5G development is progressing apace. Swisscom presented the first 5G test applications in summer 2017. Today, 5G test networks are in place in Burgdorf, Lausanne, Geneva, Zurich, Bern and Lucerne. Patrick Weibel, Head of the 5G programme at Swisscom, provides an overview of 5G and discusses the next steps in the network expansion.
The first 5G test networks are in place. When will 5G be available across Switzerland?
Our test networks in Burgdorf, Lausanne, Bern, Zurich, Geneva and Lucerne are some of the first in the world. These are not simply demo networks, but completely standardised networks. A successive expansion to around 60 towns and communities by the end of 2019 is currently planned.
What do further expansion plans hinge on?
Firstly, we have to wait for the upcoming ComCom 5G frequency auction, which is planned for January 2019. Further expansion will also be heavily reliant on general political conditions. The ONIR (Ordinance on Protection from Non-ionizing Radiation), which has been in force unchanged since 1999, is ten times more restrictive than in the rest of Europe.
What does this mean for network expansion?
We are stretched to our physical limits by growing volumes of data and the prevailing conditions. In many locations, the allocated spectrum has almost been fully used up on account of these restrictions. The network needs more transmitter sites, and these are difficult to find. Due to the current regulatory framework, therefore, Switzerland is unable to enjoy some of the benefits of 5G.
Many people are not yet making full use of what the 4G network has to offer. So why do we already need 5G?
For most of us, speed is the key consideration. How fast can I surf with my mobile? But that’s just skimming the surface. 4G is an ultra-fast, mobile broadband Internet, exactly as it was designed to be. 5G is a new platform for digitisation that brings much more together. Due to its nature, 5G also offers more opportunities to digitise critical applications. Industries can become more competitive with smart factories – as we demonstrated with Ypsomed. It stands to reason that many applications will only emerge once the infrastructure is up and running. We therefore need the network now, otherwise we’ll miss the boat. Incidentally, this same question was asked previously about 4G..
What is different about 5G?
Mobile networks used to have one main purpose and had to suffice for all other applications. 2G was developed for voice telephony. 3G brought us mobile broadband Internet. 4G took 3G to the next level with much greater bandwidth and network capacities; the focus being smartphones and their applications. In the future, 5G will connect millions of things: devices, machines, buildings, cars and of course, smartphones. These applications make various demands on the network, which for the first time can be handled with the one network. This is the big difference from previous networks.