Author(s): Ben Wood
During my visit I was hosted by Swisscom, and this gave me a chance to test its network in the capital city, Bern, and in a rural location in the Emmental region.
On this basis, to provide a differentiated 5G service Swiss operators need to deliver some of the fastest 5G speeds in Europe, something that was reflected in the tests during my visit. Like the recently announced unlimited data tariffs from Vodafone in the UK and Spain (see Vodafone Marries 5G Launch with Unlimited Data), Swisscom also tiers its tariffs by speed, with its most premium offering promising speeds of up to 1 Gbps on its 5G network.
A challenge that's characteristic of Switzerland is its fairly draconian restrictions about the power output of its cellular sites, primarily as a result of perceived health concerns about radio waves. In Europe, operators are typically allowed to transmit at 60 volts per metre, whereas in Switzerland they're restricted to 5 volts per metre, translating to roughly 5 watts of output. This means that Swiss operators need to deploy a much denser network than some of their European rivals, and in order to get the best speeds, users need to be closer to a 5G site than they would in other countries. It also means that in-building 5G coverage is pretty much non-existent at present, and it will only come once dedicated in-building solutions are launched.
A Promising Start for 5G), I believe that the optimal approach is to combine a decent 4G network with pockets of solid 5G coverage in congested areas such as city centres, train stations, airports, stadiums and other places where there's a high density of mobile phone users. And this is what Swiss operators have been doing.
Although fast 5G speeds in city centres aren't that unusual, one aspect of my trip that did differ from trialling 5G in other markets was the access to 5G in rural locations. To test this, I ventured beyond Bern to Röthenbach im Emmental, a rural setting of rolling hills and fields just 30 minutes from Bern by car. We visited a large site shared by the three Swiss mobile operators. I was staggered when we immediately hit speeds beyond 1 Gbps and recorded a peak speed of 1.4 Gbps after briefly touching 1.5 Gbps during the speed test. This was particularly surprising when you take into account that this is one of the most rural 5G sites on the planet right now.
The network might be lightning quick, but what does it all really mean for customers?
In my view, this means that people's dependence on cloud-based services will only accelerate, be that for consumer applications such as Netflix or Spotify, or for corporate uses where reliance on cloud-based solutions is more important than ever. And that's just for existing applications and solutions. History has shown that if you give people more bandwidth, they tend to use it. For innovators and developers, the arrival of reliable cellular speeds of 100 Mbps or more will open up new opportunities that will see exciting new services that we've not even thought of yet appear on the horizon.