mobile communications

2022: the year of federal reports on mobile communications

We all know the tall tales and myths that exist around mobile communications, and how unsettling these are for many people. Once they are out in the world, they persist. This makes fact-based discussion founded on systematic surveys and measurements all the more important. The federal government and its offices published comprehensive reports on 5G and mobile communications in 2022.

Das Bundeshaus in Bern

2022 was the year of reports on mobile communications and radiation exposure. The responsible federal offices published three reports detailing important findings, which we look at more closely in this article. The technical development of mobile telephony is going exactly where mobile communication critics have demanded for almost 30 years: as little radiation as possible, as much as necessary.

1. “Sustainable mobile phone network”

The first report published by the Federal Council relates back to the Häberli-Koller postulate (19.4043)(opens in new tab) proposed by Thurgau representative Brigitte Häberli-Koller in 2019. Among other things, it obliged the Federal Council to examine how “radiation protection” could be optimally achieved and at the same time ensure the introduction of the current mobile telephone generation.

The report stated that 5G networks have “clear advantages” in terms of performance and “radiation exposure” compared to the older standards. The report shows that the roll-out of 5G networks with adaptive antennas and a large antenna density would generate the lowest exposure to radiation. The report thus states what has been explained several times in the various blog posts: the antenna belongs in the village – and in the middle of the village – if you want to reduce exposure to radiation.

2. Monitoring report on non-ionising radiation

The second FOEN report deals with a systematic monitoring of mobile phone immissions. Instead of focusing on the theory, the report looks at actual measurements that show which claims are true and which are not. Researchers evaluated 15 million measurement points. Measurements were taken at 70 locations in Switzerland, divided into nine different "micro-environments" ranging from very rural to very urban.

The experts carried out measurements along routes and at defined locations, and concluded that the levels are substantially below the limit values. The authors wrote on page 53: “The (...) measured field intensities reached a maximum of 15% of the exposure limit value in publicly accessible areas, while in the vast majority of cases they were in the low single-digit percentage range. In the private dwellings measured so far (which are generally subject to an installation limit value that is 10 times stricter), the maximum utilisation of the exposure limit value was less than 4%.”

The data available for homes is still limited in the first report, which is something that critics can use to their advantage. However, the report also shows something else: the multiple safety margins inherent in current procedures mean the radio signals are greatly overestimated when the values are calculated, and the limit values are far from being reached in reality.

This large discrepancy has consequences: where customer demand increases, more antennas are needed because the existing ones have to operate with the handbrake on. With a realistic enforcement of the Ordinance on Protection against Non-Ionising Radiation (NISV), an increase in the number of antennas could be avoided to some extent. Critical readers note that Switzerland favours a decidedly one-sided view of risk – and they are not wrong.

3. Electrical field strengths in the operating range of mobile phone antennas

The third report, prepared by OFCOM, examines adaptive antennas in detail. Despite the somewhat unwieldy title, this report contains a very concrete finding. The report shows that the highly criticised adaptive antennas – often described in emotive terms – reduce the radio signals. The explanation is clear: “With adaptive antennas, on the other hand, the radio signals are only measurable if the handsets requesting data are in the vicinity of the measurement site. This is shown by lower mean field strength values for the adaptive antennas compared to conventional antennas.” Bear in mind that the previous conventional antennas transmit constantly in all directions. In other words, the previous antennas are like concert loudspeakers that produce sound for everyone, whereas the new antennas function like headphones. You only hear the music if you want to listen.

Finally, the three federal offices FOEN, OFCOM and FOPH have also launched a joint information platform: in new tab). The federal government is using this to answer questions about mobile communications that are related to technology, radiation exposure and health, etc.

The government reports have provided clarity, with measurements to prove facts in black and white. Developments are continuing. The technology is improving. Immissions from electromagnetic radiation remain very low, even though we are all now using 200 times more data than 10 years ago. 5G meets many of the demands of the mobile communication critics. Adaptive antennas reduce immissions for non-users. Those who have concerns should support the expansion of the next generation. The blocking of antenna projects in villages achieves exactly the opposite of what is usually intended: increased radiation for users, rather than less.

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