Experts: Jürg Eberhard (Swiss Research Foundation for Electricity and Mobile Communication), Christian Grasser (asut)
The current, fifth generation of mobile telecommunication technology (5G) offers higher data volumes and transfer speeds, is more secure, can serve more connections at the same time and consumes less energy than the older generations 3G and 4G. To ensure that further digitalisation of the economy and society does not stall, it is highly important to install a Switzerland-wide 5G network. If mobile telecommunication systems cannot be modernised more quickly, there will be a delay before the benefits of the new generation of mobile telecommunication technology can be utilised.
Picture: Jackson David, Unsplash
5G is currently the most modern mobile telecommunication standard and is more powerful than the previous versions 2G, 3G and 4G. In addition to a higher data throughput, latency is lower with 5G – i.e. response times are shorter during data exchange. Moreover, 5G requires less energy per data unit transferred, both for antennas and end devices. It is also more secure and can connect more end devices simultaneously than the previous versions.
5G is a universal access standard for mobile telecommunication networks. This standard allows different configurations, according to requirements and application area. For instance, 5G can be optimised for high bandwidths and low latencies, but also in terms of energy consumption, which is especially important for battery-powered sensors in the Internet of Things, which only transmit small amounts of data. For critical applications, it is possible to set up virtual networks that are securely decoupled from the rest of the network.
Since the introduction of modern smartphones in 2007, the amount of data transferred via mobile telecommunication has been constantly increasing. Between 2010 and 2020 alone, the volume of transferred data grew by a factor of 200. During that time, the number of smartphones tripled.
Replacing and supplementing older generations of mobile telecommunication technology with 5G can increase network capacity and data throughput, because the new standard transmits data more efficiently than its predecessors. This ensures that high-quality mobile data connections remain available, even while the number of end devices keeps growing. In simplified terms, the following typical 5G application areas can be identified:
Work is currently underway in various places, both in business and at universities, on applications that utilise the benefits and properties of 5G.
5G is a great opportunity for the Swiss economy. One study conducted by asut concludes that 5G technologies will generate over 42 billion Swiss francs in additional production value by 2030, with around 88 percent of this being accounted for by sectors that use 5G or offer applications based on it. This shows how important wireless and mobile connectivity (and thus 5G) are for the economy and society. In particular, 5G is an indispensable enabling technology for the imminent digitalisation of cities and mobility (see article mobility concepts). The networking of devices, machines and buildings also offers an opportunity for new (or more extensively) automated business processes and business models.
Unlike previous mobile telecommunication standards, 5G enables the installation of private 5G networks in the form of ‘campus networks’. This allows a company to handle internal communication, especially for IoT (see article Internet of Things) and process control, via its own 5G network, with better security, availability and coverage quality than Wi-Fi.
The EU considers 5G infrastructure strategically important and has declared the technology a fundamental infrastructure for a green, sustainable and digital Europe. Thus, it is not surprising that around 400 billion euros are to be invested in the expansion of this infrastructure in EU countries by 2025.
In Switzerland, the expansion of 5G infrastructure is hindered by the extensive and restrictive rules in the Ordinance on Protection against Non-Ionising Radiation (NIRO), the enforcement thereof, and the lengthy authorisation procedure for mobile telecommunication masts, which is clearly at odds with the increasingly rapid pace of technological progress. Currently, more than 3,200 building-permit applications for mobile telecommunication masts are pending and network expansion is lagging behind accordingly. One reason for this is that new authorisation is required for many adaptations and conversions of existing installations.
The public debate on the risks of 5G often has no scientifically sound basis and is therefore problematic given that 5G is an indispensable enabling technology for a digital future. The criticism is unsettling the public and making them sceptical of technology. This makes education and the provision of information by the authorities all the more important. Noteworthy examples of the latter include the new information website launched by the relevant federal offices and the monitoring report published by the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) on non-ionising radiation. This report shows that emissions are well within the limits and that mobile telecommunication emissions have not increased, despite the marked rise in data.
Cybersecurity issues are also of particular importance in the context of networking critical infrastructures. However, this challenge is not specific to 5G and affects all data-transmission technologies equally.
The enabling technology 5G is largely developed and already being used in many places. Standardisation and basic research work is already underway on its successor technology. On the application side, there is still a need for educational work on the use and benefits of 5G. CHANCE5G, a dialogue platform set up by the mobile telecommunication industry, is worthy of note. The website (https://www.5g-info.ch) launched by the relevant federal offices to explain a wide range of aspects of 5G technology to the public also deserves a mention.