In June 2022, the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) published the first monitoring report on non-ionising radiation(opens in new tab). Non-ionising radiation is generated by electrical household appliances, power lines and overhead lines, radio applications such as WLAN, radio transmitters and, of course, also mobile communications. In the case of radio applications such as mobile communications, “radiation” is used as a carrier for conversations, images or videos. In 2019, the Federal Council commissioned the FOEN to set up a national monitoring system for radiation exposure.
The researchers defined a dense network of measuring points for monitoring. Measurements were carried out at 70 Swiss locations, divided into nine different “micro-environments”, ranging from very rural to very urban. The researchers carried out measurements along routes (route measurements) and at defined locations (spot measurements). In addition to monitoring, continuous stationary measurements are carried out over a period of at least two years. For the first report, a good 15 million readings were recorded across different frequency bands at 453,959 measurement times.
The results are clear: the FOEN states in its press release of 15 June 2022: “The results of the first monitoring report show that health protection is guaranteed. In places where people are normally present, the field intensity is well below the emission limit.”
Swiss regulations distinguish between the international emission limit (EL) and the precautionary installation limit value (ILV). The IEL applies wherever people spend only a short time.
A unique feature of the Swiss approach, however, is the stricter installation limit value in terms of additional precautionary measures. The ILV applies where people spend an extended period of time, e.g. in offices, hospitals, apartments or schools.
Of course, the international limit – without the tighter Swiss rules – already contains sufficient precautions to protect the population from possible effects. Otherwise, only the Swiss population would be protected and the rest of the world would not.
However, the Swiss journey does not end with this one additional precaution. In addition, the rules have been tightened so that the expected field intensity (radiation)is extrapolated with technical specifications (worst-case assumptions) for the building permit, which in turn contain generous reserves several times over. This is also evident in the measurements.
The report states on page 53: “The field intensity measured in the first year of data collection reached a maximum of 15% of the emission limit (EL) in publicly accessible areas, and in the vast majority of cases they were in the low single-digit percentage range. In the private apartments surveyed to date (which are usually subject to the more stringent installation limit value), the maximum exploitation of the emission limit was less than 4%.”
It should be noted, however, that measurements have only been taken in four of the planned 100 apartments. In its media release of 15 June 2022, the FOEN continues: “In private apartments, the measurements are only just beginning. The exposure measured so far is consistently low, but the number of measurements is still small. Therefore, no generally valid statements can yet be derived.”
Critics use this point as a fit occasion to badmouth the results. However, the results already available lead to a different conclusion: obviously, there is a very large discrepancy between the values calculated in advance, which are decisive for the building permit, and the values actually measured, which then actually occur during operation.
The method with worst-case assumptions results in the field intensity being greatly overestimated in the calculation, which is also reflected in the measurement report: the values actually measured are much lower. This is due to the multiple precautionary principle.
As a result, however, operators are unable to exploit the permissible performance even within the narrow confines of the Swiss legislation. Although the performance has already been massively reduced, it can also only be exploited inadequately.
What does this mean for network operation? The capacity and range per antenna are decreasing, even though they could and should perform better. Where customer demand increases, more antennas are also needed, as the existing antennas have to work with the handbrake on. With a realistic calculation, additional antennas could be avoided in some cases.