German-speaking Switzerland less critical of 5G expansion

The 5G wireless standard is a less polarising issue among the Swiss population than thought. According to a survey conducted by ETH researchers, the majority of people are in favour of 5G. However, a substantial portion of the population in the French-speaking region had concerns about electromagnetic radiation.
A 5G mobile communications antenna is installed in Bern. Respondents from French-​speaking Switzerland see fewer advantages of 5G than respondents from German-​speaking Switzerland. (Photo: Keystone/Peter Klaunzer)

What does the Swiss population think about 5G expansion? Political scientists at ETH sought to answer this question through a representative survey conducted in the summer of 2020. The researchers published their results (see box) under the auspices of the Swiss Environment Panel, a collaboration between ETH and the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN).

Opinions as to whether 5G should be expanded in Switzerland differ. A solid 10% of respondents are either strongly in favour or strongly opposed to it. The remaining responses are evenly distributed between “more in favour” and “more opposed”. Respondents’ opinions do not depend on whether the question refers to 5G expansion in their own communities or in Switzerland as a whole. Although the current roll-out of 5G is taking place in frequency ranges already used for mobile communications and WLAN, the majority of respondents (57%) believe that 5G poses greater health risks than 3G or 4G.  

Men more likely to favour 5G expansion than women

The respondents see both the advantages and disadvantages of 5G for themselves personally. However, the perceived benefits tend to outweigh the disadvantages. For Switzerland in general, 5G is rated much more favourably, particularly in terms of benefits to the economy. Respondents from French-speaking Switzerland see significantly more disadvantages and fewer advantages to 5G for themselves as individuals and for Switzerland as a whole than respondents from German-speaking Switzerland and Ticino. Respondents from French-speaking Switzerland are also the most concerned about electromagnetic radiation, whereas the population in Ticino is the least concerned.

In general, men see significantly more personal benefits to 5G than women; this is most apparent among young men. Men also tend to be bigger proponents of expanding the 5G network. Women are more likely than men to think that the federal government and cantons are not doing enough to protect people from radiation.

The majority (59%) of the approx. 7,000 respondents believe they are exposed to little (34%) or no (25%) radiation from mobile phones, tablets and computers. Compared with the surveys conducted by the Swiss Environmental Panel in 2018 and 2019, the percentage of those that believe mobile devices result in intense or very intense exposure has decreased. In 2018 and 2019, more than 20% said that they felt mobile devices result in intense or very intense exposure, but this figure had dropped to just 13% in 2020.

Keeping with current radiation limits

Overall, almost two-thirds of all respondents say that the population is not adequately protected against radiation from mobile antennas. A good third believes that the protection is appropriate, and nearly no one is of the opinion that protection is excessive. “These results suggest that the measures taken to protect the population against radiation from mobile antennas line up with the interests of the public,” explains Thomas Bernauer, ETH professor of political science (international relations).

What do the respondents expect from policymakers? “The majority are in favour of maintaining the existing limits for mobile antennas, even if this is associated with a rather slow expansion of 5G for Switzerland overall,” says Bernauer. When asked to choose between different paths towards expanding 5G, respondents generally prefer more sites with lower radiation levels per antenna than fewer sites with higher radiation levels. “They also would prefer measures that research the health risks prior to expansion,” says Franziska Quoss, project coordinator in Bernauer’s group.


Quoss, Franziska; Rudolph, Lukas; Gomm, Sarah; Kuang, Selina; Wäger, Patricia; Bruker, Janek; Walder; Colin; Wehrli, Stefan; Bernauer, Thomas (2021); Swiss Environmental Panel: 5G; ETH Zurich, DOI: 10.3929/ethz-b-000478738.

Swiss Environmental Panel

The Swiss Environmental Panel is a panel survey that has been conducted twice a year by ETH Zurich in cooperation with the Federal Office of the Environment (FOEN) since 2018. The Swiss population is surveyed on its attitudes to various environmental issues, measures and trends. The Swiss Environmental Panel provides data and information for policymakers, public administrators, scientists and the public at large. It is funded by ETH Zurich and FOEN.

More information on the Swiss Environmental Panel and 5G survey (in German)