of the objectors give reasons that do not even fall under construction law. Your neighbours even go so far as to gather signatures and pressurise the authorities. While no-one will admit it, the pressure works and there are huge delays in processing your building permit application. You wait months, even years for the outcome. Politicians avoid giving straight answers and stall for time with ever more new research and working groups.


And then there are the people who fundamentally question your pastries. They posit the argument that that amount of pastry isn’t healthy anyway and should be banned. These individuals want to impose rules on your customers, stipulating when, where and how they are allowed to consume your baked goods. They collect signatures for their cause and want to have the type of oven technology you are permitted to use enshrined in the Federal Constitution. They even want the Constitution to stipulate how your customers are allowed to enjoy your pastries in their own home.


Not in my backyard

The world no longer makes sense to you. Your investments were intended to meet customer demand – and now a tiny minority do everything they can to thwart you. They do it very loudly. And the vast majority of your customers suffer.


As a baker, you know exactly how the new oven works and what it does. Yet many people still don’t believe you. Misleading information, whether intentional or not, has left them feeling anxious.


Dubious Internet sources pretending to be TV studios disseminate these crude theories, while the baking profession looks on in horror. The issue has long since become a question of faith not fact. And while scientists can refute the false allegations, the minority’s scaremongering has seeped into the consciousness of many people.


Social media only serves to hasten the dissemination and, as a result, this minority group is given disproportionate space in the media, which only serves to stoke the readers’ misgivings.


A lot of moaning about nothing?

You politely inform your customers that they will soon have to wait longer for their pastries and that you will have to limit the number each customer can have – as a direct consequence of the stalled building work. Your customers don’t believe you. After all, you have coped with high demand for years. They even say that you’ve been moaning about nothing for years. After all, you still win international prizes for your baked goods on a regular basis. You try to explain that you want to expand for the future today – the awards only recognise the current situation.


Unfortunately, very few people appreciate this. Your customers will only grasp the magnitude of the situation when they experience the consequences for themselves.


Signs of fatigue

Does that sound ridiculous? Absolutely. Sadly, however, this scenario is an accurate reflection of the discussions around 5G and mobile communications: the baker is one of the three network providers. Today, his customers use 200 times more data than a decade ago and the number of customers – or, in this case, devices – has tripled over the space of ten years. The more powerful generation of ovens represents the latest mobile generation. Logical, technological progress.


The present-day 4G workhorse is almost ten years old and has reached its limits. And yet the expansion has stalled. It is a uniquely Swiss phenomenon. Almost every country in the world would love to have the sort of network operators willing to invest that we have here in Switzerland. In Switzerland, the network operators are ready and willing, yet the expansion is being thwarted by a vocal minority. The pressure they exert leads to permit applications stalling and makes people feel anxious. This one-sided debate around mobile communications has a huge impact on the entire expansion. We need to build for tomorrow today.


If demand outstrips supply, there will be less left for everyone. Full reception does not automatically mean full capacity. Back to the metaphor again: the oven bakes as fast as it can, but cannot produce enough croissants to meet demand. This means that each customer receives fewer each time or has to wait until the next batch comes out of the oven. In mobile communications, this manifests itself in queues of data (frozen websites, long loading times) and data congestion (where a stream freezes).


Let’s finish by letting the facts speak for themselves. An independent survey by Sotomo based on the Swisscom network’s operating data found the following:

  • In ten years, we have seen a 200-fold increase in data traffic
  • There are now three times the number of devices in the network than in 2010
  • The fourth generation 4G bears the brunt of the traffic. However, it is already almost ten years old and is reaching its limits
  • Data consumption has increased at a greater rate in rural areas than in urban areas

The survey concludes: “The only way to prevent mobile data traffic reaching breaking point is through a new mobile generation.”


Source of survey: https://sotomo.ch/site/projekte/mobile-datennutzung-in-der-schweiz/

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